Friday, February 22, 2013

Rhizomatic Thought, #etmooc

I came across a video and a couple of quotes today that illuminated and expanded for me some ideas I've been discussing in #etmooc about rhizomatic learning.

Brian Rose shared the NASA video Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun:



This kind of inspirational video leads to comments (270+ when I looked last, 4:00 pm EDT, Fri, Feb 22). For instance, Jeremy Ellwood quoted Neil Degrasse Tyson's view about feeling small in the light of such enormous power:
I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up—many people feel small, because they’re small and the Universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars.
Then Brian Rose quoted Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who spoke about looking back at the Earth from the Moon:
"You develop an instant global conciousness, people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.”
These comments make explicit why I like the rhizome: it allows me to think over and beyond networks based on simple connectivity. The rhizome is networks+, connectivity on steroids.

More accurately, the rhizome is connectivity across multi-scale networks, across what Basarab Nicolescu calls different levels of reality. This connectivity—not just within a network but across sub-networks and super-networks—is important for my rhizomatic thinking as it helps me grasp and visualize the extent of rhizomatic structures, or assemblages to use Deleuze and Guattari's term (I suspect they wanted to avoid the more rigid, mechanistic overtones of the term structures). D&G speak of asignifying ruptures within a rhizome, in which our naming, labeling, and definition of a thing suffers a rupture, a line of flight, that unnames the thing as it moves from one scale of network to another scale, from one level of reality to another. Asignifying ruptures, deterritorialization, reterritorialization, and the logic of the included middle all seem abstract and obtuse concepts until you hear an Edgar Mitchell say it so plainly: "From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty." When you view the political arguments which seem so important here on Earth from a different level of reality, from the Moon, then you see that that the contradictions fade away, and the arguments become completely asignified, meaningless, void, not even a play-ground squabble. These concepts, then, help me understand one of the heuristics available to rhizomatic thinking: that whatever we are learning must be viewed from more than one level of reality, from more than one scale of the network. When we view things in this complex, rhizomatic manner, then contradictions often fade in lines of flight into the included middle.

Then, the comment by Neil Degrasse Tyson captures a second heuristic of rhizomatic thinking, what Edgar Morin calls the holographic principle. The patterns of the Universe echo in my cellular structures. We are composed of star dust, and we are the dust of the stars. I am not speaking poetically here, nor am I alluding to Joni Mitchell (though Woodstock remains one of my favorite songs, especially the version by Mathew's Southern Comfort). I am being literal. The patterns of energy and information exchange that work in the stars also work in me. The information in my DNA and cells come from the stars and feed back into it. I fancifully think that if the entire Universe were to blink out, leaving only me floating alone, then any reasonably intelligent, technologically adept species from another universe that found me could use the data in my cellular structures to pretty much recreate a universe that works more or less like this one (okay, that last part isn't literal, but it might be the start of a good science fiction story). This echoing of information throughout a network and across network scales echoes the fifth principle of the rhizome: decalcomania. As connectivism says, learning has much to do with embodying and recognizing patterns. Yes, "the Universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars."
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