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The Core of the Matter

October 22, 2008


The Core of the Matter is:   connectionist materialism

In recent years, Paul and Patricia Churchland have advocated a more extreme position, eliminativist materialism, which holds that mental phenomena simply do not exist at all — that talk of the mental reflects a totally spurious “folk psychology” that simply has no basis in fact, something like the way that folk science speaks of demon-caused illness.



I wish I had watched this earlier:

Stephen Downes presentation: A quick introduction to connectivism (ustream)

( if the above link won’t work)

My late arrival to the course caused me (and maybe others through my insensitive writings) some grief due to the many questions I had throughout the first several weeks. Then last night I discovered this video for the first time. It is short, and succinctly states Stephen’s views on the matter of connectivism (although at the 7 minute mark he slips up and uses the word connectionism in lieu of connectivism – Freudian slip?).

But would I have understood his video had I watched it first?  Probably not. I think I benefited from the lengthy trail I have followed to get to what he is saying.  So what is he saying, and why is connectivism important?

I think essentially Stephen is proposing that recent developments in neuroscience have enabled us to understand the functioning of the brain at a neural level, and, somehow, as a result, our understanding of learning and knowledge has changed dramatically and our old theories no longer apply. The new theory of connectivism (connectionism?) is the only one worth considering, in his view.

To support this contention, he refers to the Churchands and elminative materialism (EM). EM proposes that science will change our beliefs, in fact, eliminate old wives tales and folk psychology through new discoveries based solely on materialistic science. EM suggests that folk psychology will cease to exist. I term this approach to be a ‘reductio ad finem’  =  reduce to the end.

After the reductio of folk psychology to nothingness, connectivism arises as an emergent system/philosophy for learning, knowledge etc.  Sort of a ‘deus ex machina’  where the whole (emergent theory) is greater than the sum of its parts (internet connections, web 2.0 etc.).  the whole in this case is a form of global mind, as proposed by Heylighen.

A key principle of this approach seems to be in the denial of reductionism:  EM would suggest that a whole (emergent pattern) cannot be determined by the examination or reduction to its parts, rather, the whole can best be understood as being greater than but the result of the interactions of its parts. In this way, EM is like behaviorism:  a study of results is what matters.

Simple and slick theory.  Congratulations!


reductio ad finem  – eliminative materialism

deus ex machina  –  connectivist materialism


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