Wednesday, 29 December 2010

An Alternative World View - Part 1

McLaren (2007) is moving on to look at the type of world that Jesus talked about and endeavoured to live out. In line with my own thinking, he talks of giving as "a more secure investment that accumulating and hoarding" (p 135). Security, equity, and prosperity come through generosity. Jesus clearly promoted an anti-prosperity gospel emphasising that anything else will lead to hating God.

The question then is how do you assess a person's value in society? McLaren argues that "Each has intrinsic value in relation to its Creator" (p 138). He refers to the economist Herman Daly (1996) who has suggested "that we should reverse our human egoism and consider our value in relation to our service to others of God's creatures: "We grant ourselves intrinsic value... But we do not count our instrumental value to other species, which is too often negative but could be positive if we cared about it"" (p 138).

Here the author is arguing for a change in the method of calculating worth. Rather than using a monetary value, the proposal is to use "our instrumental value to other species." That is what we are capable of giving to help others survive.

As I write this, I am thinking of a discussion on one of the games forums that was related to religious games. I jumped in being critical of religious games that I had examined because the game play gave a different message to that of the context of the game. The authors hope to portray or teach religious content through using it as the context of the game. However, most of these games still portray different values through the nature of their play and their scoring systems. In the discussion, I have talked of the difficulty of using a scoring system and having a winner when collaboration is the objective. As soon as you talk of having a winner, there is an element of being better than other players. When I have played Carcassonne with the goal of assisting rather than hindering other players, I still find myself winning simply because if the way the game rewards players. If promoting giving or collaboration is the goal then we need to look at other ways of rewarding the behaviour.

I see some difficulty with courses like a team projects course where we want to promote team work but we have a marking system that favours a higher contribution. We don't have a measure that rewards the sacrifice of a personal mark in order to help someone else understand what is being done.

What this really highlights is that our measuring systems are messed up. We measure things in terms of people being better to having an advantage over others. Seldom does the reward or measuring system foster giving or self sacrifice partly because if these are performed in true humility, there can be no measurement other than better equality in society.

Having reintroduced Jesus from the perspective of his challenges to the empire system, McLaren begins to look at each of his three core systems (prosperity, equality, and security). He starts with the security system initially talking of a "peace insurgency" (Chapter 19). He then begins to look at the state of the world and our potential to solve many of the world's problems. He makes some interesting observations.

"The 2006 budget showed that US military expenditures were twenty-one times larger than diplomacy and foreign aid combined, and that the United States was dead last among most developed nations in foreign aid as a percentage of gross domestic product. One wonders what would happen if good-hearted Americans realized that a mere 10 percent of the US military budget, if reinvested in foreign aid and development could care for the basic needs of the entire world's poor" (p 165). He goes on to talk of defence policies built on "Mutual Assured Destruction" (MAD) and "Shock and Awe" (pp 166-167). We hold other nations at peace because if they attack, they can be assured that as much as they may destroy us, we have the power to destroy them. With Afghanistan and Iraq, it is more a case of striking with such force that the enemy is forced into submission. The Pentagon's Defence University released a report called "Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance." In it, the authors say "In our excursion, we seek to determine whether and how Shock and Awe can become sufficiently intimidating and compelling factors to force or otherwise convince an adversary to accept our will" (p 166). To me, this statement condemns American foreign policy and shows its complete lack of concern for others. McLaren at the end of this chapter says "In the eyes of the rest of the world, our "craving for absolute security" has already driven us to the brink if moral bankruptcy" (p 168). The problem is that it isn't simply America that utilises such policies and strategies. Israel attacked an aid convoy going to Gaza. Israel's craving for "absolute security" means that she attacks with military force those carrying out a mission without any military protection. Is it surprising that the people of Gaza seek to attack and destroy Israel?

Later, McLaren says "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy" (p 185). This is part of a quote from Dr King.

Another peace leader, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said "The world has the chance to finally say "no" to the continuing scandal of the unregulated weapons trade... No longer should peace business be undermined by the arms business" (p 172). This statement reflects the stupidity of western nations manufacturing and exporting arms to those whom it is seeking to have "accept our will." In other words through its trade policies, it fosters the very terrorism that it claims to be fighting. This is the ultimate stupidity of American and British security fears. If they refused to manufacture and export arms then many of the conflicts around the world would lack the weaponry to continue.

So what is the solution to this downward spiral? McLaren argues that Jesus might say to us, "You need to choose another type of fighting: instead of fighting against each other, you must fight with each other against injustice, for the good of each other" (p 178). We must fight, not with military force, but with pacifist activism, for peace and reconciliation.

McLaren reminds his readers of Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-26, 43-48) where he talks of being reconciled with those who have something against us. The core requirement for peace is not allowing disputes to go unresolved. We have to address the real issues that cause division and refrain from forcing others to submit to our will. McLaren argues that "Jesus envisioned a people actively dedicated to peacemaking" (p 182). This can be achieved not by forcing others to change the way they live but by voluntarily changing our behaviour in the confidence that such a change will precipitate an unexpected change in their behaviour" (pp 183-184). I would go further and contend that by changing the "unacceptable way that we live," we will remove the objections that others have thus removing the point of contention and strife. Our mistreatment of others leads to what we regard as their unacceptable way of living. Removal of our mistreatment removes the incentive for their behaviour and our response to it.

The Prosperity System

McLaren uses the idea of theocapitalist religion describing its four laws.

  1. Progress through rapid growth
  2. Serenity through possession and consumption
  3. Freedom to prosper through unaccountable corporations
  4. Salvation through competition alone

McLaren argues that the system fosters inequality rewarding the rich and penalising the poor. The idea behind the name, theocapitalist religion, is that these laws are seen as being unbreakable. He says in relation to "salvation through competition alone" that "to violate this law would be to work against the very structure of the universe, and would run counter to the will of God and his "gospel of wealth"" (p 195).

It is this belief in the capitalist system that is hard to shake people's belief in. McLaren says "The market's own mindless expansion, effective as it is in the short-term, inevitably brings its own long-term problems as it further taxers the planet's carrying capacity beyond the already bad overload coming from the population increase. It's not a question of ideology, but of physical limits" (pp 201-202). He makes other interesting comments like the rich being so focused on growth that they don't have time to enjoy what they have already obtained.

So what is the counter laws or way of living? McLaren says God's love economy is "a new way of living as part of God's sacred ecosystem" (p 206). The laws that counter theocapitalism's four laws are:

  1. Good deeds for the common good
  2. Satisfaction through gratitude and sharing
  3. Salvation through seeking justice
  4. Freedom to prosper by building better communities

Where theocapitalism emphasises the individual and the exploitation of resources, the counter laws emphasise community and the sharing of resources. McLaren contends that this is for the benefit of all living organisms.

References

McLaren, B. D. (2007). Everything must change: when the world's biggest problems and Jesus' good news collide. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Herman Daly (1996) Beyond growth: The economics of sustainable development. Boston: Beacon Press.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Framing stories

McLaren (2007) describes the framing story for the Roman empire (p 83-86) and the views of Jesus that he feels exist. The views of Jesus either see his 'good news' as an offer for a better future in the next life (sin and salvation through Jesus) or as a challenge to the framing stories of his day (the bringing of God's kingdom to this world). The second views, McLaren calls the 'emerging view.'

However, it is his narrative of the empires framing story that drives this reflection. It is a framing story that promises peace and security except for ... . I would argue has the framing story changed? We may not have the old style slaves but people are still being enslaved so the wealthy can enjoy the comforts of a peaceable life.

McLaren does make an attempt to show how this empire framing story has been played out again and again (pp 88) but he doesn't seem to make the connection with the culture of a capitalist economy. Colonisation saw western countries build empires controlled from the home country. The new source of power or promise of security is through economic conformity to a system of credit and debt. Financial prosperity offers the new opportunity for peace and security but the freedoms are removed through enslaving forces of debt and the drive for greater prosperity.

I still have a long way to go in my reading and maybe, McLaren addresses these issues in the 'equity' system. However, it is clear that our western culture and its related financial mechanisms are little more that another form of the empire framing story. It promises peace and security but not to all. It encourages a new level of conformity through enslaving to an economic system, and it continues to use force to put down those around its borders who might want to see things through a different economic picture.

The sad part of this framing story is that the Christian church has been and still is part of building that empire. There are those around its borders who think differently but they are still to a large extent regarded as heretics by the most vocal and visible Christian denominations. The church in its many forms has taken on the framing story of capitalist economics and seems unable to break free.

References

McLaren, B. D. (2007). Everything must change: when the world's biggest problems and Jesus' good news collide. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Framing Stories

What are the consequences of the framing stories in which Christians interpret the gospel message and what are the consequences of using those framing stories?

One of the framing stories could be that of building an empire or Christendom. Here there is a desire to be in a position of power and authority so that the Christian morals and standards become those of the empire. The consequence is adherence to belief and moral codes by force and not by a conscious free will decision.

Empire building has other consequences such as the acceptance of force to subdue opposition to the empire. This may even be to force into submission to the faith.

The empire building framing story still continues even though Christianity isn't seen any longer as the state religion. There are those who seek to be in the corridors of power simply to ensure that the laws of the land enforce what they see as being Christian morals.

A second framing story is that of the prosperity gospel. In this framing story financial success is seen as a symbol of strong faith. As wealth increases, so do the defences to protect that wealth. Security fences and alarm systems replace open interaction with neighbours. The preachers parade the trappings of wealth surrounded by their body guards while less successful members of their congregations suffer in poverty while trying to maintain the practices of prosperity preached from the pulpit. Inequality runs riot and questionable financial practices become the norm since wealth is God's blessing for faith.

A third framing story is that of putting others first. Maybe this isn't a good wording but the focus of this framing story is building an equitable and sustainable society. Not all advances in technology are seen as good. They are evaluated based on their ability to maintain balance and equality. Love becomes the primary focus and self gain is put aside.

The final framing story is that of poverty and separation. In this story, the believer separates from the world to avoid contamination by it. They live a subsistence life style free of the trappings of the surrounding culture. But, the separation means that they do not participate in society or have any influence in it. Instead, they have an enforced separation that ensures that their faith remains free of all contamination.

I would like to think that I lean toward the third framing story but I am aware that my faith has been influenced by some of the others.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Algorithms, Data Structures, and Patterns

I have a feeling that this may be revisiting an old theme but as I relate to others, I realise that old definitions seem to change little over time.

An algorithm is defined by the idea of a sequence of instructions. This definition corresponds well with imperative or procedural programming but not so well with the object-oriented paradigm. Guzdial and Ericson (2005) introduce the algorithm terminology in their programming test but it doesn't maintain any prominence. They initially refer to both programs and algorithms as recipes. They then talk of the study of recipes in terms of "How a recipe works" (algorithm), "the units used in recipes" (data structures), and type of recipes (pp 3-4). They do use a couple of more formal definitions. The first being that an "Algorithm is a description of a process apart from any programming language" (p 6). As such an algorithm "can be written in English" (p 6). In the second definition, they say "An algorithm is a description of behaviour for solving a problem" (p 516). Although they make some other references to algorithm, it doesn't have the focus that I would have expected from the way that it is introduced.

Data structures as suggested by Guzdial and Ericson are units used in algorithms but in teaching data structures, algorithms may be taught that describe how to manage the data structure. How an algorithm is implemented for a data structure depends on the implementation language or maybe more accurately the programming paradigm that the programmer is using.

My interest here is that we place an emphasis on teaching algorithms. Often universities teach algorithm and data structure papers but few that focus on design patterns. It makes me wonder whether the issue of the difference between imperative programming and object-oriented programming has really been examined or considered as a real issue.

In the debate on teaching object-oriented programming there was the proposal to use elementary patterns as foundation for teaching (Wallingford 1998). Partially as I expected these patterns include loop and selection patterns. These cover wider range of patterns that I taught in my introductory programming course in the early 1990s. The patterns can be used to build a base for reasoning about program design and for constructing more complex programming logic.

The question then is whether elementary patterns can be used to describe algorithms and data structures? If they can then maybe we should teach patterns in our introductory courses to lay the foundation for later learning.

Is it possible that patterns can be programming paradigm independent or is the link between a paradigm and a pattern very fixed? I think there is a pattern that can be applied across paradigms and it is these that should be the foundation of introductory programming courses. In the same manner as I used logic diagrams as a foundation for teaching imperative programming, we should be able to use the patterns as generic representations or abstractions that are them implemented in specific constructs.

A further extension of this elementary patterns thinking is introductory implementation patterns (Beck 2007). In theory, Beck's patterns are language specific but he had already produced a similar Smalltalk (1997) and there are some overlaps. It is these overlaps that are significant. The question is whether, other paradigms (i.e. functional, logic, ...) have implementation patterns? I am sure that there are but they may not be called patterns.

What I believe we can talk about and use to teach are foundational patterns that have variable implementations in different programming paradigms.

The other use of patterns is pedagogical patterns (Bergin 1998, 2000). These tend to focus on class room practice rather than planning content. You could say they are teaching best practice.

From my own research, I am focused on patterns of variation in content that help bring focus to what should be learnt. Marton et al. (2003) have described four patterns of variation. What I would like to see is these formalised in a way that is easier to apply.

What I am looking at is utilising patterns as the building blocks for a course. Patterns of variation are used in conjunction with pedagogical patterns to teach elementary patterns that are implemented in the programming language.

References

Beck, K. (1997). Smalltalk best practice patterns (1st ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Beck, K. (2007). Implementation patterns. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison Wesley

Bergin, J. (1998, 11 May 2002). Some pedagogical patterns, from http://csis.pace.edu/~bergin/patterns/fewpedpats.html

Bergin, J. (2000, July). Fourteen pedagogical patterns, from http://csis.pace.edu/~bergin/PedPat1.3.html

Guzdial, M., & Ericson, B. (2005). Introduction to computing & programming with Java: A multimedia approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Marton, F., Runesson, U., & Tsui, A. B. M. (2003). The space of learning. In F. Marton & A. B. M. Tsui (Eds.), Classroom discourse and the space of learning (pp. 3-40). Mahwah, NJ; London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Wallingford, E. (1998, 17 July 1998). Elementary patterns and their role in instruction: A report on the ChiliPLoP'98 hot topic workshop, from www.cs.uni.edu/~wallingf/patterns/elementary/chiliplop98/summary.html

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Can the existence or non-existence of God be proved by science?

This question has repeatedly come up in my thinking. If we can explain through science how the universe came into being then is there any further need for god? On the other hand, science hasn't proven there is a god so does this mean there is no god? Is it possible for science to prove the existence or non-existence of god?

I have difficulty with the idea that because we can create conditions that might be similar to the conditions when the solar system may have come into existence then we have shown that there is no requirement for god. All that we do is speculation about what might have been before the existence of what we know now exists. I keep thinking what was it like before time existed or matter existed but I also need to ask the question whether there was a point where nothing existed? Can we really talk about the beginning of time?

In my belief system, God exists outside of time and matter. Death also removes us from time and matter as we know it. If we are to contend that God is external or always existed then he cannot be constrained by dimension that came into existence at creation or the big bang. The realm or dimensions that we exist in limits our understanding and restricts our existence.

God is not restricted by our dimensions of existence. I would contend that the biblical contention of that he brought those dimensions into existence. Can the creator be constrained by that which he created? Does what the creator brought into existence constrain the creator?

We search for proof of god within the dimensions of our existence or understanding but if God exists outside those dimensions are we likely to find Him / Her within those dimensions? We may observe evidence of His / Her handiwork but not the creator him or her self. A person builds a piece of furniture but that person doesn't become part of that furniture. We may observe the handiwork and make judgements about the creator but the furniture will never show us or reveal to us its creator. The creator of the furniture exists apart from the furniture.

Science works within the dimensions of our existence. Our thought processes work within the dimensions of our existence. We exist within the dimensions in which we came into existence. If we are to search for God then we must do so in the dimensions of his / her existence and not within our own limitations. I met with God in what I call the spiritual realm. The biblical authors talk of this realm but our scientific method doesn't understand or apply to it. Science from my perspective can not prove or disprove the existence or non-existence of God.

Before I finish this dialogue, I would contend that our description of God is limited by our realm of existence. Why do we say God is he? In our existence, persons are either male or female. If we understand God to be a person (a restriction that we place on God) then we want to refer to God a him or her. Depending on our perception of the nature of God, we will either see God as male or female.

If I follow my argument that God exists outside our dimensions of existence then God may not be a person as we understand being a person to be. God may not be male or female as we understand male or female.

My understanding of God and my experience of that understanding are based on my experience of God and the limitations of the dimensions of my existence or expression available to me. We use our limited vocabulary and experience to express something that we do not have the full capacity to experience or describe.

I have written before that in logic systems, the proof that something is true only requires one proof of existence. To prove the universal negative (i.e. the non-existence of something), we have to show in all cases (dimensions of possible existence) that the conditions hold true (i.e. the universal negative applies). If we limit the dimensions of investigation, we can argue that the universal negative applies within those dimensions. When we acknowledge tat we can not claim to prove the universal negative.

If life exists in another solar system then we perceive it as being in a form that we understand as being life. We are restricted in our comprehension and understanding by our experience and knowledge. Our proofs of life or the non-existence of life is restricted to our dimensions of knowledge, existence, and understanding. It is only as we become aware of new dimensions that we see new possibilities and ways of expressing our experience or understanding.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Relevance of Work

Barclay (1976) in his introduction to 2nd and 3rd John, has a portion of the Didachē. It talks about the rules for judging travelling prophets or preachers. One of the key measures was a person's willingness to work amongst the settled congregation. The portion that Barclay quotes says “if he be minded to settle among you, and be a crafts man, let him work and eat. But, if he hath no trade, according to your understanding, provide that he shall not live idle among you, being a Christian” (p 134). The implication is that any who settle should endeavour to work at a trade or help the community. They should not be able to sit idle and expect to live comfortably. However, the community is to provide for them not based on how much they work but according to the communities understanding. The new arrival should give of their skills and abilities, and the community provide for the person's needs. This sounds like an itinerant worker who during the harvest arrives at farms to help with the harvest and then moves on when the harvest is done.

There is another interesting aspect in the assessing of these travelling prophets / teachers. The Didachē clearly says “if he ask money, he is a false prophet,” and “no prophet who ordereth a table in the Spirit shall eat of it,” and “Whosoever shall say in the Spirit: Give me money, or any other thing, ye shall not harken to him” (p 134). It is clear that the prophet or teacher should not ask for money or loggings as part of the ministry although there is an expectation that the community will meet their needs.

It could be argued that this doesn't apply to settled ministry but when I think of some of the churches with high profile teachers who appeal for money / gifts to support their ministry and then live in luxury off those gifts then I see them as in breach of these tests in the Didachē. The Didachē is talking of a minister who wishes to settle or the prophet who speaks to the community. Clearly the Didachē is expecting these people to work ub the community and not to be appealing for money for their survival. Our high profile ministers and prophets will fail this simple test.

In relation to work, it is clear that all must be willing to work and offer their skills to the community. In return, the community offers their hospitality or provides the ability for that person to live among them. The worker gives their skills not demanding payment but in order to contribute. The response from the community is to recognise a person's need and to provide for those needs.

Reference:

Barclay, W. (1976). The letters of John and Jude (revised ed.). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Communicating a Political Message

This blog has its origin during the period leading up to the British elections in 2009 and a discussion sequence on Facebook. The instigator of the Facebook discussion sequence initially encouraged people to listen / watch a “Prime Ministerial debate” but also emphasised a desire to see “green” policies / projects promoted. Others in the discussion emphasised that in the current economic environment where “green” options are more expensive, moving to “green” fuels wouldn't happen simply because they are too expensive. They never discussed the reason for them being more expensive or why oil companies were continuing to make healthy profits from current non-“green” fuels.

The issue is really one of political will and being willing to challenge current economic and political thinking. In the discussion, I endeavoured to raise this challenge and to promote the idea that we need to think differently if we are to resolve the problems that we have created. I place emphasis on “we have created” because the problems being debated are things that we (people) have put in place. They are not things that simply happen as a result of natural events (i.e. volcanoes, weather, etc.). People created financial systems and people make decisions on the use of fuels. People can change these things if they have the political will.

As I have thought about this, I keep coming back to Walter Reuther's (a civil rights leader of the 1960's) quote “If we can have full employment and full production for the negative ends of war, then why can't we have a job for every American in the pursuit of peace?” I would change this and argue that we will accept the cost of destructive practices (war, pollution, unemployment, ...) but not the cost of positive practices (peace, clean environment, full employment, ...). The justification is based on the upfront cost and not the ongoing cost cleaning up or putting right the destruction.

Britain and the US never asked whether they could afford war in Iraq or Afghanistan. They never looked at the ongoing cost of restoring these countries or retaining “peace” keepers. The desire was to enforce their own political will on these nations. The costs of doing so were not fully considered.

Reuther's comments relate to World War II and maybe the Vietnam and Korean wars (the cost of the Korean war are on going). particularly for the “World Wars” nations were mobilised for the war effort. Cost was not the concern. After the first World War, there was a period of economic depression possibly partially caused by a return to “peace time” economics but during those war periods funding was found to maintain the machinery of war. Money was injected into the system to pay for things that would be destroyed.

When we look at the issues of “peace” or “green” technologies, we seem unable to find the resources or the will power to make these things happen. Instead, we will use thousands to dollars to pursue environmentally unfriendly projects. If we want “peace” or a “green” economy then we need the political will to fund it or to change the accounting system so that it becomes economically viable to pursue desire outcomes (“peace” and a “green” environment) and economically lacking in viability to pursue destructive outcomes (war and a polluted environment). In the current economic thinking, you tax heavily the destructive focussed projects and use the taxes to support “green” or “peace” initiatives. Better still is to change the economic thinking.

Colonisation

The great era of building empires through colonisation may have come to an end with many former colonies gaining independence or so called independence. These colonisation efforts ignored and destroyed the indigenous cultures of the nations being colonised. As the empire took over, the people of that nation were expected to conform to the systems being implanted by the colonising power.

In some places, we see attempts to revive or recover some of these indigenous practices but the share determination of the colonising power often destroyed the culture and the will of the aboriginal people.

No nation would now claim to be a colonising power but we see the western nations continuing to ignore eastern practices and systems. It is my belief that colonial thinking has driven the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the so called “war on terror.” There is no desire by western nations to understand the concerns of the opposition rather the desire is to see these people conform to western style democracy and economics.

Just as the colonial forces of the past era ignored the wealth of knowledge and cultural practices of the indigenous people, so the western nations are ignoring the eastern knowledge, practices, and systems. There is a wealth of knowledge to be learnt from other cultures but again like the pursuit of “peace,” we ignore that learning in the pursuit of conformity to western democracy and economics.

If we really wish to pursue peace then we have to learn to listen and to learn. Our own systems need to be critiqued and revised. We need to give those cultures room to adapt and grow. Our interaction with them has to involve understanding how they wish to trade and not enforce our trading practises on them.

Defence of our society has to be seen through developing understanding rather than pursuing conquest. Again we need fresh thinking. As Einstein said “we can not solve the problems with the same thinking that created them.”

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Living / Communicating A Dream

Back on 31 August 2010, I reflected that the American Civil Rights movement never fully achieved their dream. The racial barriers have been reduced but not completely. However, it was the dream of "a job for every American in the pursuit of peace" (Walter Reuther) that remains unfulfilled and in the current economic practices unlikely to fulfilled. When monetary concerns dominate and cloud the thinking then the abilities and skills of the people are ignored.

Reading Stephen Denning's "Squirrel Inc." (2004), I am reminded of the change patterns book (Manns & Rising 2005). Both books talk of bringing change to an organisation. However, Denning talks more of resistance to change and of methods to overcome that resistance.

Denning helps explain a little better why the Civil Rights dream has not been fulfilled. I have said the foundation for the resistance is economic thinking. Denning shows or talks of this in his story when he puts the words "Your hard numbers are about the past. The future can't be scrutinized. It hasn't happened yet. It doesn't have any hard numbers. You've never seen a nut-storing organization. Neither have those fifty-six squirrels you interviewed" in Diana's mouth (p 108).

If we ask people to pursue a dream, we are asking them to do something that they haven't done or seen before. There is no hard evidence of the possible outcome or of the steps required to make it happen. Any attempt to gather numbers is meaningless because there is nothing to measure. Pursuing a dream is about believing in possibilities not recalling past victories or failures. What can be shown by exploring the past is that full employment hasn't been achieved in pursuing peace and that current economic practices stand in the way of achieving that dream. Denning emphasises how the "knowledge game" tends to work on current assumptions and not challenge them (p 110). We see this in economic research that continually emphasises and supports current practice without ever questioning the direction or assumptions. It takes a brave researcher to step outside the current paradigm and challenge the underlying thinking.

Yet to fulfil the dream of "full employment for peace," we need to be challenging the underlying thinking. We need to be communicating a dream and causing the current system to crumble. To some extent natural disasters do this on a small scale. People have to step outside the restrictions to survive but as normality is restored, there is a return to old economic thinking and assumptions and the destruction of the new sharing that developed.

Denning has his character say "In contrast, a vision doesn't use these exclusionary moves. It doesn't claim to be true or false. It offers you a possibility. It bids you escape from the constraints of the past and enter fresh territory. It opens up a landscape of possibilities still to come" (p 110). The dream of "full employment" has to throw up new possibilities and challenge old stereotypes. Such a future based on placing the needs of people ahead of economics has to open doors to new possibilities. Old patterns of thinking have to crumble. Old rules and restrictions have to be discarded. The new hope has to flow from new paradigms and new thought processes.

Denning goes on to say "A vision is a dream, but it's a dream with a twist: it's a dream that's shared. When we dream together, it's already the beginning of a new reality. When we share the same dream, we all begin to participate in it" (p 111).

The first step in making a vision or dream reality is to share it. We have to use our telling of the dream to break down the resistance to challenge the "standard ways of doing things" that have "become embedded in the minds and hearts of everyone" (p 116). We need to learn to live the dream regardless of the cost in the current system so that people are free to think in fresh ways about living in community.

References

Denning, S. (2004). Squirrel Inc.: A fable of leadership through storytelling. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Manns, M. L., & Rising, L. (2003). Fearless change: Patterns for introducing new ideas. Boston: Addison Wesley.

The Dream of a Giving Communities

In thinking about the design of a game designed to foster different forms of economic thinking and theories, one of the issues is to help people see how these alternative theories may be able to operate with a wider context that is hostile or operating in opposition to the desired theory.

Israel was encouraged to behave in one manner to fellow Jews and sojourners but to treat the foreigner differently. My thought is that we want to foster giving communities but that these communities can be exploited by a self interest community that surrounds them.

In our society, there are barter communities that deal with out side communities either by barter or by the prevailing economic practices. This same model could apply to a giving community. Internally, the focus is on giving. When dealing with other communities the desire would be a focus on giving but it may need to use barter or priced commodity. Never should it barter or set a price for personal advantage. The giving communities operation should always challenge alternative economic systems even if at times, it places its own existence at risk. It should never allow the self interest policies communities to destroy the foundation of its operation. This is what I believe has happened with current Christian communities. Priority has been given to personal survival and as a consequence, the economic practices of ensuring personal gain have taken over destroying the emphasis of satisfying the need of others.

Any economic game needs to bring these different forces into play so that the game player has to make decisions based on joining a giving focused community where personal needs are meet by the community, and a self interest community where the individual is forced to fend for themselves. The consequences of the choices need to become visible fairly quickly with in the game play.

The player needs to not only join a community but will also need to play at the boundary between communities. This way, they will have to experience the interactions and resolve the conflicts caused by different philosophies and theories.

Keeping the game simple also has to be an integral part of the game design. If the game gets too complex, it will cause the player to lose interest or slow down the game too much.

I am just wondering what influence games like Civilisation are having on my thinking. I haven't played them often but I am aware of their community focus and on the interaction between communities. What I see wrong with these games is the emphasis on building a community that dominates the surrounding communities. I have not found a way to build co-existing communities. As I reflect, I wonder what Gandhi would think of modern India? Would he still see it pursuing his model for community? What we see is communities falling in favour of Western Capitalism and then struggling to retain their independence and sense of community. All these things should visible in a game.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Inner and Outer Life

I have been reading Snyder's (2004) book. In the current chapter, Snyder discusses the Anabaptist perspective of living in this world. The core of their approach to life is that the inner renewing and cleansing should result in an immediate and likewise change to the external person (p 138). Faith in Christ and baptism by the Spirit meant outward changes in the way that you dealt with people around you.

As I read the section on worldly possessions, I heard echoes of my own thinking. The difference is that these people didn't just think this way, they endeavoured to live this way.

The first emphasis was on sharing material goods. They argued that "Since they have such spiritual things in common, they should likewise share with a member [who is] in material need" (p 139). The relationship to the things of this world reflected the higher, spiritual relationship. A lack of faith in the material provision reflected a lack of faith in the spiritual realm.

This emphasis on sharing meant that they reproached the poverty evidenced in Christian churches (p 140). Maybe more accurately they reproached the disparity that they saw in these churches. I am thinking here of the disparity in churches that I saw in New Zealand with the well-off often regarding the less well-off as lazy or not working hard enough. A theme that I have heard justified by the passage “Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich” (Proverbs 10:4). The capitalist 'Christian' work ethic took precedence over the concern for the impoverished state of those around them. As I write this, I am conscious that I agree with the Anabaptist philosophy but that I am a long way from practising what they teach.

For the Anabaptist, this attitude toward possessions and poverty led to "the avoidance of riches" (p 141). The gathering of riches took one away from the spiritual life. Instead resources needed to be used to care for "those who had need, particularly within the baptised Body of Christ" (p 141). The focus is clearly on the care for the fellow believer but I suspect that this overflowed to the traveller or sojourner in their midst. This selfless caring would have acted as a witness to those around them.

The next aspect that Snyder discusses is the attitude to traders and "the emerging capitalist forms of economic activity" (p 141). Traders were seen as "adding arbitrary cost to articles" (p 141). Snyder says "brought more cheaply" but I can see that they may object to the pressure for the producer to sell below cost thus impoverishing the producer. Fair trade at least argues that the producer should gain just value.

However, the focus is Snyder's passage is the impact on the final purchaser who is forced to buy at a higher price thus "taking bread from their mouths and thus making the poor man nothing but the bondman of the rich" (p 141). Our modern society would struggle without the traders and distributors. Goods are no longer produced by local craftsmen and the trader / distributor enables goods to reach people who need them. However, the fundamental idea behind Anabaptist thought in this area is that "Christian economic activity should be of benefit to the poor" (p 141). Certainly our economic activity is weighted toward the rich, often the bankers or traders in money. Traders and distributors of physical goods may benefit the flow of goods to the poor but bank trade in money and the accounting principles work against the poor.

Not surprisingly, the Anabaptists opposed the investing of money for interest (p 141). Any surplus should be used to help the poor. They went as far as to emphasise giving without expecting return of the principle. My thought is that the concept of a loan is simply an instrument for holding control of wealth and ultimately control over the borrower. I lend you this for your current need but I now have control over you and have expectations of how you will use what I have lent so that I am repaid. The true gift is given in the hope that no future gifts need to be given but not placing obligation on the receiver.

The Anabaptist philosophy is driven directly by their love of God and neighbour. Holding back what we could give is holding back on God's love. Is this giving from what we don't have. I see it more as giving so that God might provide.

There is one other emphasis in this section. This is that the Christian shouldn't be concerned about self-advancement. We live and act for the benefit of others and not for the interests of self. Yes, I would like the status of lecturer but more importantly I want the opportunity to give of my knowledge and skills. I see the possibility that it could all be wasted because I don't match the profile of any available position but maybe working as an independent tutor would fulfil my vision just as much as operating within the university system. It may offer me more freedom since I will not be under pressure to conform to the false measurement of performance.

Reference

Snyder, C. A. (2004). Following in the footsteps of Christ: The Anabaptist tradition. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Eulogies for our fathers

When my father dies in July 2002, I wrote a eulogy which I read at his funeral. When Marilyn's father died this month (October 2010), I thought about what I would say about him and then after the funeral, I wrote a eulogy. After 35 years of knowing Marilyn's dad, he was as much a father figure to me as my own father.

Eulogy to my father

Well dad, I thought I would take this time to thank you for what you have passed on to me.
The first of these is the receding hair line.
The clean shaven look is fashionable among the sporting set.
I didn't inherit your enthusiasm for fishing or gardening.
However, I still enjoy playing on the river banks and cutting up the ground on the mountain bike.
I hope I have inherited your faith and your ability to communicate.
I also think of your patience and faithfulness. I really appreciate the fact that you were always there for us.
How many times have you accepted my mistakes and gently advised me of what I could do.
I remember the long conversations that we have had on a wide range of topics.
I might have the degree but you have taught me that qualifications and positions of status mean little.
Your wisdom comes from experience and your faith in God.
Your status comes from humility and a willingness to serve.
I am sorry that my opportunities to learn from you have come to an end.
However, there are lots of memories

  • the holidays in the VW combie
  • the trips in the milk and bread trucks
  • the fruit purchasing journeys through central Otago
  • the annual visits even though it meant a journey the length of New Zealand (we did observer that it was always June or July to avoid the Southland cold)
  • the walks and talks

Now your time on earth has come to an end
But I know that although over the last month it has been difficult, the suffering has not been long.
Now you are at rest with your God.
God bless. Thanks Dad. Good-bye.

Eulogy to Marilyn's father

Farewell dad, you were more than a father-in-law.
It took some tine to get to the point where I could call you dad but that was more the way I viewed the relationship than anything that you did.

As I reflect, I think of times that we talked or did things together.

Sometimes around your interests – the Dairy Board papers you asked me to review, or the wood turning in the workshop, or the model trains, of the cattle you wanted us to see, or taking us out fishing on Lake Taupo.

But you also took an interest in our interests – finding the Marton velodrome that was long past being usable, going to the Feilding cycle track, looking over photos that I had taken.

There were times when we talked about the histories that you were writing and worked on ensuring the computer worked in a way that you were comfortable with it.

There were the times at the holiday houses and the exploration journeys where you wanted to share the things that you loved.
But you also participated in our celebrations – attending graduations, taking an interest in our travels, listening to our analysis of organisations.

Despite us upsetting your plans for a big wedding for Marilyn, you accepted me in to your family so that it became my family.

The shrunken body in the casket wasn't you. You are the big man with the big heart. You cared for each of us and worked to bring the family together.

There is much that I remember of the times that we shared. There are many reminders of the relationship we shared.

Finally our distance away from Kiwi shores meant that I wasn't there to say a final farewell but be assured you will not be forgotten. You always will be a father to me.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Loving the world

Barclay's (1976) commentary (I John 2:15-17) talks initially about how the physical world was understood as an opposing force to God. He does conclude by talking about the Christian being different. Christians aren't rejecting the physical world. What they are rejecting are the man created principles that go against Christian principles.

My favourite point of contrast is the financial system. The emphasis around us is to take more regardless of the impact on those around us. It is a personal gain scenario. The Christian instead should be looking at giving to help others live comfortably. The problem is that self preservation has been seen as a Christian virtue but we are simply not seeing as God wants us to see. We need to focus on the needs of others and not on our own interests.

The thing that I see us struggling with are human created thought systems that lead us into conflict with others. It is very visible in the students where they are supposed to be doing team work but they are fighting each other and destroying each others' work. It is also there in the performance measures for research and those that are talked about for teaching.

The destruction of the world comes through lack of relationship caused by competition. We breed problems by the continual desire to be better than others and to have more.

Reference:

Barclay, W. (1976). The letters of John and Jude (revised ed.). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

In the power of Jesus' name

Barclay (1976) talks of the name of a person “not simply that by which a person is called, it stands for the whole character of a person” (I John 2:12-14, p 53). To invoke the name of God or of Jesus is to invoke his character and his power.

When we hear a person's name, we immediately have a picture of that person. That will invoke thoughts of warmth or loathing or … depending on our knowledge of the person. If we have little knowledge of the person, the name will mean nothing and it has little impact on us.

Those who in the name of Jesus call for healing or to drive out evil can only do so if they know Christ and to some extent if the person that they seek to heal knows Christ. It is the knowledge of the character of Jesus that brings power and not simply invoking his name.

The evangelist and healer, therefore, must start with the revealing of the nature and character of God. To do this means starting with walking with him and getting to know him. Barclay talks of how John would have been “thinking of his own experience” (p 54). John had walked with Jesus and grown to love him. He had a vast knowledge and experience of him. It is from this position of knowledge that he uses the name of God as he shares with people.

May we develop the same depth of knowledge of God.

Reference:

Barclay, W. (1976). The letters of John and Jude (revised ed.). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Love and Discipline

In reading 1 John 2:7-8 recently, I was challenged to think of the relationship between love and discipline. God loves but he also seeks justice an disciplines us.

There is the same contrast involved in fostering learning and yet having to assess what the students have learnt. At times, we have students who are progressing in passing the assessments and yet are really failing on the learning. Occasionally, you discover that one of these students is getting assistance to complete the assessed exercises and is not able to pass written tests. In effect, the assignments haven't encouraged learning and for many actually place a limit on learning.

As a teacher, I need to assess or at least make a judgement on the learning that is or has occurred. This measure helps me plan the next stage of learning. Assessing is a necessary part of encouraging learning.

In the same way discipline is a necessary part of showing love. We are not left to do as we please but God through his love shows us the error of our ways so that we may repent and be redeemed. Through this process we are reconciled to him and all creation (shalom).

In attending a Workshop session on peace and power, we revisited the theme of shalom. It occurred to me that shalom is both peace and confrontation. When we wish somebody shalom, we are not simply saying peace be with you but we are challenging the hearer to confronted with God's truth. Even our own walk in shalom confronts us with the need to live out that shalom seeking the reconciliation of all creation.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Knowledge, Emotional Experience, and/or Moral Action

How do we gain knowledge of God? Barclay describes how the Greeks sought to find God through the intellectual pursuit of knowledge or through an emotional experience (I John 2:3-6, pp 40-43). I have been involved in intellectual discussions on God's existence. These usually revolve around proving God's existence. The argument would go if you can't prove God exists to the listener then there can not be a God. But the reality is that you can't prove a universal negative. Only existence can be proven through experience. Existence is not dependent on our awareness.

To prove that God does not exist means proving the universal negative for all phenomenon, the phenomenon is not God. So to prove God does not exist a person needs to have universal knowledge or experience. That is something that we don't have. To know God simply means that we have knowledge or experience of Him. There is one complication and that is what a person means or understands God to be. If a person expects a physical manifestation of God then they may never find Him.

As well as the intellectual debate, there are also the emotional experiences of Him through the charismatic movement. God floods the emotions and on occasions causes people to fall over. Yes, sometimes the falling over is because that is the expectation but not always. A focus on emotional experience can led to dissatisfaction.

Ultimately belief in God must have it roots beyond experience or claimed knowledge. As Barclay emphasises, it is our actions or what we do as a result of the relationship that matters. This doesn't do away with the intellectual understanding or the experiences of His presence but our faith moves us to act in a way that shows His love and compassion to the world. In living out the relationship, the presence of God becomes so much more real.

Reference:

Barclay, W. (1976). The letters of John and Jude (revised ed.). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Monday, 30 August 2010

The message in a song and poem

Back in the early 1970s, I wrote and led a church service in which I used some of the pop songs of the time to reflect words and themes from Bible stories. The service started with the first chapter of Genesis and ended with a poem talking of the seven days of destruction that led to the world being destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. Despite the fact that there is enough nuclear weaponry to destroy the world ten times over, I have been repeatedly told this as a deterrent that prevents war. Tell this to the Iraqis or the Afghans or … War still happens because we fail to address the causes.

But it has been a different song dating back to the same time period, (early 1970s) that has been echoing through my thoughts. It is Simon and Garfunkel's song “Richard Cory” that is based on a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1897).

The song shows the contradictions of life in an unequal society that looks on economic wealth as a sign of prosperity and of success. The singer talks of working in Richard Cory's factories, loathing the life that he is living, and wishing that he could be Richard Cory.

Now Richard Cory is said to have wealth, connections, and status. “He had everything a man could want power, wealth, and style” but the final verse ends “So my mind was filled with wonder when the evening headlines read: 'Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head.”

What is the song telling us? Wealth doesn't bring happiness? Despite Cory's suicide, we still want to be like him?

To me, it is a sad commentary on an unequal society. Neither the poor and enslaved or the rich and enslaved have contentment. What did Richard Cory lack that made him so unhappy? The worker envies Cory's wealth and his life of social status but fails to see that wealth doesn't bring happiness or contentment.

As I look around, I don't see that society has improved. There are still those enslaved to the regimented hours of a factory type environment. But even those who have the appearance of greater freedom are enslaved to the wealth making processes that give the appearance of freedom. Money must be earned to pay for the freedoms that might be enjoyed.

The cravings for wealth continue and unhappiness continues. We need to refocus on those things that bring peace and confidence to people's lives and discard the race for greater wealth and progress.

Civil Rights and Are we there yet?

Earlier in the year, we went to Coventry Cathedral. They had a display of quotes and photos from the 1963 civil rights movement in America. The words on the posters reminded me that we really haven't moved a great deal further on. So much of what they said still remains to be resolved.

Some of the words also echo themes promoted by C.H. Douglas (1974) when they say "If we can have full employment and full production for the negative ends of war, then why can't we have a job for every American in the pursuit of peace?" (Walter Reuther). The focus during peace time isn't on the needs of people. They can be written off because the economic systems takes priority. Balancing the books takes priority over ensuring people are feed, have houses to live in, and have something they can contribute to society. The desired goal of full employment in the "pursuit of peace" has not been achieved and will not be achieved in the current economic way of thinking.

As I prepared this, I came across a quote from Brian Smith, ex-principal of Baptist College of New Zealand. He argued that "Political action works within the assumptions of the prevailing world view, which in this case asserts that economics is a law unto itself. Politics as we know it does not seek to challenge that. Rather it seeks to find ways in which what is produced by an autonomous economics can be utilised in a more benign and 'Christian' manner" (2003). The autonomy of economics inhibits the ability to make radical changes to address the clear imbalance and misplaced faith.

I agree that economics is a human created system and that it is within our power to dismantle and rebuild in such a way that it addresses the issues of providing freedom and confidence for all.

The civil rights movement marched for freedom as echoed in Martin Luther King's speech "I have a dream" (1963). They believed that this was the promise made to them and all people in the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Martin Luther King described it as an uncashed cheque. He said 'This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. …

'But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice."

But what do we have almost 50 years later? The black man may be less of a slave but people of all nationalities are enslaved to an economic system designed to enslave through debt and dependence, but as I write this, I realise that through the promotion of the western model, the western nations seek to enslave those who do not seek to walk and live as they do. The new slavery is enforced by an 'autonomous economic' system, a belief system that is entrenched in the fabric of society.

Brian Smith said in his article that economics is "no longer about how we behave toward one another. Rather it is an impersonal and independent reality, that runs according to its own laws in the same way that physics and chemistry follow their own laws" (2003). Why have we come to this point in history where we have allowed a framework that men have created to dictate so much of our lives? It comes down to our belief system. A belief system that needs to be challenged so that we rebuild with the dreams of freedom, confidence, and security for all men, not just in western nations but in all nations.

In the words of the Civil Rights leaders "they must march from a present feeling of despair and hopelessness, despair and frustration, to renewed faith and confidence" (Whitney Young 1963) and "The revolution [must] reverberate throughout the land, touching every city, every town, every village ..." (A Phillip Randolph 1963). Who is willing to join me to march against the economic flow in the pursuit of a balanced a fair economy so that people may be free to utilise their skills and their talents?

References

Douglas, C. H. (1974). Economic democracy. Epsom, Surrey: Bloomfield Publishers.

Martin Luther King (1963) I have a dream. Speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Smith, B. K. (2003). Our god reigns but not in economics, Reality, April/May.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Software Architecture

Having used the Cairngorm framework with ActionScript, I am beginning to question the overhead that they introduce. In preparation for assisting with a course that taught Spring and Hibernate, I implemented a Spring example and concluded that it also adds overhead in terms of maintenance and operations.

A common feature with model-view-controller frameworks is the use of a controller to distribute to commands or actions. The coding examples for Java often use a common action listener that then has to determine who should process the request. In both Flex / ActionScript and Java, it is possible to write the event to call the handler or action listener for that event, that is to rely on the controller or dispatcher in the interface code. The problem is that this is seen as hard wiring so framework designers look for a way to disconnect events from actions. In the case of controllers, this is seems to be done by introducing another dispatch mechanism instead of finding a way to inject into the view the dependencies. With Spring, it is injecting URLs or servlets into web pages. Why is there a desire to inject a single entry point controller that then has to redispatch the request through some decision process? The dispatch mechanism, already exists and we should make use of it.

A second issue is what I regard as configuration complexity. With Cairngorm when a command was added multiple places had to be updated. Looking at Spring and Hibernate, there seems to be the class files and at least one XML file. Actually with Hibernate, there were other changes in the Java code to tell Hibernate to use the class as well as the logic for doing the update. The Spring examples also seem to have these multiple place updates. The use of annotations can reduce this further. In the case of Hibernate, the annotations in the class file may be all that is required, Spring is also moving to annotations but I suspect that for dependency injection, there still needs to be some configuration file.

The frameworks trade off hard links for greater configuration maintenance. If the configuration can't be verified other than by executing the code then the gains are questionable. The programmer loses some of the syntactic verification.

Native objects uses an approach that doesn't build view objects or data access objects. The native objects framework uses the domain objects to build the user interface and the data access. Annotations are used to provide additional information to the native objects framework but the programmer focuses on domain issues rather than the surrounding technical issues. The interface or views have to match the standard views of the framework and this may make it unsuitable for some applications where a more graphical user interface is required.

If as in the case of native objects, there is a gain in terms of being easier to configure to achieve the same results then there are advantages to using a framework. However, the application needs to be able to fit the assumptions of the framework. I am not convinced that a framework necessarily leads to better reuse but it could lead to easier ability to replace objects with alternative solutions.

The final area where a framework might win is with the idea of liberated objects. CLISP has the function as the core unit. However, CLISP objects and functions can't exist outside the CLISP environment. Exploiting objects to enable wider integration of objects into other applications possibly even defining new relationships seems to be still beyond the scope of these frameworks.

God's Unconditional Love

I have been thinking a lot about the issue of redemption and reconciliation. God's unconditional love emphasises reconciliation but reconciliation comes through being drawn to repentance. God doesn't love us regardless. He loves us so that we might see our faults and turn to Him in repentance. We have to learn to love in such a way that those who we interact with will seek to re-establish relationships. It is so easy to close the door and end all contact but that isn't God's way. We have to extend our love and reach out to the pain of others. Our goal is to reconcile others in the relationships that are around them.

The next thought is that God's unconditional love still keeps loving even though the recipient closes the door. This makes the love hard to communicate but at some point the door has to open and the love will flow in.

More from a human perspective God's love means working to resolve conflict by seeking to understand. It is easy to blame everything on the other person and fail to see where we haven't shown the love and compassion that we should have. Even when others don't respond, we have to learn to continually try and communicate.

God must also feel the barriers when we endeavour to shut Him out because we have acted contrary to His wishes.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Abstraction

This blog is a reflection on teaching abstraction using variation theory. Marton, Runesson, and Tsui (2003, p 6) have said that when teaching using variation theory, the teacher will use contrast, generalisation, separation, and fusion. Contrast helps identify specific features of the phenomenon. Generalisation helps identify similar phenomena or other phenomenon that are identical. Separation helps identify specific features or aspects of the phenomenon. Fusion is about simultaneous awareness and should help see the phenomenon as a whole.

When we look at abstraction, we are looking to move away from specific phenomenon to something that categorises a set of phenomena. This means identifying features that are common to the phenomena. Generalisation is seen as part of the process of identifying abstractions. This is looking for features that are common to the phenomena to which the generalisation is to apply. However, fusion also plays an important part in the sense of forming the abstraction. Seeing how the common factors work together to form the new entity, the abstraction.

From the perspective of cognitive processes, the emphasis with respect to abstraction is synthesis. That is exemplifying, classifying, and summarising. Anderson et al. (2001, p 276) define synthesis as putting together elements and parts so as to form a whole. I see it as making connections between ideas.

Abstraction is also about making connections in order to reduce complexity. Some details are ignored because they are either irrelevant or they belong to a specialisation of the abstraction.

My contention is that in order to teach abstraction, we need to help students see the commonalities, that is those things that are common to the phenomena, and to see or put aside those that are unique, or find ways to handle the unique features so that there is a common extension mechanism.

This process means that we need to highlight the similarities in part by contrasting them with what changes. Some of these will be easy to spot. Others will require some manipulation.

References

Marton, F., Runesson, U., & Tsui, A. B. M. (2003). The space of learning. In F. Marton & A. B. M. Tsui (Eds.), Classroom discourse and the space of learning (pp. 3-40). Mahwah, NJ; London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., . . . Wittrock, M. C. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning and teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives Addison Wesley Longman.

Recognising Difference

A theory of learning concepts

After listening to a talk by Aaron Sloman, I endeavoured to clarify my thinking with respect to variation theory and formulating concepts. Aaron seems to contend that things like mathematical concepts can not be formed from the recognition of differences or variations. In some respects, this applies to any abstract concept.

Sensing difference

As I look around me, I visually recognise colour, distance, movement, shade, etc. I also hear sounds and feel objects. The human body has a wide range of sensory input that we recognised as different signals and yet possibly related to the same object or phenomenon.

An individual eye recognises colour and shade. The combination of two eyes gives us depth and to some extent direction (direction is probably recognisable with a single eye but two adds the depth to the perception of direction). An ear allows us to recognise variation in sound. A constant sound may be ignored unless we give it focal attention. Two ears helps us determine direction of the sound. Our nose allows us to detect the direction of the smell. Each of these is a dimension of variation detected by the body's sensors.

The brain doesn't scramble or confuse the different sensors. It recognises the different sensors origins and recognises when the sensors are providing information about the same object.

The question is how does the brain learn that a particular combination of noise, visual queues, or smell relate to the same object. Sometimes, we have to explore or experiment to confirm our suspicions. Once we have made the connection, the recognition is reasonably automatic although from time to time we recognise that we have made a mistaken identification. The most frequently happens with sound or smell clues but visual clues are also at times confused especially when the vision lacks clear focus.

I am going to argue that at times, we recognise that we have perceived a difference but we lack the conceptual framework to clearly identify what that difference means. I am thinking here in terms of visible objects but this may also apply to more abstract concepts such as mathematical concepts or virtual objects. Through language acquisition, we link agreed names (sound forms or visual word forms) to our observations. At some point in this process, we also accept names for the sensor groups (i.e. visual, smell, touch). These are abstract concepts that relate to more concrete signals that we receive. As I write this, I am conscious that how language relates to concepts is another abstraction that at this point, I have little theoretical knowledge of. I am writing this in English and as far as I am aware my thought processes are in English. Others for who English is not their primary language may claim to be thinking in another language. However, we all see and recognise the same phenomena. It is simply that in arriving at a naming convention, we have used different sound or symbol forms. I can only speculate whether the human brain uses some more abstract form for thought processes. However; I recognise that not all my thought processes are linguistic (language based) in nature. I may also conceive ideas in visual or sound form. I am thinking of art or models or music. At different times, our brain seems to reflect our thoughts using the different forms of sensory channels of our bodies. Our thoughts and sensory ability seem to have some linkage.

When we experience a new dimension of variation, we seek to apply some mechanism of identification. This leads to the formation of a new concept since the dimension of variation doesn't fit any existing concepts. I want to argue that our ability to reason also throws up new dimensions of variation or the recognition of new areas of similarity. The result is some times a struggle to name the concept but overall higher level concepts come from recognising similarities and differences in lower level concepts (vision draws together colour, contrast, depth, ...) and endeavouring to assign names.

Is reasoning simply becoming aware of new similarities or differences? I struggle to clearly express my current thoughts in part because I am on the edge of a domain that I have not previously given much attention. I recognise connections that I am making and to some extent my lack of language to express them.

Aaron is particularly interested in mathematical concepts but I wonder whether this may simply be utilising a different language for expressing our thoughts and reasoning. I see mathematical notation and recognise its origin but having not worked consistently with the notation, I struggle with its meaning but does this mean that I can not apply the reasoning that might be expressed in that mathematical notation. There seems to be a similar issue with language acquisition or expression of ideas. Two people reasoning in different languages or notations may apply the same process or come to the same conclusion by different processes but does that mean one or the other lacks the ability to reason about the phenomenon being studied. Surely the issue is one of acquiring the notation that is common to both.

It is clear that being able to communicate with a specific notation can aid in communicating to others in a particular field and to show that you are able to reason in that field. However, the lack of knowledge of a notation doesn't mean an inability to reason in that field or to recognise concepts in that field.

Ultimately, we assess a person's ability to reason and understand a field of study by their ability to communicate their reasoning and understanding. So maybe what we are really talking about is the ability to acquire particular notational skills.

So in teaching, I endeavour to draw existing knowledge, concepts, and terminology to foster understanding of what we argue is new knowledge, concepts and terminology. We attempt to make visible similarities and differences so that the learner becomes aware of new possibilities. At this point I will argue that abstractions come from seeing the similarities or commonalities while recognising the differences. The abstraction is developed simply to enable a reduction in the notational baggage when talking about phenomena that possess those commonalities. The learner may need help to see these commonalities and therefore the possible abstractions.

Robotic skills

Here I really lack current knowledge of robotic techniques. However, a robot has an innate ability to retrieve data (bit streams) and to identify those bit streams based on their sensor source. Remove the knowledge of the sensor source and the bit stream is a meaningless set of signals. We can say the robot has vision or hearing based on its ability to process particular data streams.

The next step is to be able to associate the different signals so that it can combine sight, sound, location, smell, ... Through this process, it begins to develop a more complete picture of a phenomenon. As it continues this process of combining and separating, it could develop a conceptual framework possibly including the recognition of notations.

Giving it the ability to explore relationships and connections between signals may see it develop human like abilities to reason.

Humans may give focal attention to particular sensory inputs but I would contend that we don't discard signals simply because it doesn't seem to fit a particular strand of reasoning. Maybe the difficulty with robotic research is that the focus is narrowed too much so that certain signals necessary to develop some concepts are missed from the equation.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Loving the world

“To love the world with a view to participation in its pleasures and purposes is to walk away from God, but to love the world with a view to its redemption from its pleasures and purposes is to walk with God” (Riggans 1983, p 190). This comment is made in relation to the passage in Numbers 25:1-5 where Israel began to follow the practices of the Moabites instead of following and serving God. Riggans quotes I John 2:15 before this but he could equally have quoted Romans 12:1-2. The John passage talks of loving the world as meaning that we don't love God while the Romans passage talks of not conforming to the world but instead being transformed by the love of God.

As I reflect, I realise just how much we have “conformed to the world.” We accept its financial systems and structures, and enjoy the products of prosperity. Although we might intellectually acknowledge God's economy as a gift economy, we struggle to see how it could operate within a society focussed on personal gain and status. Our conforming has meant that we now struggle to see how God really would like our relationships and interactions to work.

The Romans 12 passage with its emphasis on renewal of the mind seems extremely relevant in this context. Without changing the way that we think about life and living, we will struggle to live as God intended and to be the salt and God's method for redemption of the world.

I realise that our world is so focused on personal gain that it couldn't accept a gift of someone's service without feeling that it needed to pay them. If I was to offer to teach in a university without negotiating a salary package, the offer would be rejected. It would also be difficult to develop software for an organisation. However, if I placed what I developed on the market for free, there might be individual takers and some corporate takers. The overall emphasis is on having to pay rather than focusing on how to fulfil the needs of those around us.

If Christians opt out of society, this puts barriers up for being God's method of redemption. In effect, we want to participate but in a way that challenges current practices. Our participation needs to be nonconformist. I no longer think in terms of giving money. Rather I am thinking of giving goods and services. I seek to destroy the dependence on financial currency and accounting. Can we free resources to heal relationships through removing the aspect of accounting for their cost?

Reference:

Riggans, W. (1983). Numbers. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Bless or curse the nations

In Numbers 23:25-24:9, Balaam makes a second prophetic blessing of Israel. In making the prophesy, Balaam describes himself as a person who sees the Lord and hears His words. Riggans (1983) in his commentary says “How glorious if we in Christ's Church could when needed block out all else and see only him and hear only his words!” (p 183). Why only when needed? There is a sense in which we need to learn to walk daily with our eyes open to see Christ and ears attentive to his words. It is when we think that we don't need his words that we blunder forward and lose direction.

However, this passage has a stronger prophecy with respect to the future blessing of Israel and of her blessing the nations. Riggans seems to interpret this not as a blessing but as domination of the nations. The idea of ruling over nations doesn't need to be seen as warlike. Maybe this is looked for because of the context. Certainly, those who rise up against God's people will not stand but those who seek to know God and to live in harmony with his people will be blessed.

If Israel had focussed on the future blessing rather than the defeat of those around her, I wonder what the situation would be today? When we go out among the people, we can see them as our enemies to be smashed before us or we can see them as people God wants to bless through us. If we see them as people God wants to bless then we will seek to reach out to them with God's love and blessing.

Reference:

Riggans, W. (1983). Numbers. Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Retribution / Revenge / Justice

The background to this blog is very personal making it difficult to write. Other blogs that I have written have focused on issues but this involves a personal reaction to tragic events, the murder of a nephew in New Zealand. It is times like these when personal values and convictions really stand the test.

If you have read some of my previous blog entries, you may know that I promote a pacifist and a reconciliation stance. How do these stand up in the face of such a personal tragedy?

Since the death of my nephew, we have received two reactions. These are to seek revenge or to hope the murder is caught, locked up, and the key thrown away. Neither of these options are acceptable in my belief system. But neither is the act of forgiveness without reconciliation. The offender has breached the laws of the land and they do need to see the impact of what they have done and repent and be reconciled or redeemed but more importantly, we and society need to understand and learn what we might have done that may have brought someone to a point where murder is an option. We too may need to repent and seek to be reconciled. I am also conscious of another tragic event that has happened here in the UK that is also headline news that potentially offers warnings about the direction in which society is moving.

I have just attended a weekend in which we looked at the many faiths that exist in the world. There is a lot of commonality as well as glaring differences. As I left the weekend, my thoughts were on Stephen Covey's (1990) fifth habit “seek first to understand … Then to be understood.” I have often wondered what would happen if this was applied to international relationships. But such an attitude equally applies in these tragic events. Because we feel hurt and violated,we want the offender caught and judged (i.e. justice seen to be done) but unless we seek to understand why these events happen and address the social issues that shape people's attitudes and behaviour, we can not expect to see a better society.

We (society, the wider audience) should not assume that it is all the offender's fault and it is they alone that need to change. We also bear the responsibility and need to consider how we interact with those around us. Are we too busy securing our own future or pushing our own views that we fail to hear the cries for help or the struggle to survive of others?

Rather than seeking revenge or eye for an eye justice, I want to see equality issues addressed and the messages of rejection eliminated (i.e. real justice enacted). We need to be seeking wholeness / shalom for all and not simply peace and security for ourselves. To achieve this, we need to hear the cries from the heart of those who feel oppressed or rejected or who are struggling to survive. Let us listen in the tragedies of life and learn.

Shalom – Go in God's peace and fullness.

Reference

Covey, S. R. (1990). The seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Nature of Prophecy

Partially as a result of the issues related to the computing industry recruitment problems (1 July 2010) and reading the book of Isaiah, I have been thinking about the nature of prophecy. My conclusion is that prophecy isn't about some longer term prediction but rather reading the “signs of the times” and seeing the consistency and trends that have occurred over time. As such the message carries importance for the time in which it is spoken and possibly for future generations.

With respect to the computer industry, I would contend that the predicted shortage will get worse simply because of the reports on the difficulty of students finding work (17% of graduates in the UK). Regardless of the accuracy or the way that this figures are calculated, the message to potential students is that even if you graduate, a reasonable percentage of you will not find work. Previous trends would suggest that students will migrate to subject areas where there is a greater likelihood of finding work. Link that with reports of experienced people being released from the industry supposedly because they lack the ability to adapt to the new technologies, and the message isn't positive for potential new recruits. Despite the industries claim of a shortage of skilled people, the overwhelming message that students are seeing and discussing is the difficulty of finding work. That same message travels down to potential new recruits. Provided all this information is correct then it isn't that difficult to prophecy future problems for the industry. This prediction applies now and to the future situations and to any industry that rejects people while claiming there is a shortage of new recruits.

The same applies for the economic system where even financial gurus have predicted that “recession will happen again” (see 9 September 2009 blog). If you don't actually change the way the system works and address the issues that brought the circumstances that led to the recession then why should we expect it not to happen again. This isn't a miraculous prophecy. It is simply observing what is happening now and that the underlying issues that led to recession are not being addressed.

It would be easy to turn such prophecies into judgements from God but if the systems collapse and the people rebel then the observation is simply based on the actions of people and the use of systems that are not sustainable. The computer industry by not utilising the resources that it already has available compounds it skill shortage. The financial system through debt financing of growth leads to periods of recession as imbalances are addressed. The west's desire to retain advantage and its stripping of resources of developing countries, inevitably leads to anger from those who feel left out from the path of progress. The natural end of an arms race is the destruction of the planet. These are inevitable outcomes of the human race for progress that ignores sustainability and the principles of justice.

God doesn't need to judge in the sense of destroying. Destruction is the inevitable outcome of the path mankind has chosen. God needs to redeem and restore justice and peace for the cosmos. Sustainability as promoted by environmentalists is really only a scratch on the surface of what is required to change. The principles of fairness and equality need to be restored to economic life and a focus on providing shalom for all needs to be the focus of all aspects of life. Wholeness and fullness for the cosmos has to be our goal. Individual desires and goals need to be secondary.

Is any of this prophecy unexpected? It is as much about reading the “signs of the times” as it is about understanding the heart of God. Prophecy isn't speculation about God's activity. Rather it is about observing what is happening and understanding the heart of God. On that basis, the prophet speaks warning of the possible outcomes and possibly providing proposals to avoid what seems inevitable. The prophet could simply say “Look and observe. See what is not working and change the direction in which you are moving.”

Sunday, 4 July 2010

God's Giving Economy

In the past, I have argued that at the heart of God's economy is the concept of giving. This blog entry focuses on this giving aspect but now I talk more in terms of a shalom economy. A shalom economy is focused on wholeness or fullness not for the individual but for all of the cosmos. Shalom doesn't do away with the giving emphasis. Rather it emphasises a focus on working for the wholeness or fullness of all of creation.

My initial thoughts focused on giving of our surplus, but now I am seeing it more as "I see you have a need that I can meet, let me help you." In God's economy, we are are to look toward the interests of others believing that God will provide for our own needs.

There is a huge change of focus here. We have been accustomed to ensuring our own security first before reaching out to others. From that perspective, we may talk of freely giving of our surplus while only seeking what is needed for our own lives.

As we look at God's economy, we need to be putting people ahead of money and status. We are seeking their welfare and not monetary gain.

In God's economy, we are not standalone units. We are interdependent units. We rely on our needs being satisfied by the skills and resources of others while we give of our skills and resources to satisfy others' needs. We should be asking "what is it that we have to give?" and not "what is it that we need?"

My thoughts on economics have focused on reducing cost structures. I see this still as central but I also see that we should be willing to pay a fair price. Abram insisted on paying for Sarah's burial cave. He would not see himself indebted to another. Yet this can be a hindrance to the gift economy.

A gift economy doesn't operate by demanding a gift. A gift is something that is freely given. When I walk down the street, am I prepared to give to a person in need? Is my heart open to recognise the needs of others? Ours is a demand focused environment. We put things there to satisfy the expectations of others or to receive an expected reward.

That isn't a gift economy. A gift economy gives to others simply because I am able to do so. I receive what God wants to give in return.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

The Recruitment Problem

The computer industry talks of there being a shortage of skilled people and that it is not attracting enough new people into what is a creative and innovative career. In this blog, I am going to argue that the computer industry and especially recruitment agencies are partially the cause of their own problems, and that the roots of the problem stem from the measurement systems that we (not just in the industry) use for performance and advancement.

Let me explain.

The computing industry claims to have a very short half life for the technologies. A half life which seems to get shorter each year. This technology half life, they claim means that the knowledge required to remain in the industry also changes rapidly leading to the need to retrain people or to the releasing of experienced people who no longer have the skills that the industry requires. As a result, the half life of people in the industry is possibly less than 15 years or may be even 10 years. I am sure there is research on this phenomenon but I don't have any that I can reference at this time. I know of too many people, including myself, who have been told that we couldn't work with the new technology despite having evidence of having learnt new technologies quicker than new comers to the industry and exceeding their performance even though they were trained on the new technologies.

Having been working with computers for over 30 years, I know that the technology does change but that the principles and concepts on which the technology is built have moved far more slowly. I would go further and say that many of the undergraduate teaching programmes are teaching the same concepts and principles that I learnt when I did my BSc in the early 1970s. Yes, the technologies are different but the foundational principles are the same. This is despite a need to revise some of the ways of conceptual thinking particularly for some of the programming paradigms. I make this last comment based on my own research into the ways that practitioners are aware of object-oriented concepts.

When the industry claims that there are not people with the technology skills, they are writing off thousands of people who have the conceptual understanding to move with these technologies and driving them out of the industry further compounding the skill shortage.

But the message of rejection isn't to experienced people only. The industry continually seeks to employee people with experience thus placing many new graduates on the unemployable list. The industry argues that the universities should be giving these graduates the experience without realising that no academic programme can give students the equivalent of five years of experience in a three year academic programme. So as well as discarding experienced people, the industry is sending a negative message to new comers about there ability to enter the industry.

The industry needs to change its measures of what they expect from new recruits and recognise the skills and conceptual knowledge of those already in the industry.

A further negative message sent to new recruits is the employment of teaching assistants and research associates on short term contracts. Since coming to the UK, I have been employed on this basis and have come across many others who are employed on the same basis. Some of these people are rated as the best teachers and are in front of classes and working with potential new recruits to the industry.

When students ask these teaching assistants what they will be teaching next year, they say “the may not be here next year since their contract runs out at the end of the teaching semester.” What message does this send to new recruits? It sends a message of a lack of stability in the industry.

Part of the cause of this problem is the success measures used in universities. The better teachers often don't have the best research records. They have focused on teaching. They aren't wanted in the universities. The universities are doing exactly what industry is doing and discarding good people because they don't measure up on a scale that has no relevance to teaching. New positions in universities are for those with a research record and who will help the university improve its ranking. They don't seem to realise that for one university to rise up the rankings other universities have to go down the rankings. All compete for a dwindling population of ranked researchers who can bring in research money and raise the overall ranking score of the university.

There is a need for the best teachers to be delivering a message of confidence about the students future and potential for employment. I know that I can not deliver that message of confidence because I don't have any employment security. I know of many others in exactly the same position. The result is that the industry has even more difficulty recruiting people.

I will go one step further with the argument about measures and suggest that in western capitalist cultures, we are using the wrong measures of success. This starts with measures based on growth. Even if we assumed resources are unlimited, growth as it is talked about is not possible for all nations. At the conference that I have just attended, I heard a speaker talk about the host country's desire for a surplus (i.e. exporting more than they are importing). All nations are aiming for a surplus just as all businesses are aiming for profit and households are aiming for surplus. But how can every country export more than it imports or all businesses and households have more income than expenditure. The sums don't add up. This is basic arithmetic. At best, all countries can export as much as they import but this doesn't address issues of inequality or resource shortages.

I could talk of other measures of performance that also have a fundamental problem because the measure only looks at one side of the equation and forget the other side of the equation because that is someone else's problem.

The computer industry and our economic champions all fail to see that they are the cause of their own dilemma because they are stuck in a way of thinking that blinds them to the problems that cause the dilemma. Until we question how we measure success and progress, and look for new measures that address issues of sustainability and equality, both the computer industry and our economic systems are doomed to failure and I suspect that this will happen sooner than most people expect.

To address these issues, we need to find ways of challenging the conceptual thinking of a large percentage of the worlds populations especially those in leadership and look outside the western or developed world for solutions. I say this having just had the experience of the great warmth and friendship of the Turkish people as I attended a conference in Ankara. But I fear that the pursuit of western wealth and practices will destroy that spirit of unity, peace, and friendship.

Don't lose the concern for others and the desire to build a better life for all.

Shalom, go in peace and fullness of life.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Teşekkürler (Tea Sugar A Dream)

I will apologise to my new Turkish friends if I have misrepresented the spelling or pronunciation of the Turkish word for thank you. As we toured Ankara yesterday we were taught to pronounce this word (teşekkürler) as “tea sugar a dream.” As I reflect this morning having just spent an hour watching the sun rise over Ankara, the English words of this Turkish word for 'thank you' seem to be carrying some extra meaning. But before I explain, it seems appropriate that when we tank the Turkish people, we are saying to those who know English around us that they should sugar (sweeten) their dreams. No, I am not talking of eating Turkish Delight although that can be a dream for some. I am talking of sweetening the dreams that we have for our lives.

It is in this sense of sweetening the dream of a new economic order built of the principles of shalom (peace, fullness, wholeness) that has filled my thinking this morning. As I sat and watched the beauty of sun rise over this Islamic nation, I was reminded of God's promise and of the principles of shalom. When we say shalom, we are not simply wishing you peace for now, we are wishing you an active peace that will bring fullness or wholeness not just to you but to all of the cosmos. It is in this sense of active peace or wholeness that I dream of a new economic order. Not an economic order built on competition and a wealth – poverty divide but that seeks to bring an equality to all creatures. I am calling this new economic order 'shalom economics.'

I will post a longer post on the subject soon but for now sweeten the dream with a simple teşekkürler to those around you. Sugar your dreams.