Toward a definition of learning

Kirkridge labyrinth

Patterns of learning: a labyrinth at Kirkridge Retreat Center

Let’s explore the fractal-like, interlaced, and multi-dimensional patterns of evolutionary cognitive behavior which comprise the global noösphere described by Tielhard de Chardin in his 1955 book, The Phenomenon of Man.  In other words, patterns of learning.

But before that, I want to establish that yes, I do believe that life is movement, and that we human folk are evolving spiritually. Here is a summary of how it is going in my own family:

  • My Wiebe and Funk grandparents had a basic faith in God which carried them from feudal Ukrainian villages, through the Russian revolution, to a bustling and prosperous involvement in Canadian prairie culture.
  • My parents caught this faith from them and buttressed it with a system of intellectual beliefs constructed from a dedicated study of contemporary Christian theology.
  • Then I came along, not a very faith-ful person, impatient with traditional religious belief systems, but eager to develop my consciousness of myself, the earth and its inhabitants, and the Mystery of this planet, this solar system, this cosmos.
  • Someday, one of my great-great-etc-grandchildren will understand humankind’s place and purpose in the universe.  So, that’s my own belief system.

This kind of evolution  of consciousness is occurring both individually and collectively everywhere around the globe.

NIN tour on Google Earth

A glimpse of the noösphere: Nine Inch Nails tour on Google Earth

The collective part is the noösphere, the layer of consciousness,  the self-organizing and evolving system of all the interacting intelligences on Earth, which includes our embodied brains as well as our cognitive artifacts, such as memes and language.

One could argue that the noösphere includes all the multiple human intelligences noted by Howard Gardner:  linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic and existential intelligence.

All living systems have agency

Another peek at the noösphere: garden plants at Catcha Falling Star, Negril, Jamaica

The noösphere also includes the intelligences of animals, plants, bacteria, rocks and water. All living systems are different sorts of knowledge working itself forward.

Non-living systems have agency, too

More agents in the noösphere: Power lines and vines on the West End, Jamaica

I also ascribe agency to non-living things, such as networked computer systems, cables, phone lines, wifi, radio frequencies, and so forth, which, (sorry, Marshall McLuhan), are not simply mechanical extensions of ourselves, but alive, too, somehow, as they intimately work with us and the rest of the biosphere in a process of continual restructuring (learning).

If a geography of the noösphere could ever be drawn,  it would be like a fractal, in that it would be recursive, and self-referential.  But somehow, at the same time there would be lots of novel bits, too.  Because when connections are made, which is learning, something new is made.

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