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Posts Tagged ‘emergence

I first found out about “superorganisms” when I was an undergraduate student.

Animals like ants, termites, and bees synergise to respond to their environment like a larger organism would. They do so in more complex ways they would otherwise do individually. For example, termites build cathedral-like mounds and ants form rafts to fjord waterways. The whole is more than just the sum of its parts.

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Recently I found out that the superorganism phenomenon is linked to a larger concept — emergence. The video above explains this with many diverse examples.

The concept of emergence is also linked to some forms of artificial intelligence (AI). Instead of creating AI that learns from humans, humans have created simple robots that behave like ants. Each robot responds simply individually, but they could be capable of more complex responses collectively.

This mimics the billions of neurons in each of our brains. Each neuron fires (or not) and is linked to other neurons. This collective on/off system seems to be the basis of artificial neural networks.

What might scare people is the realisation that our seemingly complex thinking has such simple roots. The very concept of life boils down to dead chemicals interacting under the basic laws of physics and mathematics.

It can be mind-boggling that macroscopic phenomena are shaped ultimately by molecular interactions. Our reactions might range from freaking out at the thought to taking advantage of it.

I say we do the latter. On a meta plane, we might ask ourselves: What is the role of the individual in truly collaborative learning? How about the importance of emergence in learning?

Every work day, I go by a sign that says Thow Kwang Kiln. I tell myself I should visit because I have never seen a traditional kiln before. That is, until Sunday, Dec 7. And believe it or not, something I spotted there reminded me of educational Web 2.0!

I was invited to have breakfast at the kiln compound by a fellow alum from Arizona State University (ASU) whom I had never met in person before. Carolyn had emailed me for information on ASU, where I had done a Masters in EdTech, while I was in Indiana University pursuing a Ph.D. She returned to Singapore about a year ago and we decided to meet.

Carolyn is part of a group of artists who gather regularly at Thow Kwang and they have breakfast in a treehouse in the compound once a month! She is a brilliant photographer and maintains a few blogs. Here is one on the Thow Kwang group.

So I finally met her and her associates. I enjoyed a meal and some very stimulating company on a pleasant Sunday morning.

Carolyn brought my family and I on a tour of the place. Something that caught my eye was a form of pottery called saggar.

I learned that saggar involved a pot being fired within another pot. Sometimes other elements such straw are added to the mix and the result is “organic”.

It occurred to me how much this was like incorporating Web 2.0 into education. An educator might have certain goals in mind for blogging, podcasting, social networking or using wikis. But some of the outcomes are unexpected. They are emergent, but they are no less valuable.

And like the pottery, the outcomes can be beautiful too.

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