Whooshup Reorganization

To reflect what this blog has become, the format has changed to emphasize the enormous number of useful links to resources we provide. To go to the whooshup blog and conversations about these resources, just scroll to the bottom of the lists of resources!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Report: Feel the Risk

This will be a difficult one for me to write, so I'll start with the good news. This blog was originally meant to spark one or more discussions centered around the teaching on existential thinking of Hubert Dreyfus through his webcast lectures. That has happened. Later tonight I will join other members of this "outer circle" and discuss philosophy in Second Life.

The other day Bert Dreyfus emailed and asked how the Second Life discussion group was going. I replied that I had missed the last one, but the report from others was good. He wrote simply: "You really seem to have launched it. As soon as I catch up on my work, I'll drop back in." I take it he means all of us, no matter how lightly you have brushed up against the project, we have all managed to launch it.

And that brings me to Risk. I have been thinking a lot about Risk lately. It is not easy to lure intelligent people into risky undertakings, even by risking oneself. Ours is an inherently risk-averse communication culture - the more controversial the subject, the less likely we are to risk our opinions as our own, the more we seek safety in detached and nameless monitoring.

Risk, I think, is a Dreyfus usage. If you have come across his writings on learning, the Risk comes in, necessarily, at the transition from competence to expert skill acquisition:

"In general, if one seeks to follow rules one will not get beyond competence. There is no substitute for taking risks... With enough experience and willingness to take risks, the learner becomes an expert who immediately sees what sort of situation he is in and what to do."

- HL Dreyfus "Can There Be a Better Source of Meaning than Everyday Practices?" 2000

It also seems to tie into Kierkegaard's Faith and Heidegger's Anxiety. It makes us feel uncomfortable, and care about the outcome. It puts us in touch with inifinite possibility within finite situations. It reminds us of our ungroundedness, and our culture's. Dreyfus strongly criticizes the web for removing Risk from encounters in his 2001 book "On the Internet".

But I have never felt as much at Risk on the internet as I do here. Professor Dreyfus could as easily have written "You really don't have a viable discussion group. I wasn't sure it would work from the start." He may yet. Whatever possibilities are here, are risky ones. And that's good. Just when we are learning in Division II that anxiety is good, this is an opportunity to embrace Risk.

What is this Risk? Risk is starting a discussion without knowing what will come of it (like this one - talk about experiencing "anxiety towards guilt"!). Risk is disclosing your true identity (saying "I am me" in a world of "guess who I am"). Risk is being open to new technologies and new ways of organized learning (floating, bumping, crashing your way into Second Life gatherings without a clue how to drive an avatar). Risk is participating when you just can't (overcoming my natural hesitation to act, rather than observe and reflect). Risk is a real philosopher reaching out to amateurs (I can't understand why an eminent sachem would do so, unless addicted to risk). Risk is amateur philosophers daring to take themselves seriously (and being labelled "fans" by professional philosophers like Nigel). Risk is giving over authorship of your blog to every interested dasein you can sense about you in the darkness of the electronic ether, and finding that only a very few will risk posting an article of any kind, then commenting about that fact, here, now, whilst navigating the delicate balancing act of individual and group dynamics that will make or break the project, and picking each word as if it really matters.

Ultimately, Risk is failing in ways that later whoosh up as success:

"A few people, however, at least in areas important to them, are never satisfied that they have done the right thing, even if public opinion assures them it was right. They sense that there is no one right thing to do and that they can always improve... Such continually anxious experts are never complacent. But, happily, if they brood over their successes and failures, replaying them over and over in their mind, they will reach a new level of skillful coping beyond expertise."

- HL Dreyfus "Can There Be a Better Source of Meaning than Everyday Practices?"

The paper quoted is available in the Phil 189 Course Handouts link on the right side of the blog. Here I have followed Risk out to the level of the Phronesis - Practical Wisdom. But that is only half way past expertise, and Dreyfus takes the Risk beyond that. Please read it through yourself - I would not give away the ending.

1 comment:

foundrysmith said...

Well said! I gave myself an excused absence from the Wednesday night potluck, as in First Life I was making the acquaintance of our 4 month old grandson, Telemakos!

I might add to your comment, “Feel the Power”. I think many of us are really getting drawn into these discussion sessions, and benefit from the comments and questions posed. It helps to have mind blowing subject matter on the table. I kind of wish it was on the menu a quarter century ago when I went to school, but am glad to be partaking now. Although trying to find a middle ground from beginner to advanced, plus the technical challenges in the virtual environment has been an issue from the start, I think the participants have made every reasonable effort to make the thing work. No doubt everyone is trying to balance First Life and a Podcast Life of self directed study, and the meeting ground in the Second Life seems to be a great thought provoking exercise for us all.

As I listen to the 2 courses that Farnsworth is teaching this semester, I am struck by the importance of the classroom interaction in each podcast. It becomes part of the course. As we can listen to the podcasts anywhere from one to three days after they are given, we also are in “plausible real time” with the Berkeley crowd. And having the possibility to interact virtually with the professor of the course and his students brings the “Outer Circle “ in world! I hope this is the beginning of many such courses, and the “freeing” and dissemination of concepts and ideas outside of the Ivory Tower.