Threading the Cheesescape

So last week we read “Augmenting human intellect: A conceptual framework” by Douglas Englebart.  
For much of this excerpt, which related a conceptual framework for how people think, Englebart used the example of how he would go about writing a hypothetical memo.  He painted a nice, trim picture;  I can see him sitting on the floor surrounded by notchable  index cards, trying to understand his
Ben Kilgrub – Flickr

own intellectual filing system.  I see him writing down ideas and then categorizing them as organizational, content-based, objectives-oriented concepts. I see him sorting the cards in different ways so that they produced different messages. And I see him longing for a way to track all of his associations and paths through the information.

Different paths through the same information aren’t really different messages, but rather different perspectives of the same message–and Englebart would agree, I’m sure.  In making this rather obvious statement, I’m thinking of a blog I wrote for another class once about seeing a Chinese dragon on the highway.  It also
Ep.Sos de – Flickr

reminds me of something I heard Libby Tisdale say at a transformative learning conference, about standing under the sunflowers along the Camino de Santiago…She was speaking on the importan
Alexander Olm – Flickr

ce of exploring the shadows to gain a better understanding of the light…but always (always) returning to the light.  

If a thing can look so very different depending on our position relative to it, then what really makes it a single thing?  What holds together the concept of the thing?  Metaphysical strings? Quantum tethers? Socially constructed anchors to reality?  A conceptual framework, perhaps?
But back to Englebart.  
I think sometimes, as we sit on the floor surrounded by index cards, we sometimes forget that ideas aren’t two dimensional.  I was introduced to the index card system of organizing ideas around middle school and I discarded the practice as soon as teachers stopped collecting the cards as evidence of our work.  Why? Because it’s heartbreakingly impossible to construct a living idea through index cards.  Play-dough and toothpicks and string, maybe, but not index cards.
Working on a computer screen, even with the addition of hypertext, gives me much of the same heartburn.  As windows open and slide in front of other windows just like paper pages, the links are hidden from view.  I’m thinking of threading string through a stack of Swiss cheese.  Yes, there’s a path and we can imagine the path, but it’s impossible to simultaneously look at how the string path weaves through each piece of cheese.  We can’t see the entire cheesescape at one time.
Hellebardius – Flickr
There will always be a horizon.
And, yes, I can see the advantages of the horizon–the sense of mystery, a sense of “the other,” a way of defining through what is strange to us…in some ways this horizon may be the metaphysical strings, the quantum tethers, the anchors to reality that are required for me not to absolutely lose (loose?) my mind.  But it is still a limitation even in our computer world of hyperlinks.  
And so until the holodeck becomes commercially available, I will continue to try to hold the conceptualization–all the possibilities of a paper or a project or whatever–in my head.  There is no way to augment me in that task.  And in that overwhelming moment just before I implode (barreling down an orienting lifeline towards a horizon)…that’s a very emotional moment for me.  And that’s what Englebart’s message is missing for me–the extrarational, the emotional part of thinking. When I read about thinking about thinking, I expect–no, I demand–that it be a very emotional cheesescape.    

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