A narrative from here to CAN ...

Roy Williams

1. From Johann Degenaar I learnt that there is no such thing as a private language:
So I learnt:
Meaning is use (Wittgenstein)
This made sense, but I needed some detail. I tried a course in linguistics, and found it too formal, too abstract.

2. Adding Barthes, Eco, and de Saussure I learnt that all signs are social, and I started to grasp how meaning is built up of signs, and that meaning is primarily located in communities.
So I learnt:
Every use becomes a sign of itself (Barthes)
If you cant use it to lie, its not a sign (Eco)
The double articulation of the sign (de Saussure)
All very well, but how does the rich variety of signs relate to the rich range of discourses? How do they articulate?

3. Adding a reading of Marx with de Saussure, both as semioticians (thanks to Rossi-Landi) I started to appreciate how discourses are built: from signs to sentences to syllogisms through to discourses.
So I learnt:
The necessary alienation of the sign (Marx)
The (quadruple) alienation of signs as commodities (Rossi-Landi)
This was real progress. But it still looked like meaning started as signs, and then neatly built up, as a kind of logical LEGO. It looked too neat, somehow, and looked like it might be heading into a rather reductionist, or too rationalist, Cartesian or Weberian a model to the exclusion of all else.

4. Adding Foucault, and later Hook, and trying to unpack the discourses of Apartheid, I realized that semantics is fundamentally situated in discourse, and that signs are merely the fine-print articulations of discourses, and not the other way around.
So I learnt:
Signs, and the interactions of people with signs, are the capillaries of power: the sites where the power of discourse is embedded or, quite literally, articulated. (Foucault)
OK, but we need to go back to the problems of rationalism and modernism, and to the fools of post-modernism [Fool: "Someone who speaks truth to power” : its fun but it is foolish].

5. Adding Latour and St Onge (who I met at a conference in Canada) at various stages, it struck me that it is decidedly ‘foolish’ to oppose the commodification of knowledge in modernism against the complexity of biological and social systems, as they are actually part of the same cycle, ecology, or pluricology of semiotics and knowledge.
So I learnt:
Knowledge is the capacity to take effective action (St Onge)

6. Trying to put all this together and adding Snowden, Boje, Wenger and Gibson, I arrived at a ‘knowledge process cycle’ which links the complexity of modernism with the irony of post-modernism, and the communities of practice of knowledge management, within complexity.

7. Adding Boone & Snowden and Rihani, and working with and in social software, it struck me that we need to situate the knowledge process cycle within complex adaptive systems, or more accurately complex adaptive networks, or pluri-cologies of complex adaptive networks.

8. I wrote a paper on that for the ICICKM conference, but then I thought that rather than trying to ‘manage’ CANs, it might be useful to try to design for, and facilitate CANs – the beginnings of that paper are in Complex and Commodified Knowledge, and Youtube and complexity. The rest is still in progress.

And from CANs to Emergence to MOOC/CANs ...

9. I started some research in 2007 on how people learn in an age of social media, scrapped all the traditional 'learner experience' methodologies, questionnaires, mindmaps and matrices, and stripped down BNIM (Biographical Narrative Interview Method) instead, to create the Nested Narratives method and interactive story telling interface (in progress).
In the process, I went back to J. J. Gibson's affordances.
So I learnt that:
... if you enable people to explore tacit knowledge, they produce stunning audio-based 'nested narratives'; in effect - they research 'themselves'.
... affordances, like semiotics, are relational, they exist in the dynamic (social) spaces between the adaptive animal / person and the environment (affordances); or in the dynamic spaces between signifier and signified, and between the cut outs and the out cuts (see Matisse, below) - in semiotics.

10. I returned to complexity theory, and complex-adaptive ecologies, in an attempt to formulate what the new open learning is - and through an ongoing process of collaborative research and learning (with Regina Karousou, Simone Gumtau, Sui-fai John Mak, Jenny Mackness, Jutta Pauchenwein - and many others) honed in on 'emergence' as the key meme / se-meme to explore the new open learning.
So I learnt: that emergent behaviour (aka 'learning' and knowledge: the capability for effective action) is, like semiotics and affordances, relational - its in the relation between many micro-agents interacting frequently, and adapting their behaviour and adapting the environment, and in the process adapting the learning / living environment.

11. Which all takes me back to epistemology and the referential fallacy (the silly idea that if you have a word for something - material, virtual or metaphysical - a 'referent' must exist out there somewhere for it - without having to do some basic, simple, empirical, falsifiable tests first to establish whether there is a connection between the sign and reality).

12. And, helped a bit by a visit to Matisse's Cut Outs at the Tate Modern in London (August 2014) ...
and conversations amongst the exhibits, learnt some more, i.e.:

12.1 ... that sounds, shapes, colours and words - and texts and discourses are just 'systems of difference' between largely arbitrary bits and pieces.

12.2 ... that numbers are 'pure' systems of differences; they are substantially abstracted from any pretence about referents, and they don't actually 'mean' anything on their own (despite the beauty of Mathematics, Mandelbrot sets, etc). Like aesthetics, which needs a semantic context, we might say that "numbers, 2, are in the eye of the beholder".

12.3 ... that Matisse's Cut Outs work/play so wonderfully because they work at the point of slippage between cut/ cut out, and between a colour and its retinal inverse - they invite you to see 'out' and 'in' of the shapes and colours, all simultaneously.

12.4 ... that we can pick up the scissors from Matisse, to restate Barthes' "Every use becomes a sign of itself" (see above), as ...
... semiotics is a process of simultaneously 'cutting out' signs from experience, and leaving 'cut outs' behind - literally and metaphorically (via the imagination, courtesy of creative synaesthesia).

12.5 ... that zero, (as well as masquerading as a number, and even functioning as an unreal number) is not only just a place holder, but also the demarcation of an empty space, a space of pure difference - an invitation to start counting, and to play with pure difference, 'outside', or 'beyond' words.

So zero is the ultimate signifier, the ultimate semantic difference engine, because it signifies nothing (... so Derrida was both right and wrong), and it goes one small step further (for mankind) than the Arabic zero, which is a mark, not a void (so the mediaeval Popes were right, zero is the work of the Other, and should be banned on theological grounds).