SD 502 Epistemological Foundations of Learning


Outline 2016

Please prepare by reviewing all materials and doing all activities prior to each class meeting for the dates indicated. 

Oral assignments are to be presented in the small group meeting. Written assignments are due two days after your small group meeting meeting.

1. Introduction                                              week of Jan 4

Readings and Resources

Ison2009 Chapter 1.2 what do when do.doc

Maturana & Poerksen Intro to Engl ed..pdf

Glanville: When good enough is better than best (11 min)

Ecology of Humanness Website



matrix of Ideas

course organization


For discussion:

1.The three readings and resources are not of the sort that you are meant to “learn”, i.e. to understand fully.  They present a glimpse of the kinds of thinking that will be entailed in the course.  Do be prepared to discuss them.

2.There are various activities, oral assignments, and discussions specified or suggested for each week.  We won’t be able to cover all of that, plus any reflections or questions on the Readings and Resources or the Ecology of Humanness website during the full group meeting.  Consider a protocol as to which parts you wish to cover in your small group and which in the full group discussion

2. Human Origins                                    week of Jan 11

Readings and Resources

2008 M&V Human Origins selections.pdf

Ecology of Humanness Website

what kind of beings are we?

  * one step per 10,000 years

explaining the past

      *story cards

a story of human origins

what has been conserved?

then and now

For discussion:

1.Note that the activities are mentioned after the webpage that provides a background for them.  As for all weeks that include activities, do them thoughtfully, and be prepared to discuss your insights and concerns.

2.What ideas have you encountered concerning “basic human nature”  and who expresses them? What does the belief in any given idea justify in terms of behaviour? 

3.What ideas do you hold, and what evidence or criteria have you used to accept what you believe? Do you choose what to believe based on preference, and if so what is that preference grounded in?

  3. Explanations                                           week of Jan 18

Readings and Resources

Maturana & Poerksen: On the Autonomy of Systems.pdf

Bateson Every Schoolboy KnowsScience never Proves.doc

     (full text available if you wish online: Every Schoolboy Knows)

Ecology of Humanness Website

explanations in daily life

scientific explanations

vocabulary and jargon

result and process


structural determinism


* story seed and growth

For discussion:

1.What examples of epigenic processes can you see in your own life?  Can you look back at some of these and name the “seed” when it began, but was not yet detectable to me then?

2.Have you looked at something in retrospect and claim “I knew it then” even thought it took much further development before you could really articulate the idea?  When do we really “know” something?  With the first glimmer?  Or…?


Observing for Learning for weeks 2 and 3  (oral)

  4. Emotions                                                week of Jan 25

Readings and Resources

Maturana & Verden-Zöller Origin of Humanness: Dimensions in Love.pdf

Maturana 1999 Biology of Love, What to Do?.pdf

Ecology of Humanness Website

relational domains


what is love?


detecting emotions

emotions, nutrition and ontogeny

For discussion:

1.Does “kissing it better” really work?  If so how?  And how is it that a smile from a stranger can alter your mood? How is it that laughter is so effective in changing a mood? 

2.When you watched the “pass the salt” enactments, did you find yourself automatically constructing stories of what might have happened before lunch, or how this interaction was likely to proceed?  Of course you knew these were enactments ... but if you thought of them was “real” would you not be creating a story to create a context in which the interaction would take place?

3.In watching the plastic snake encounters, you might have found yourself either having strong opinions or puzzling whether some of the cases were instances of love.  If you consider love as the domain of relational behaviours in which the snake arises as a legitimate being, does it offer you a useful guideline for answering the question “did she love the snake?”

4.What is happening with the phenomenon of “dog whisperer” or “horse whisperer”?   Would it make sense to  speak of a “child whisperer”?

5.Though I claimed that we are experts at detecting emotions, still I find that some people are more readily “fooled” than others, or inversely, some are more sensitive to the moods of others.  How could this be?  Is this something learned or innate? 


a)Over the week, discern at least 3 instances of loving behaviour where you might not have thought to look for it before. 
Be prepared to tell a story!

b)   Observing for Learning for week 4 (written)

  5. Systems and Living Systems                  week of Feb 1

Readings and Resources

Snowden: Cynefin

Maturana and Poerksen p 71-81 : organization&structure.pdf

Maturana and Poerksen: p 93-99 Autopoisis.pdf

Ecology of Humanness Website

organization and structure

  1. *building shapes activity

system and boundary

spontaneous organization


the organization “living”

For discussion:

1.How were the notions of structure, organization, and structural coupling manifest in the activity of building a triangle?

2.When we ask a group of people to organize themselves, there are indeed “selves” doing the organization.  What is the difference between a group of people organizing themselves and molecules, or weather systems, or galaxies arising with an organization that we distinguish as having a particular identity? (e.g. snowflake, tornado, etc.)

  1. 3.What have conserved through all your changes such that you can claim you are you?  And if you regard this, is there in fact something else you would prefer to conserve?

  6.  Evolution                                             week of Feb 8

Readings and Resources

Maturana and Poerksen p 82-87 How closed systems interact.pdf

Whyte, D. 2011 Life at the Frontier: The Conversational Nature of Reality

Armstrong, J. 2009 Knowledge of Place (4.5 min) youtube

Ecology of Humanness Website

building complexity

structural coupling

enduring through conservation and change

  * growing complexity

forming a network

earth story

  * timeline of earth history

For discussion:

1.The quote about interacting systems conserving relations among them while the systems also conserve their identity can be see as applicable to social situations, such as families. What examples can you suggest from your own life or from observing others around yourself?

2.Does the shift in perspective from “we’re latecomers, insignificant in terms of the whole evolutionary process” to “we are the recipients of a biological gift possibilities coming from a long history” change the way you feel about humanness?

3.What actions have you undertaken that only later appeared as if you had made a choice?  When did you become aware that your life direction had shifted somewhat based on some simple “whim” based shift in what you did?


Observing for Learning for weeks 5 and 6  (oral)

7. Cognition                                                  week of Feb 15

Readings and Resources

Maturana and Poerksen p 127-137 Education.pdf

Maturana and Poerksen p 58-67 M&P 58-67 Closed Nervous System.pdf

Bateson: Every Schoolboy Knows Item 4. Image Formation.pdf

Ecology of Humanness Website

illusions are like mistakes

receptors; the start of a cascade of changes

a few experiments concerning vision

        *colored lights, green shadows

operational closure of the nervous system

cognition - sensory motor coordination



For discussion:

1.Think of something you lived as true, and came to consider a mistake later.  There is a qualitative difference between “learning more” and having to accept that what you held to as “true” you in integrity with yourself choose to say “I was mistaken.”  Consider the practical and social implications of recovering coherence, functionality, or relationship. What do you conserve when you choose to accept a mistake?

2.Over the week, try to find someone who is red/green colour blind to talk to regarding his experience of colour.  I say “his” because this form of vision is sex linked,  so that7-10% of men have it.    Whether or not this person wishes to discuss anatomy and how we compose our experience of colour, see if you yourself can relate their experience to the notions of sense organs, perception, composition, experience and meaning as discussed in 2.

3.Think of three very different fields or domains in which you are reasonably knowledgeable.  How did you acquire that knowledge? 
How long did it take you?  How do you assess your degree or level of knowledge?  How has your own assessment of how much you know in that field changed as you learn more?

8.  Learning                                                   week of Feb 22

Readings and Resources

Maturana & Bunnell 1999: Biol of Business: Love Expands Intelligence.pdf

Maturana and Nisis de Rezepka: 1995 Education.pdf

Bunnell 2011: Role of Love, Trust and Intimacy in Learning.pdf

Ecology of Humanness Website

learning is change

learning is an attribution


learning is expansion 

the role of love, trust and intimacy in learning

  * correcting the being or the doing


For discussion:

1.There are two hours of TED talks on the Learning is Change page.  Find someone to view at least one of them with.  Afterwards, talk about it with your friend.  Later, reflect on any changes in thinking that you experienced, or you think your friend experienced, through both the processes of viewing and your conversation. 
You may wish to further reflect on what background each of you brought to the viewing, and how that influenced your own learning.

2.Over the week, make occasion to pause and consider whether you have learned something.  Whatever your answer to yourself, reflect on what you based your answer on.  In other words, on what basis have you attributed (or not) learning to yourself.

3.Document, on a daily basis, several instances of intimacy that you experience or observe in as many different contexts as you are able to discern.  Be prepared to discuss, both with examples and in general.


1.The reading resources for this week are long.  Choose how to divide them among yourselves and be prepared to report on the salient aspects of each in a manner that conveys what you found relevant to your colleagues.  

2.Observing for Learning for weeks  7 and 8 (written)

9. Language                                      week of Feb 29            

Readings and Resources

Krippendorff: Language.pdf

Bateson: Every Schoolboy Knows Item 2. The Map is not the Territory.pdf

Ecology of Humanness Website

notions about language

beginnings of language

* hand dance

consensual coordination of consensual coordination 

distinguishing and naming

  * sorting objects

distinctions reveal and obscure regularities

For discussion:

1.Observe and reflect on several instances of consensual coordination as inherent in your daily activities

2. During an informal gathering of family and friends, listen to the flow of the conversation and note how people flow from domain to domain, usually with little confusion.  What are they using as navigation aids?  What happens when someone realizes they have made a mistake, how is a domain error treated in the group?

3. We will need to change the class meeting times starting the wee of March 14th to a time prior to noon, Pacific time.  What are the options?  Shall we continue with both whole cohort and small groups, or just one or the other?


Develop three linear dimensions that relate to some topic such as various qualities of a person, a food, a pet, a profession, etc.    Each of these qualities should be described as varying from one end of a spectrum to another.  

Now consider them pairwise; there should be 3 different pairs.  For each pair arrange the two axes in an orthogonal way (i.e. one is horizontal, the other is vertical. )   You will have generated four quadrants.  Label the quadrants and consider what insights this gives you.  Then consider how you chose the crossover point.  Would the labels and insights be different if you chose a different crossover? 

Finally consider what is revealed, and what is left out, or obscured, in this formulation.  Consider this not only with respect to the three qualities you chose, but other things that might be relevant but were not included.  

Be prepared to present your diagrams and commentary.

10.  Conversation                                 week of March 7 

Readings and Resources

Krippendorff 2009 2Conversations selections.pdf

Ecology of Humanness Website

conversare “turning together”

emotioning and the flow of conversations

liberating conversations


structured conversations

co-inspiration and cooperation

proliferation and accumulation of distinctions

  1. *cooperation and coinspiration

For discussion:

1.If you consider the situations where you have effectively resolved an emotional issue for others; perhaps within your work, perhaps in your own lives... have you done something like what Ximena Davila names a “liberating conversation”? 

2. Considering the various processes or meeting methodologies you have participated in - what sort of balance has each achieved between openness to new ideas from the participants, depth of content that is presented,  focus on the particular concerns of the meeting, etc.   How are the methods influenced by or influence the relationships among the participants?


1.The Krippendorff paper is long, hence the assignment will be different for the two small groups.  The Friday morning group is to develop a presentation on part A, and the other group on part C.  Either group may refer to part B as appropriate.   You are encouraged to relate his ideas to your own experiences, including the co-inspiration activity.

The presentation may use any medium, but should be recordable so that it would understandable and relevant to people who have not read the paper.  You will have approximately 20 minutes of the main class meeting time to present and discuss your section of the paper.

2. Observing for Learning for weeks 9 and 10 (oral)

11.  Culture                                                week of March 14   

Readings and Resources

Watters:  We aren’t the world

Bunnell 2015: Dancing with Ambiguity (url)
alternatively view series of three 10 minute presentations(1, 2, 3)

Ecology of Humanness Website

evolution of language

concerns with out present

innocent beginnings

systemic networks evolve

changing the vector of changes


For discussion:

1.How do cultures retain identity over time?  What about cultures that conserve themselves when conditions change?

2.Do cultures evolve, or are they designed by people?  Or rather, what aspects evolve, and what aspects are intentional? What about unintentional consequences of intended changes?

3.What do you appreciate about the cultural context that you, and your subculture, are embedded in?  What would you miss if it were no longer there for you?  This is a “fish in water” sort of question, i.e. what is taken for granted and thus has become invisible?

4.Most revolutions are fired by the desire to “get rid of” intolerable cultural situations.  What happens when the revolution succeeds?  What kind of motivating energy, what kinds of competencies are now required?

12.   Reality                                          week of March 21       

Readings and Resources

Maturana & Poerksen p 12-24 Introduction to Original Edition.pdf see p 16-24

Maturana & Poerksen p 38-52 Varieties of Objectivity.pdf

Ecology of Humanness Website

reality, epistemology and ontology

changing the question

  * activity during online meeting “listening for domain”

an invitation; which path?


truth and trust

For discussion:

1.Can you think of moments in your life when someone has told you to “be realistic”?  How did it feel?  What, in retrospect, do you think they were requiring of you? 

2.How does the notion of “listening for domain” shift or enrich (or not) your existing praxis of careful listening. 

3.Sometimes we find that what another thinks or says is missing some relevant observations, or “data”, and this leads them to what we consider to be a naive or overly positive conclusion, that may in fact be disastrous.  How can we invite them to look again, to consider what we see, without demanding that they conform to our view?

4.Do you find yourself moving from time to time back and forth between “Reality” and “reality”?  I do, and I can usually tell that I’ve flipped into “Reality” when I feel righteous about something, and as soon as I notice that, I can let go.  There are many practices in the world designed for such release, and you may have one, or have invented your own.


Observing for Learning for weeks 11 and 12 (written)

13. Freedom, Responsibility & Ethics    week of March 28

Readings and Resources

Maturana & Bunnell 1997 What is Wisdom.pdf

Maturana & Poerksen p 202 – 208 Social Systems & Ethics.pdf

Ecology of Humanness Website

obedience and responsibility

the experience of freedom

ethical living

wisdom in daily life

our path arises in the walking

For discussion:

1. Try to discern three instances of wise action that you have observed taking place.  In each instance consider the criteria of emotioning, systemic thinking, logic, and ethical actions.

a) someone you consider a wise or responsible person acting in such a way that a desirable consequence follows for the persons entailed in the situation

b) a child, choosing a wise action or behaviour within the domains of his/her awareness and living.

c) in your own life, some action or direction that you in retrospect realize was wisely chosen.

2.When do you find yourself being obedient as a response to some arbitrary requirement or demand backed by power?  When do you find yourself choosing to abide by convention, and when are you simply being collaborative and cooperative?  How do each of these situations relate to a sense of personal agency and responsibility? How do you feel as you engage in these different ways?

  1. 14. Intangibles                                   week of April 4            

Readings and Resources

Maturana 1993 Biology of the Aesthetic experience.pdf

Davis 2009 p 120 – 124  Davis 120-124 Sacred Geography excerpt.pdf
             from The
Wayfinders: Why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world.)

Ecology of Humanness Website

a domain co-arises with a distinction

* framing (interactive activity during online meeting)

detecting and navigating domains

self consciousness

beauty, flow and mystery

living the spiritual experience

  1. *visioning (activity during online meeting)

For discussion:

1.What happens when you reflect on reflection, and when you reflect on your own reflection of your reflections?

2.How do you navigate the delicate path of knowing you cannot know another fully, yet desiring and acting in a way that you feel intimate and close with them?   How do you navigate the understanding that your reality, your “world” is unique, and yet you live socially with others, who also live unique realities and worlds? What does it mean when we say “I see you, I love you, I understand you!” or when someone says that to us?


7. Observing for Learning for weeks 13 and 14 (oral)

  1. 15.Completion                                         week of April 11      

Whole group meeting only:

Ten minute presentations
to share your significant learning experiences

  1. *fortune “cookies” (activity during online meeting)


Learning Assessments due April 18