I’ve been interacting with Jaap van Till for the last year or two, mainly on Twitter. His blog is The Connectivist.
He recently made a reference to, and separately blogged about, Ann-Marie Slaughter’s “The Chess Board and the Web“ in a comment to me. And my response was to liken the sound of her “Chessboard” metaphor to Doug Hofstadter’s “Tabletop” – the “theatre of operations for any future move”. (Aside – in fact it was this post that sparked the conversation, but that remains unacknowledged.)
Before I say any more about Chessboards and/or Tabletops, we are connected because “connectivism” seems to be a common agenda item, whatever our current policy agendas. Interestingly, we also both have fundamental physical interests – even metaphysical in my case – that treat information as the most fundamental “stuff” of the universe. (Cf most recently Carlo Rovelli and Erik Verlinde). Whether at the scale of nation-states or the fundaments of physical reality, relations – common connections & significant differences – ARE information, what’s worth knowing. Epistemology (what is knowable semantically) precedes Ontology (what can be deemed to exist objectively) I would say.
Connectivism – seeing the (human scale) world in terms of relations rather than objects – feels like a no-brainer for the last two or three decades, ever since the rise of speed-of-light connectivity of all entities and individuals made the relations most obvious in the connectivity itself. In fact I associate the concept of “Connectivism” as a thing with Stephen Downes, early in the digital age, but the semantic-web is older than Foucault, much older than the internet enabled web. So, the idea of a Harvard & White-House guru writing a book in 2017 recommending that organisations focus on connections rather than the objects and states seems like band-wagon jumping or maybe even bolting the stable door. No shit, Sherlock! Better late than never?
I’ve not yet read “The Chess Board and the Web” but it occurs to me that the fundamental difference between Slaughter’s Chess Board and Hofstatder’s Tabletop is that whilst they both rely on relations between potential positions on the stage, a chess board has constrained positions and moves, within which imagination must operate. The tabletop is limited only by the creativity of the imagination – conceptual-slipping – even though every individual move can be analysed as relations between binary states (now and next) and objects (this and/or that, me and/or you). The web adds an infinitely flexible, multi-dimensional and fluid layer of connectivity to the constrained grid of a chess board. That unlimited creativity was always there, simply limited by the pre-defined conventions of the game. And remember, after Wittgenstein, we may see words as signifying real-world objects, but in fact all language is a game, a game where we evolve the rules as we play.