RE: Learning Paradox

From: Robert Bracewell (
Date: Tue Aug 10 2004 - 09:16:14 PDT

A final kick at the can from me on the learning paradox:

I agree with much of what Michael and others have said about the learning
paradox (hence the quotation marks around the phrase in a previous
posting). Obviously it is not a problem for those of us who are getting on
with living and learning in our daily lives. Its status as a paradox does
seem to be based on questionable assumptions; and the analysis of these
assumptions and their implications is an important scholarly enterprise.
And I can appreciate the negative linkage between these assumptions and
fostering pluralism in society. Here in Montreal (at least as much as any
other place on the continent), most of us live and try to nurture a
pluralistic society--an activity that depends on openness toward, and
appreciation and uptake of the different and the unfamiliar. More
generally, the phenomenological novelty of interaction with the world,
referred to by both Michael and Victor, contradicts the learning paradox
(an aside to Victor, I am having difficulty reconciling your
characterization of thought as, "social and therefore external to the
subject" with Marx's dictum on the nature of human labor that, "Šwhat
distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the
architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in

But I see the issue as somewhat broader (albeit with the analysis of
questionable assumptions as a significant part)--namely, as being one of
how to use the learning paradox as a heuristic to achieve a more
comprehensive and integrated view of development. The reference example
would be one of the classical paradoxes such as Zeno's paradox of Achilles
and the tortoise. The resolution of this paradox was achieved by the
development of the calculus with its algebraic treatment of successively
smaller differences. That is, generally, the paradox highlighted the
absence of a theoretical framework for dealing with a phenomenon of
everyday activity. In an analogous manner, I see the learning paradox as
highlighting our lack of a framework which, to echo Mike's comment, can
supercede it.

Although we do not have a framework, we do have some candidate pieces and
procedures for realizing such a framework. One of these is deductive logic.
As John pointed out, by itself deductive logic is not creative; it is
however implicated in the verification of new conjectures. A second is, of
course, the analysis of assumptions that underlie the learning paradox. A
third is Peirce's construct of abduction and related constructs by other
scholars, which are implicated in the discovery or creation of conjectures.
A fourth are the various formalisms and mechanisms for deriving
patterns/representations. These would include recursive grammars and the
connectionist approaches mentioned by John (a dynamic models approach seems
particularly relevant here, see work by Tom Schultz and Yoshio Takane). A
fifth would be some of Piaget's constructs such as accommodation. \A sixth
would be the construct of expertise (and supporting data). Together with
the theory and constructs of activity theory, all of these potentially can
contribute to how our internal plane becomes constituted through experience
and development and, as Arievitch proposed, to a more integrated
psychological view of human development.


>I think the issue is not whether there are resources to resolve the
>learning paradox, but based on my original questions, and answers from
>Victor and John, whether the whole idea of the learning paradox, and the
>need to resolve it, is based on a set of underlying assumptions that may
>or may not be true. The discussion should be about the assumptions and
>whether they should be accepted in the first place, and the enormous
>social and political implications of accepting these assumptions (I for
>one believe it is impossible to face problems of pluralisms if we accept
>the assumptions the learning paradox is based upon).

Robert Bracewell
Associate Professor
McGill University
3700 McTavish Street
Montreal, Canada H3A 1Y2
email: Robert Bracewell <>
voice: 514-398-3443
fax: 514-398-6968

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