Friday, October 12, 2018

Damasio (2018) "The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures”

I enjoyed reading Antonio Damasio's new book, "The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures.”

Below are my summary of the main argument of the book and explanations of some of the key terms in it. Italicized words in the summary are explicated in the explanations.


The Strange Order of Things: 
Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures

by Antonio Damasio (2018)


Feelings inform us of the current state of the life regulation in our body, which is called homeostasis. Homeostasis operates not just for the current survival of the body but also for its future flourishment, and drives evolution, both biological and cultural. Biological and cultural evolutions constitute the human condition, the foundation upon which we make what (and who) we are. Feelings are realized in the interplay between the body and the nervous system, and accompany images that the nervous system creates in the neural circuits. Images are elements of consciousness in which we have the sense of subjectivity. We subjectively use memories, or recalled images, to think, judge and use symbols. Symbols are grammatically combined to make languages, and languages are the major means of narrating and communicating. Narrative and communication enable us to socially share with other individuals the knowledge and wisdom an individual has subjectively acquired, thus starting the creative processes of cultures and civilizations. We should not forget that underneath the activities of the mind(s) such as cultures, civilizations, narratives, communication, languages, thinking, consciousness, subjectivity, memories and images among other things, are feelings that are based on homeostasis of the body.


Homeostasis is a nonconscious physiological control that automatically maintains the dynamic stability of the bodily functions. It maintains, for example, body temperature, fluid balance or blood sugar level, within a certain range. It is the fundamental set of operations at the core of life to make the life not just survive but also flourish. It drives biological evolution through natural selection and cultural evolution through cultural selection.

The nervous system coordinates the whole body by signaling to and from various parts of the body. It includes the brain, the spinal cord, and nerves among other things. Although unicellular organisms do not need any nervous systems to maintain homeostasis, multicellular organisms need them to manage the complexity of their lives. Nervous systems emerged as servants to the rest of the organisms, and to a certain extent remain as such today as well. This point is missing from the traditional brain-centric accounts.
There are two directions of signaling in the nervous system. One is from the central nervous system (CNS) to the peripheral nervous system (PNS) through motor or efferent nerves, which, for example, contract muscles or secret chemical molecules. The other signaling is from the PNS to the CNS through sensory or afferent nerves, which informs the brain of the states of the body. Signaling in these two directions in the nervous systems form the basis of the mind.
It is recently recognized that the enteric nervous system in the gastrointestinal tract is a significant nervous system that communicates with the CNS, although the flow of information is mostly to the CNS, that is recognized as ‘gut feelings.’

Images are the mental representations of objects and events in both the exterior world (the world around the body) and the interior world (the world inside the body). For example, sitting in a garden, you may have a clear image of a cat approaching to you and recognize some images arising within you that are associated with warmth and tenderness. Images in consciousness are accompanied by feelings. Images are the elements of the mind.
Images improves homeostasis and movements of the body by letting consciousness know more about the interior and exterior world. Image recall opens additional possibilities for the life because recalled images can assist reasoning or thinking. For example, a cat that flees from a man who once abused it should be using image recall. In humans, images can be further converted into various kinds of symbols and languages, which make communication among different individuals highly sophisticated.

Feelings are the subjective experience of the state of life. In other words, they are mental deputies of homeostasis. Feelings work as monitors of the life process and as motives (drives and motivations). They are the result of a cooperative partnership of the brain and the body, not an independent fabrication of the brain. They are neither purely neural nor purely bodily.
Feelings are imbued with valence, the value of the condition of life from good to bad. Feelings announce the valence to its owner. Unlike non-feeling representations that are only sensed or perceived, feelings are representations that are felt by us and affect us.
Feelings are categorized into two: spontaneous feelings and provoked feelings. Spontaneous feelings originate the conditions of visceral components in the body (visceroception). Provoked feelings arise from musculoskeletal frames of the body (interoception other than visceroception) and/or from the perception of objects and events outside the body (exteroception).

Consciousness is the process of experiencing various images imbued with feelings in an integrated way from one's own private perspective. What makes consciousness more than collection of images is that it has subjectivity (with its unique perspective and feelings) and is an integrated experience. Images in my consciousness are different from images stored on a hard disk drive in that they are united as my private experience with my own meaningful feelings; they are not impersonal pixels with no feelings or meaning attached.

Subjectivity is a process that are based on the unique perspective and feelings of its own. Subjectivity is established by the relationship between particular images in focus and the images in background that we experience in consciousness. All conspicuous images emerge in consciousness accompanying provoked feelings against the background images accompanying spontaneous feelings. This contrast constitutes the framework of our conscious experience.

Memories, or recalled images in consciousness, are not just concerned with the past but also with the anticipated future, as they help us to envision the future.

Culture and civilization, which are accumulated collection of social practices, are means to educate people to have better homeostasis in the long run. They develop and spread by the positive feelings that they produce in humans. They are under the pressure of cultural selection driven by feelings that people share.

Human conditions, or the basis upon which we live as humans, are created by natural selection and cultural selection. Both selections are ultimately affected by feelings, the subjective experience of homeostasis. Humans first evolved through natural selection, not necessarily conscious, and then turbo-charged the evolution through sharing cultures and civilizations consciously.

However, feelings are basically functions within a single organism and are not often shared by fragmented heterogeneous groups that do not communication with each other. In order for heterogeneous groups to share cultures and civilizations, they need to be educated to feel the positive valence of cultures and civilizations. They need to learn to feel more or less the same way through communication. In other words, spontaneous feelings of homeostasis are not sufficient to spread cultures and civilizations. People need provoked feelings from communication to learn the virtue of cultures and civilizations.  

Related articles:
Damasio (2018) "The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures”
Emotions and Feelings according to Damasio (2003) "Looking for Spinoza"
A summary of Damasio’s “Self Comes to Mind”
'Feeling' of language as a sign of autopoiesis
Damasio (2000) The Feeling of What Happens
Another short summary of Damasio's argument on consciousness and self

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Open Dialogue in teacher education in Japan (Asia TEFL 2017 in Indonesia)

Here are the slides and the handout that I'm going to use at the Asia TEFL 2017 conference in Indonesia.

My presentation is from 13:45 to 14:15 on Saturday, July 15 at Pemandengan 1, Royal Ambarrukmo Hotel.

I regret that, because of the time limitation in this oral presentation, I cannot really compare Open Dialogue and Exploratory Practice or discuss much about complexity (Luhmann 2012, 2013) and pluratity (Arendt 1998), as I promised in the abstract below.


Open Dialogue in teacher education in Japan

Yosuke YANASE,
Hiroshima University


Why Open Dialogue?
>Need to regain agency against the repressive culture of teacher education in Japan.

What is Open Dialogue?
>A psychotherapeutic approach: Family therapy, Bakhtin and postmodernism in the background
>Open: No important decision is made outside the dialogic community
>Dialogue: Verbalization of the problem, which is accepted and responded to by other members
>The clients regain agency by speaking with their authentic emotions, voices and words, and being reasonably heard and responded to by other members.

Five important features of Open Dialogue
1 Tolerance of uncertainty with no single authority: No one knows the truth in a complex situation.
2 Dialogism between equal persons with different backgrounds: We need different perspectives
3 Polyphony and joint understanding:  All voices must be heard to complement each other
4 Emotional attunement from authentic voices:  The sense of acceptance is recognized through emotions
5 Agency of every participant: Everyone has a right to adapt and invent his or her own way in a new situation.

Research Question
Does Open Dialogue develop agency in teacher education in Japan?
‘Open Dialogue’: an adapted one for the purpose of teacher education
‘Agency’: the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power


Time and Place
>A teacher education course of eight sessions at a municipal education center in Japan from June 2016 to February 2017.
>However, Open Dialogue was only implicitly introduced and implemented. The main purpose of the course was the enhancement of students’ motivation.

>Eleven teachers of either an elementary or junior high school with different school subject specialty. The participation was not voluntary. We focus on an elementary school teacher, ET1, in this presentation.
ET1: Not confident about her teaching. Not perfectly well psychologically. Had a trauma as a young teacher (as it turned out later).
>Two teaching advisers in charge, including TA2, who we focus on, and a few other teaching advisers.
TA2: Concerned about the suppressive culture of teacher education. Interested in OD, but was not sure if it can be successfully implemented in the education center.
>Supervisor of the course (the current presenter), Sv.

Data in this presentation
>Personal Email correspondences (voluntary): (i) between TA2 and Sv, (ii) between ET1 and Sv.
>Video recording of interview between TA2 and ET1.
ç No negative effects of OD were observed in other members.
ç The original Japanese utterances were translated and edited by the current presenter.


From personal Email correspondences

Between Sv and TA2
>Participants and teaching advisers accepted OD in a positive way.
>The success of OD was manifest in their bodily expressions.
>The two teaching advisers in chief felt uneasy about this success because it was so unconventional.
>The two teaching advisers realized the power and impact of what they had been asking participants to do.
>TA2 thought that teacher educator themselves must be observed and analyzed.

Between Sv and ET1
> A desire to say, be heard, understood and accepted grew from a comfortable sense of safety.
>Self-exposure becomes possible when each other's vulnerability is respected.
>ET1’s unsolicited story-telling of her trauma began as the OD relationship developed.
>Telling her own traumatic experience was a necessary step to go forward
>ET1 likes the culture of OD but wonders if it can be introduced in ordinary schools in Japan.

From interview video between TA2 and ET1
>In teacher education in Japan, teaching advisers often give their own advice before the teacher finishes his or her own story.
>Teaching advisers should endure awkward silence while the teacher is straggling with thoughts and words.
>Teaching advisers can "advise" in the form of clarification questions.
>Teacher education is a co-construction between the teacher and the teaching adviser.


1 Uncertainty that OD brings about worries conventional teacher educators but it is the source of creativity.

2 In terms of dialogism, teacher educators must be educated in the style of OD.

3 Polyphony can be developed with a good sense of safety in a comfortable culture.

4 The success of OD can be felt intuitively from the emotional attunement from authentic voices

5 Teachers agency can develop when teacher educators exert their agency in the style of OD

Seikkula J & Olson ME. (2003) The Open Dialogue Approach to Acute Psychosis: Its Poetics and Micropolitics. Family Process, 42(3):403-18.

Seikkula J and Trimble D. (2005) Healing elements of therapeutic conversation: dialogue as an embodiment of love. Family Process, 44(4):461-75.


ABSTRACT (as submitted to Asia TEFL)
Although the notion of reflective practice has established an undisputed recognition in teacher education for long now, many teachers still find it difficult to reflect, that is, to have a good dialogue with themselves or with their mentors. Part of the reason lies in our insufficient theoretical understanding of dialogue; we are not, in fact, exactly able to distinguish dialogue from (reciprocal) monologue, (analytical) discussion or (antagonistic) debate. This presentation reports the progress of a one-year project of incumbent teacher education for 10 primary or secondary public school teachers in Hiroshima, Japan. In this project, dialogue is theoretically understood in the general conceptual framework offered by a renowned physicist-philosopher, Bohm (1996), in which orientation for 'truth' and 'coherence' play an important part. In practice, dialogue is specifically promoted in a way inspired by the 'Open Dialogue' approach in the field of psychiatric care (Seikkula and Olson 2003, Seikkula and Trimble 2005). Despite the differences among mentors and teachers of different school subjects (including English, of course), all participants as equals are encouraged to talk polyphonically, with no obligation to reach a consensus or conclusion. This project involves radical changes in the concept of teacher education itself, and is expected to contribute to a better understanding of Exploratory Practice, whose similarities and differences with this Open Dialogue approach should be carefully examined. Epistemological discussion in terms of complexity (Luhmann 2012, 2013) and plurality (Arendt 1998) is also presented to deepen our understanding of practice in social contexts.

teacher education, reflective practice, dialogue

Yosuke Yanase is professor at Graduate School of Education, Hiroshima University in Japan. He radically asks questions about fundamental concepts of language teaching in the spirit of “there is nothing so practical as a good theory,” although he is quite aware that “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Current Issues and New Thoughts on Reflective Practice" is now available in the PDF format.

"Current Issues and New Thoughts on Reflective Practice" is now available in the PDF format from the library of Kobe City University of Foreign Studies.

This publication contains excellent articles, "What is reflective practice?" by Jo TRELFA, "Use of epistemological lenses on the ambiguity of reflective practice: What is it to reflect on experience?" by Ken TAMAI, "Reflection, emotion and knowledge of the self" by Mark MONAHAN, "Whatever happened to ‘reflective practice’ ?" by Jo TRELFA, "A reflective continuum: Development of reflection" by Atsuko WATANABE, "Exploring, reflecting, and taking action through forms of ‘practitioner research’ and why professional development through research is essential for teachers and teaching" by Ian NAKAMURA, and "How the intersubjectivity of teacher and learner reflections contributes to transformative learning experiences" by Joan M. KURODA.