A Parisian summer, in a time of suspect intellectualism

To think of France is to think of Paris.

And to think of Paris is to think of its icons – the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre with its I.M. Pei glass pyramid (and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel), Notre-Dame de Paris…and that distinctive odour of eau de urine in the Parisan metro…

View of the Eiffel Tower from a metro train. Paris, France
Arc de Triomphe. Paris, France

The Louvre, with I.M. Pei glass pyramid. Paris, France
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. Paris, France
Notre-Dame de Paris. Paris, France

…or its iconic foods: cheese (from Laurent Dubois), sourdough bread (from Poilane),
Fromagerie Laurent Dubois. Paris, France

sourdough bread from Poilane, cheese from Laurent Dubois, chacuterie. Paris, France
escargot, frog legs, oysters, sweetbread at the restaurant of Hotel du Louvre:
oysters, escargot snails, sweetbreads, frog legs, roast potatoes at the restaurant of Hotel du Louvre. Paris, France

more escargot and deliciously heavy creamy foie gras ravioli drizzled with truffle oil at Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie (“foie gras maison!” proclaims its website):

escargot with butter, garlic, and parsley. Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie, Paris, France
foie gras ravioli drizzled with truffle oil. Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie. Paris, France

Having read A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals several times as a continually ravenous university student (possibly due to fencing training 3 times a week, rugby training once a week, and cricket, too, once a week), I used to despair of ever visiting such temples of gastronomy, expecting that any trace of them would have disappeared in the intervening years.

What Paris now offers though, is the pleasure of having my tummy satiated by a normal meal. In Asia, noodles and rice just don’t seem to present much bulk at all – an hour after lunch and I’ll be rifling through the office snack stash with a growling tummy, to the chagrin of weight-conscious colleagues. In the U.K., the ubiquitous potatoes helped some, but that had to be topped up with tea and biscuits ever so often. Ah, in France though, all that good tasty dairy fat in cheese and cream totally keeps me going for hours.

Still, worth rounding off a meal with sweets of course, just for good measure, and Pierre Hermé is just the thing.

feuilles. Pierre Hermé. Paris, France
ispahan. Pierre Hermé. Paris, France.
macarons, Pierre Hermé. Paris, France

I joked with my French ex-housemate that perhaps Paris would be a good place to settle in. Not only was the food a perfect Tinder match, the people too were just up my alley. Ex-housemate had been explaining how the locals considered themselves quite intellectual, and would not listen to even a simple proclamation of the gospel until there had been some serious argument over an issue of choice (not necessarily even the very reasonable and logical questions about the authenticity and authority of the Bible), and I simply love a good argument.

Religieuse pastry. Paris, FranceLast year, Sudhir Hazareesingh wrote about How the French Think. He considered French thought distinctive:

  • in its historical character (by which I mean both its substantive continuities over time and its references to the past as a source of legitimation or demarcation)
  • in its fixation with the nation and the collective self, which provide an enduring focus of public debate and the philosophical underpinning of assorted conceptions of the good life
  • in its extraordinary intensity (ideas are believed not only to matter but, in existential circumstances, to be worth dying for)
  • in the belief that communicating specialised forms of knowledge to a  wider public is an integral feature of intellectual activity
  • in its constant interplay between the themese of order and imagination – or to put it in terms of specific thinkers, between the cold linearity of Descartes and the unbridled expansiveness of Rousseau.

Buddhist monk at Shakespeare and Company. Paris, FranceNaturally, as if to prove his point, many French people have critiqued the book for leaving out certain philosophers, for giving too much space to Napoleon, for misunderstanding nuances of certain ideas (“has he not read Baudrillard?!”), etc. But all agree that French pride in the intellect defines the nation.

Je pense donc je suis“. Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am.

And the French have interpreted Descartes to mean that Thought is man’s highest sacred duty.

But the current hooha over the burkini ban in certain part(s) of France has tarnished this image. Could it be that the French, like everyone else, is happy for the freedom of thought…as long as it is the same as their own?!

crepe, Breizh Café, Paris, France
a bowl of cider, Breizh Café. Paris, France

A more fundamental fallacy is this: the assumption that the human intellect is infallible.

A (more English) empirical enquiry would effectively evidence this.

The Sushi Bar (Far East Plaza) and the Non-objectivity of Moral Theory

Dinner at The Sushi Bar (facebook. #04-28, Far East Plaza) was, in the end, a happy affair. L grumbled at first about how the prices compared with Sakuraya Fish Market, but was later won over by the quality of the sashimi – fresh and sweet.

The Sushi Bar, Far East Plaza, SingaporeIt was not without a tinge of sadness though that it became obvious that we had little in the way of common topics of conversation now, despite being roaring good friends a decade ago. I should have found a way to talk about my current intellectual obsessions – but they probably aren’t L’s cup of tea anyway…

Was chatting with NC tonight about my frustration at how discussions about moral theory fall into the same problems as that regarding the existence of God. And while it is easy to state the negative – what moral theory must not be based on (usually, Organised Religion), it has been more difficult for philosophers to state positively what common objective morals are (Dworkin’s morons?) and how they can be derived. All efforts trip themselves up with a priori presumptions.

NC claimed that one can speak of moral theory without referring to ultimate values, and sent me over to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on justice in public reason. The objections in paragraph 7 articulated much of my own views on the theories. NC also recommended John Rawls’ early Outline of a Decision Procedure for Ethics.

The Sushi Bar, Far East Plaza, Singapore Sadly, none of this was satisfactory. The strategy of a procedure for ethics is questionable: after all is this “reasonableness” that the “competent” judge is to have? What is  the “rule of common sense” that he is to apply?

It comes back to the fact that there is a inviolable three-way nexus between ontology, epistemology, and ethics (of which, I assume, moral theory is part). Any heuristic device needs to address all three of these guardians. There is no point trying to trying to prohibit the use of divine revelation if one runs into problems of a similar kind using human reason. The Sushi Bar, Far East Plaza, SingaporeDoes this mean that most discussions must inevitably be apologetic and evangelistic?

“Look, mate. It’s not that I want to bring religion into the public square, but how can we even begin to talk when you think you have complete autonomy to construct your own idea of right and wrong, and I insist that only God determines what is right and wrong? Therefore, we need to talk first about who’s mad and who isn’t.”

Ontology, Epistemology, Learning Theory, Instructional Theory, and Instructional Design

Have been thinking again about how best to teach the various groups I’m to train over the next few months. Here’s a back-of-the-napkin thought about how instructional design is based on theories of instruction, that are themselves based on theories of learning, that must be based on different epistemological and ontological theories. Cheap and quick, so probably many errors.

ontology, epistemology, learning theory, instructional theory, instructional design, and Stump Jump GSM

Materialism says that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions. Knowledge, therefore, comes only or mainly from sensory experience and can be evidenced.

Its/their natural (not nurtured?!) children are:
(i) behaviourism (primary psychological paradigm 1920s – 1950s): humans are born tabula rosa (blank slate), resulting behaviour is a result of stimulus and response, the environment.

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select–doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.” (John B. Watson).

Related instructional theories would therefore be something to do with conditioning, whether classical (Ivan Pavlov), operant (B.F. Skinner), or social learning (Albert Bandura). And the attendant instructional design would be stimulus-response, reinforcement by rewards-punishment, and modelling. Skinner would also advocate practice as part of reinforcement – by for a reason different from that of David Ausubel (see below) who wouldn’t have cared for repetitive rote-learning.

(ii) cognitivism (primary psychological paradigm 1950s-1990s): humans are born with minds like black boxes that influence behaviour. Focus is on neuroscience, the brain, memory (long-term, short-term). Cognitive development occurs in stages (Jean Piaget) by the construction of a series of schemata to understand the world (schema theory – Frederic Bartlett, Richard C. Anderson). Therefore instructional theory emphasises learning styles (for different minds), repetition and mnemonics (to aid the memory), progressive differentiation and advance organisers (David Ausubel).

Phenomenalism says that physical objects do not exist as things in themselves but only as may be perceived through a person’s senses or with their mind. We cannot experience anything beyond the phenomena of our perceptions. Solipsism then states that actually, we can only be sure that our mind exists. Therefore, it agrees with rationalism that truth is best discovered by the use of reasoning and logic rather than by the use of the senses. Learning is therefore done in the context of constructing on what is already known (constructivism) rather than acquiring new knowledge.

Each person has a different interpretation and construction of the learning process. But this can be aided within a zone of proximal development (Lev Vygotsky). Instructional theory would therefore include scaffolding (because of ZPD), collaborative learning, active learning, discovery learning, knowledge building. This would result in instructional design outcomes like problem-based learning, assignments, disputations, interrogations, individualised programmed learning.

And critical theory probably says that none of these theories are valid because they include oppressive use of authority by educators! 😉

*this is not to say though that each of these instructional design theories must definitely be based on the corresponding ontological and/or epistemological theories as set out above.