Thanks to Amine M’Siouri aminemsiouri_ for sharing on Pexels


“We do not learn from experience, we learn by reflecting on experience”…

- John Dewey

One of the most prominent American philosophers and thinkers of the first half of the 20th Century was John Dewey[1].

His work was anchored in how pragmatism – words and thought as tools and instruments for prediction, problem solving, and action – could be applied to education, civil society and social change.

Dewey’s thinking was highly influential in understanding how we can maintain a vibrant liberal democracy that can evolve and adapt over time.

Through collective action and exchange of ideas in the Public Sphere[2] – engagement and communication among citizens, experts and politicians – public opinion is shaped (a process of Collective Sensemaking [2]).

His ideas on the nature of education and learning were as transformational.

He believed that education and civil society were the bedrock to a well functioning democracy.

One that encouraged social change through the day to day practice of solving problems and harnessing collective action, pursuing objective inquiry and undertaking reflexive thought.

“Dewey has been to our age what Aristotle was to the later Middle Ages, not a philosopher, but the philosopher”…

— Hilda Neatby[3] , Historian & Educator

In Logic and the Theory of Inquiry[4] he challenged contemporary logical theory and asked whether this form of abstraction connected with reality?

“Man is not logical and his intellectual history is a record of mental reserves and compromises. He hangs on to what he can in his old beliefs even when he is compelled to surrender their logical basis”…

— John Dewey

His critique of logic was directed at the limits of mathematical abstraction in how we present and organise the world.

He believed we also needed to incorporate our observations & experiences of reality – blending Empiricism (Ground Truths[13]) with Inference (Abstraction).

A dualism of traditional and new relational Logic.

Dewey was a major educational reformer of the 20th Century.

His theories were outlined in a series of key publications from 1897 to 1938 and a reoccuring theme throughout his work was the interactive and social process of learning.

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
― John Dewey

He viewed education as a dynamic collective social process — To live is to Flow [8] — of experience and interaction.

A means where one not only gains content knowledge, but also learns how to live.

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results” …
― John Dewey

Human learning according to Dewey was more than a mechanistic Reflex Arc Concept[9] where an arc was formed from an external stimulus of the sense organs (a Stimulus) to a response from the internal workings of our brain (a Response).

He believed that learning was as much about our internal stimulus – Internal Inquiry — Reflexive Thought — a coordinated act involving the sensory and motor actions and the context in which the situation occurs.

Context mattered and included past experiences, the environment and the level of engagement.

His pragmatic Theory of Truth[10] was anchored in a process of constant discovery — the experimental (trial & error) — and creative capacities of the human experience.

The process of Learning to Learn to produce predictable and dependable outcomes.

A practice of competent enquiry.

Dewey’s insights were way ahead of their time – extending beyond the limits of logic[5] – combining practical actions with reflective thought and objective inquiry – [5] human agency with the metaphysical [11] – the semantic [6] with the algorithmic – the importance of the lived experience — context, relationships, reflection & meaning – all mattered to the process of learning.

It was a fundamental shift in the nature of philosophy and our understanding of Reality.

From a model of enquiry and a view of the nature of knowledge where the mind is attempting to mirror the World via an internal abstract Model of the World.

To a view of the World where we are in the World ( Human Agency).

It’s through our practical actions and experience that we navigate Reality.

Knowledge is practice.

As we outlined in In search of Ground Truths[13] and the work of Austrian American Scientist Heinz von Foerster Second Order Cybernetic Systems have the capacity to self reflect.

Our ability to be aware of not only the world around us but ourselves, body, activities and context is a innate human super power in our capacity to navigate complexity and uncertainty.

In a recent August 2020 podcast — Artificial Intelligence with Lex Friedman[14] — an interview with intersectional neuroscience and artificial intelligence researcher Dileep George — they discuss the human brains composition and “wiring”.

Thanks to Alina Grubnyak for sharing their work on Unsplash.

Through recent advances in understanding the biological brain Dileep suggests in the discussion that “there maybe more feedback connections than feed forward connections” .

He then goes on to explain why this might be the case, an abbreviated quote from the interview:

…“This fits into a very beautiful picture of how the brain works… …Our brain is building a model of the world… our visual system is building a model of how objects behave in the world and we are constantly projecting that model back to the world. So what we are seeing is not just a feed forward thing that just gets interpreted… …we are constantly projecting our expectations onto the world and the final percept is a combination of what we project onto the world combined with the actually sensory input…

[Lex Friedman — “almost like trying to calculate the difference and then trying to interpret the difference?”…]

…I wouldn’t put it as calculating the difference it’s more like what is the best explaination for the input stimulus based on the model of the world I have?”…

A topic and framework we cover in our March 2020 post — The Reality Gap… [15]— which outlined a similar process in how we navigate a complex and uncertain world.

A never ending OODA Loop

A shift beyond ideology or as outlined in our February 2019 post — The Age of Entanglement[16]:

“ From a binary world anchored in scientific reason and post-modern relativism to a quantum world anchored in human fallibility and system complexity”…

One that requires a profound shift in how we perceive Reality.

“ Our lens of the world will need to shift focus from one anchored in the ego-state, certainty, control and ideology to one anchored in humility, uncertainty, collaboration, ideas, creativity, problem solving and cognitive diversity”…

Visionary Finnish Sociologist Esko Kilpi sadly passed away earlier this year.

He was a leading thinker in laying the intellectual foundations for the nature of work in a Post-Industrial Society.

In a February 2019 article titled — How to scale up learning[17] — he outlines a vision for creating work for human beings in this new and demanding environment.

Its an inspiring alternative vision to the emerging algorithmic automation narrative explored in our recent August 2020 post — Alchemy[18].

A concluding quote from the article:

“Work starts from problems and learning starts from questions.

Work is creating value and learning is creating knowledge.

Both work and learning require the same things : interaction and engagement.

Scientists have discovered that learning is learnable.

With the help of modern tools, we can create ways for very large numbers of people to become learners.

But learning itself has changed, it is not first acquiring skills and then utilising those skills at work.

Post-industrial work is learning.

It is figuring out how to solve a particular problem and then scaling up what has been learned — both with technology and with other people”…

In the Age of Entanglement[16] will we leverage our Human super powers of Language, Human Agency, Problem Solving, Reflexivity, Collaboration[19], Learning to Learn and integrating Deductive, Inductive & Abductive Reasoning[20] ?

Combining the lived experience with reflective thought and objective inquiry — the qualitative with the quantitative.

Re-imagining our Organisations for the 21st Century[21].

As John Dewey articulated over a Century ago the future of our children, education and society are at stake…

“Intelligence [22] is not simply generated through abstraction. Intelligence is embodied. It requires agency and a problem to be solved – a response to the environment and context. There are no solutions without problems”…

— The Complexity Void

[1] John Dewey — dewey

[2] The Public Sphere — — and — Collective Sensemaking —

[3]Hilda Neatby -

[4] Logic and the theory of Inquiry —

[5]The Limits of Logic —

[6] The Semantic Mind —

[7] The Complexity Void —

[8] To live is to Flow —

[9] Reflex Arc Concept —

[10] Theory of Truth —

[11] What is MetaPhysics? —

[12] Humility is Truth — humility-is-truth-and-the-sea-of-ignorance-c289112cbd57

[13] In Search for Ground Truths —

[14] Lex Friedman Podcast — Brain Inspired Ai – Dileep George –

[15] The Reality Gap —

[16] The Age of Entanglement —

[17] How to scale up learning —

[18] Alchemy —

[19] The Beetle Paradox —

[20] Why Philosophy matters more than ever in the Age of Entanglement?… —

[21]Re-Imagining Organisations for the 21st Century… —

[22] The implausibility of intelligence explosion —


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