CCK09 On the horns of a dilemma

In addition to recognizable patterns in new ideas of error and of excessive distance, connections may also fail to form when they are "on the horns of dilemma". Here are four classic Catch-22's to keep in mind as we explore this third pattern of failed connections:
I can't endure this job and I can't endure unemployment
I can't live with him/her/it and I can't live without him/her/it
I can't learn from sitting in classrooms and I can't learn on my own
I can't get along with those people and I can't get along by myself

Each half of any dilemma is functioning a a collective, not a connective. Both horns are internally collusive while rejecting the outside network. The differences appear irreconcilable because they are both negating an opposite possibility. No viable connections can form between these antagonistic positions.

When we're caught up in a dilemma, the situation cannot be resolved by taking one side at the expense of the other. We will discover that "opposing the opposition" only perpetuates our misery. The opposite position will flare up and bring our inner torment to the forefront of our experience. There is no solution at the level of these irreconcilable positions. The connection can only occur at a different level from these insular nodes. Each isolated network remains the same regardless of what occurs in its context. Each fails to learn, change, adapt or evolve. It's mind is made up. Each plays by rules which have been long established. Each relies on its history to define its future. Each regards new opportunities as the same old foregone conclusions.

The solution can be found in a process network that contains these isolated networks. The introduction of changing, learning, adapting and evolving puts the isolated networks into a different context. Both become starting points for ongoing processes. Both entertain new questions to explore and interpretations to consider. Both may discover the error of their ways, their opportunities overlooked and their intentions gone awry. Both may find they are two sides of the same coin or a winning combination that prevents going to either extreme. The dilemma may be reformulated as a paradox where they are both right in a different sense provided by the inclusive, process network.

The transition from isolated networks to an inclusive process network involves some unlearning within each isolated network. Here's some of what typically gets unlearned when dilemmas get resolved and robust connections form between the reformulated positions.
  • There's nothing to be learned from untried alternatives.
  • There's nothing that's changed since valid conclusions were reached.
  • There's no justification for revising what is known to be proven facts.
  • There's every reason to rely on past history to predict the future.
  • There's nothing to question in reliable perceptions and attributions.
  • There's the danger of deluding oneself to expect something different.
  • There's no reconciliation possible between these positions.
That's a lot to unlearn, disconnect from and leave behind. I suspect the process networks that let go of past learning easily have accumulated an inventory of successful experiences with dropping connections and revising meaning.


  1. When I read this post, I thought of cognitive behaviour therapy whose"...techniques vary within the different approaches of CBT according to the particular kind of problem issues, but commonly may include keeping a diary of significant events and associated feelings, thoughts and behaviors; questioning and testing cognitions, assumptions, evaluations and beliefs that might be unhelpful and unrealistic; gradually facing activities which may have been avoided; and trying out new ways of behaving and reacting. Relaxation, mindfulness and distraction techniques are also commonly included. "

    In this approach, practical tasks are suggested by the therapist and undertaken by the 'learner' so they could be seen as making the network of ideas and ways of thinking visible but I would ask where the therapist and learner are in this network. I have noticed in discussions on connectivism that we may wear different glasses that filter our views of networks, sometimes seeing people (social) networks, sometimes seeing idea/knowledge networks, sometimes seeing diverse networks of people and things (as connectivism seems to suggest). Do the different filters help? or impede dialogue?

  2. Thanks for connections and questions! Here's how I'd relate "resolving dilemmas" to Connectivism. The knowledge TO resolve a dilemma may not be in the person with the dilemma or in a therapist, but rather distributed in a wide ranging network that includes the Wikipedia page you shared with us, this blog post, many books, Google search results, etc. The knowledge OF the dilemma could also be distributed among coworkers, friends and relatives of the person who is torn between two irreconcilable alternatives. Their conversations with the individual may collude with the dilemma, take one side only or recognize the pattern and potential for resolution. Thus different clusters within the person's social network would maintain the dilemma, make it worse or recognize the pattern. Connectivism tells us the same complex distribution of knowledge would occur in the conceptual network of each person participating in the dilemma. Likewise for each person's neural network. Each would experience that as thinking and feeling very differently when stuck on either side of the dilemma or realizing the possibility of a resolution.

    Your question about different filters is wonderful. Speaking with different frames of reference about networks can certainly impede dialogue, foster misunderstandings and add to confusion. These are incidents where a robust set of connections fails to form. However, connections occur by associating with whatever/whomever seems salient, resonant, or emotionally stirring to each person uniquely. If we're seeking agreement with ourselves, will associate with the same frames of reference as our own (birds of a feather flock together). If we're captivated by learning from differences from our own understanding, we'll seek out conflicting frames of reference. Because the potential connections are so abundant, distributed and accessible, there's no point in despairing over connections that fail to form, simply associate with more like-minded or opposite-minded filters in people and resources.

  3. Regarding filters, I think that they can be useful as long we have some awareness of what we are filtering out.
    Ed Webb expressed your last point very nicely in a comment to a recent post on my blog
    I think it is very interesting to ponder on connectivism as a node and subnet - is it clustering around it connections that go exclusively from it to them (broadcasting) or connections some of which go from them to it (that sounds remarkably like learning). Even more interesting is the process by which the latter might occur.
    Apologies for my apparent anonymity - I had done this a year ago in at attempt to keep a private blog just that - hope it's now fixed.

  4. Thanks for all this Frances. Furthering what you added about filtering, I'm thinking there are arbitrary and considerate filters in continual use. I like what you're saying about cultivating awareness what we're filtering out (considerate). How homophilic of me! But that takes time to both review cognitively and get a feeling about what we're filtering. In his presentation at Palermo Italy, Stephen suggested that we could regard content coming into our own network as meaningless signals that we filter to arrive at a manageable quantity (arbitrary). He's proposing that meaning comes about from our personal context of associations once the signals have cleared the filters. Stephen's approach to filtering is heterophilic to yours.

    I'm glad you raised the issue of broadcasting. I associate many forms of centralized distribution with the classroom boredom problems you explored in your post: Deconstructing boredom in the student experience of lectures and small group classes. It seems to me that boredom is maximized when broadcasting to learners who feel like repositories, archives, disk space. The boredom gets alleviated slightly when the learners feel like aggregators, dashboards or selective filters. The boredom vanishes when broadcasting to learners who feel like fellow broadcasters facing similar issues about what to say, how to say it, how much to say, etc. When the initial broadcaster is also an aggregator of the learners' content generation, everyone is "in the same boat". The cluster supports multi-leveled connections and demonstrates resilience when stressed by antagonisms. When I use the phrase "learners who feel like" I'm suggesting their engagement is authentic, not a charade or way to game the class.

    Thus I've "pulled a Latour" here. Boredom is not an explanation for a lack of engagement. Boredom needs explaining by the varied associations with Powerpoint, authority figures, self expression/exploration and conversation. Then boredom seems relativized, dynamic, and emergent from particular contexts.

    Thanks for fixing your anonymity problem :-)