What is Unlearning LO10239

Arthur Battram (apb@cityplex.demon.co.uk)
Sun, 29 Sep 1996 15:50:47 +0100

replying to pcapper-What is Unlearning LO10213

>Once I thought about this it dawned on me (it probably dawned on all of
>you ages ago, but nobody has actually said it so far) that the concept of
>'unlearning' is really one way of thinking about the problem of historical
>channeling in complex adaptive systems. Now it makes more sense to me -
>unlearning consists of contriving to produce a gateway event which breaks
>out of the system's historical channeling which one again takes it beyond
>equilibrium. That's OK - but I still think that the use of that word
>carries a connotation (the rejection and dumping of past learning) which
>does not actually describe what happens in such a process

I like this view, because I would, wouldn't I being a complexity fan, and
it takes us on a little further in this debate IMHO, andnotbut I think
it's incomplete.

2 points:

1. in many ways, learning is adaptation and is therefore the results of
selection [as in natural selection] [cf: bateson/if price- learning is
evolution/evolution is learning]

2. so, if selection is involved, and we assume a 'pool' of 'things
selectable' , then, the concept of forgetting is challenged. we don't
forget, we stop using. this means that the 'selectablething' is still in
existence, but not in use, which means it could be in use again, and it is
available for recombination [like genetic material]

[I'm deliberately avoiding terms like memes or genes, or strategies
because I think all of those are attractors which will work against the
emergence of this concept from my/our 'possibility space', so lets just
say 'things selectable' for now, while we work out what it means]

so phil's 'the rejection and dumping of past learning' becomes the
deselection of a selectablething; its not dumped [ie-thrown out or erased]
nor is it rejected, anymore than the shirts I'm not wearing right now are
'rejected': they are just not selected today, because they are not
appropriate for the weekend

so unlearning becomes deselecting. this works for me because we often
'revert to type under pressure, forgetting the way[s] we have more
recently learnt

as I said in an earlier post [sorry about this, is it hopelessly
pretentious to quote your own email, or just naff?]

"... unlearning something, letting go of something: but that something is
the old pattern, the old schema, the old set of connections between bits
of knowledge . Which is not the same as throwing away knowledge. The
brain doesn't erase memories, it changes the connections, renewing some,
letting others fade away, under a form of selection. When we remember we
recreate memories, based on those strengthened or weakened connections.
In order to recast our knowledge, we have to throw away the old

thanks, phil for stimulating this incomplete wander in a possibility

anyone care to join me, I've got a feeling there's some really interesting
landscape just around the corner...

and BTW, the link to phil's 'historical channeling in complex adaptive
systems' is that this channelling can be considered to be happening in a
search space/possibility space/fitness landscape.

also BTW, it seems to me that in order to understand the complex systems
in complex adaptive systems, we MUST use several overlapping metaphors [as
I have done in this post] or we run the risk of missing important aspects
of the system as whole...


from Arthur Battram, organiser of the LGMB project 'Tools for Learning': helping local authorities to apply complexity concepts to personal and organisational learning. apb@cityplex.demon.co.uk "complexity is in here... and simplicity is out there...if we want it to be..."

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