Reflections on necessity

This is a long unfinished blog post from spring 2013, written for other participants in a small, international collaboration that was waiting to hear about funding of an innovative proposal on economic and political mobilization “from below”–how it may be produced, persist and be productive in spite of social-environmental crises and violence. Read more of this post


A manifesto of creative thinking

A google hangout recording of my presentation on a creative thinking manifesto with an attempt to apply Ben Schwendener’s theme of vertical unity as a basis for improvisation or horizontal changes: audio, visual aids

On the Creative Thinking manifesto project:
On the 4Rs:
On Probe-Connect-etc.:
On vertical unity and horizontal changes:
On the “mandala”:

Theories of creativity in situations where the basic elements and rules are not predefined

During the first three weeks of the Learning Creative Learning online course, there have been various posts (and a Q&A in session 3) on applying the ideas in the course beyond the sciences — or perhaps, beyond the microworlds of marshmallow challenges, lego, scratch, turtle, etc. On of these questions asked about theories of creativity in situations where the basic elements and rules were not predefined. This question made me think of the work of musician and creativity teacher, Ben Schwendener (, who following the jazz composer and theorist, George Russell (see wikipedia), gets students IN ANY FIELD or OCCUPATION to define the deep principles of their endeavor from which innovation then flows. I attach below part of a series of blog posts from when I took a short course with Ben. But first, let me say that I saw Ben and Marc Rossi prepare to improvise together on two pianos by looking over a circle on a piece of paper where Ben had drawn some arcs. The previous time I heard them I was amazed that they could remember their intricate piece without the sheet music, so convinced was I that the two-piano piece had been composed in advance.


1 June 2011
Vertical/unity and Horizontal/change
My current understanding of Ben’s critique of method is that to work from method is to pursue the horizontal without attention to the vertical unity of elements upon which change flows naturally. An example of this problem might be a curriculum that says topics A-H must be covered, in contrast to identifying the six themes that underlie the subject matter (as proposed by science educator Paul Jablon, Lesley University) or my 4R’s (Respect->Risk->Revelation->Re-engagement) of developing as a collaborator or the many Rs of developing as a Reflective Practitioner during the CCT program of studies. Another way of stating this example is to consider the desired outcome. The student who has taken the required subjects is assumed to be able to draw on the knowledge (subject to an inevitable decay if the knowledge is not used), but a student who appreciates the six themes approach has a coherent, integrated perspective from which to address future areas of learning.


Dweck on Fixed vs. Growth mindset

Continuing a series of posts on the development of the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change within the framework of Ben Schwendener’s Seminar on Creativity.


14 June ’11
Notes on Carol Dweck, Mindset (2006).
The basic contrast

  • fixed mindset = “urgency to prove yourself over and over” (p.6)
    • “cloak of specialness was really a suit of armor they built to feel safe, strong, and worthy” (p. 226)
    • a criticism you didn’t want to hear; you weren’t capable of what was needed; turned a deaf ear, hoping the issue would go away (p. 227)
  • growth mindset = “everyone can change and grow through application and experience” (p.7)
    • “What are the opportunities for learning and growth today? For myself? For the people around me?” (p. 238) -> Plan -> “When, where and how will I embark on my plan?”
    • “What do I have to do to maintain and continue the growth?” (p.239)
    • “Raise should deal, not with the child’s personality attributes, but with his efforts and achievements.” Haim Ginott quoted on p. 172

“It’s for you to decide whether change is right for you now.” (p. 239) Yet the whole book is about the growth mindset is the way to go—so much so that the author can speak as if it’s a matter of choice and not address the ways it’s structured in over time.

The basic or original human disposition or orientation is the growth mindset, which corresponds to Makiguchi’s happiness in learning (insofar as I understand that).

When I write comments on students’ work as part of “dialogue around written work,” I assume a growth mindset. Even when I scaffold that growth, I do not have much success with students who have a fixed mindset (e.g., fast forwarding past the scaffolded steps to the final product as it to prove themselves, or protecting themselves by avoiding the hard work of, say, reading more).

Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change: PBL to explore its deeper rationale

Continuing a series of posts on the development of the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change within the framework of Ben Schwendener’s Seminar on Creativity.


12 June ’11
Decided to do a test run of the Collaborative around a PBL case on helping me tease out the deeper rationale (vertical-unity) of the Collaborative.  Invited 17 people to participate in an initial exploration [which eventually resulted in about 10 signing up to start on 6/23)]

  • In this initial PBL for CESPOC, participants are asked to join with Peter Taylor to articulate this deeper rationale, one that captures how participation in CESPOC could help a person identify and affirm their aspirations and thus be moved to continue participating. Contributions to this PBL might take the form of examples that illustrate what CESPOC could be; design principles and processes for developing the Collaborative; a teasing out and clarification of Peter Taylor’s motivation for wanting to initiate this; theory and results about how self-organizing groups develop, persist, and dissipate; a schema of the spaces of interaction implied by such a Collaborative; or whatever else engages the interest of the participants in this initial PBL. Like all PBLs, some surprising directions of inquiry and reframings of the problem may emerge.
  • Note: This PBL operates on three levels: 1) Making contributions to the topic itself (i.e., the deeper rationale for a Collaborative); 2) An experience to reflect on so as to gain more insight about “how participation in CESPOC could help a person identify and affirm their aspirations and thus be moved to continue participating”; and 3) An experiment in convening a group for 3 weeks online (which can also be evaluated so as to gain insight about “how participation…”).

Important to keep a log of what I’ve been doing.

Other goals:

  • Move away from developing the Collaborative on my own. Provide an opening for others to shape the entity even as I remain with a special role.
  • Possibly the seed for a movement that is more rewarding than editing a journal and that extends the New England Workshop on Science and Social Change.
  • Make use of having a 50% time assistant for Science in a Changing World graduate track.

Fritz on creating (in contrast with ICA and Schwendener)

Continuing a series of posts on the development of the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change within the framework of Ben Schwendener’s Seminar on Creativity.


12 June ’11
Notes on R. Fritz, The Path of Least Resistance

  • Result you want to create (for its own sake; love the creation)
  • What currently exists
  • Take action (invention, not convention)
  • Rhythms of creative process
  • Creating momentum

Tension between what you want to create and what currently exists seeks resolution, rather than oscillates in the reactive-responsive orientation/mode

Contrasting with:
ICA process
Group does brainstorming (“cardstorming”) of a practical vision, clusters the items and gives them names. The group then repeats the process but this time for obstacles to realizing that vision, resulting in clusters with names that convey the underlying obstacles. These then point to strategic directions. (This approach allows the vision to emerge rather than be identified at the outset.)

Ben Schwendener’s approach
When the elements of the vertical unity are identified, change flows from that unity. (The elements seem like the strategic directions of the ICA process.)

14 June ’11
Q: How to identify the elements?

Possible variants of the ICA process:
a. Start with a single vision, e.g., the Collaborative, then use Future Ideal Retrospective to tease out a more multifaceted (re)vision, then proceed as above.
b. Start with cardstorming about all the different tasks on one’s plate in the messy present, then Strategic Personal Planning, which identifies multiple strands, out of which a single vision emerges, then proceed as in a.
Try the variants for myself and see how they work in practice,

Q: What coaching is needed to keep one at the ICA task? (I ask this because it’s been on my to-do list since the 1st June and I am procrastinating.) A: Doing it with others in a course. Protecting some hours each day for it.

Vertical/unity and Horizontal/change: New prospectus and bio

Continuing a series of posts on the development of the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change within the framework of Ben Schwendener’s Seminar on Creativity.


10 June 2011
New prospectus and bio

The Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change seeks to support inquiries, teaching-learning interactions, and other practices of critical intellectual exchange and cooperation that challenge the barriers of expertise, gender, race, class, and place that normally restrict access to, understanding of, and influence on the production of scientific knowledge and technologies.

The Collaborative builds on a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach to education that allows students to shape their own directions of inquiry and develop their skills as investigators and prospective teachers (in the broadest sense of the word).

A deeper rationale for the Collaborative can be given, involving the ways that we have to bridge gaps in our inherently unbounded realities, which can be enhanced through a sequence of 4Rs—Respect, Risk, Revelation, and Re-engagement. Before asking for these ideas to be explained, consider the following bio.

Bio—Peter Taylor
How have I come to be the kind of person who would initiate a Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change? Let me tease out four strands to my story. (If readers resonate with any one of these strands, I encourage them to participate in the Collaborative; through the ensueing experience the other strands might eventually make more sense.)

1. Social change activism lies behind the Collaborative’s explicit mission of challenging the barriers of expertise, gender, race, class, and place in science. During the 1970s my environmental and social activism in Australia led to studies and research in ecology and agriculture. I moved to the United States to undertake doctoral studies in ecology with advisors who saw their scientific and political work as part of the same cloth. I continue to promote this vision of science as politics, even as I have become less active in social movements.

2. Investigation of complexity and change describes my work in ecology and environmental studies, as well as when I analyze and interpret the social situation in which research is undertaken (contributing what is now called science and technology studies or STS. In recent years my investigations of complexity and change have extended to social epidemiological approaches that address the life course development of health and behavior.) I argue that both the situations studied and the social situation of the researchers can be characterized in terms of “unruly complexity” or “intersecting processes” that cut across scales, involve heterogeneous components, and develop over time. These cannot be understood from an outside view; instead positions of engagement must be taken within the complexity. Knowledge production needs to be linked with planning for action and action itself in an ongoing process so that knowledge, plans, and action can be continually reassessed in response to developments — predicted and surprising alike.

3. Innovation in teaching and participatory process. Having this last picture in mind, I explore ways to stimulate researchers (and students training to become researchers) to examine the complexity of their social situatedness so as to change the ways they address the complexity of the situations they study. In broader terms, I want researchers and students to be critical thinkers and reflective practitioners in the sense of contrasting established paths in science, education, and society with others that might be taken, acting upon the insights gained, and taking stock of outcomes. The tools and processes I experiment with in workshops and teaching draw on my work at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB) directing Critical and Creative Thinking (CCT), a graduate Program that aims to provide its mid-career or career-changing students with “knowledge, tools, experience, and support so they can become constructive, reflective agents of change in education, work, social movements, science, and creative arts.”

4. Institutional development. Bringing critical analysis of science to bear on the practice and applications of science has not been well developed or supported institutionally, so I contribute actively to new collaborations, programs, and other activities, new directions for existing programs, and collegial interactions across disciplines. In particular, the new CCT track on “Science in the Changing World” and the undergraduate Program in Science, Technology and Values at UMB as well as the New England Workshop on Science and Social Change give me opportunities to develop courses and to promote discussion and teaching innovation concerning the interactions between scientific developments. My experience teaching two graduate courses using a Problem-Based Learning approach—Scientific and Political Change, and Gender, Race and the Complexities of Science and Technology—has led me to this latest initiative, the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change.

For more details, see:
1. Taylor, P.J. (2010) “Biology as Politics: The Direct and Indirect Effects of Lewontin and Levins (An essay review of Biology Under the Influence: Dialectical Essays on Ecology, Agriculture, and Health),” Science as Culture, 19 (2): 241-253.
2. —— (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
3. —— (2009) Guided Tour of Peter Taylor’s teaching,
4. —— (2011). Guided Tour of Peter Taylor’s service,

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