October 30, 2009

The basic idea of Autopoietic Systems

In this post, I shall explain the autopoietic systems theory. Note that the following explanation based on my interpretation of the formulation by Niklas Luhmann, who generalized the concept from biological systems theory to general systems theory for building a new social system theory.

Autopoiesis means self-production, and autopoietic system means the system that produce itself. The concept of "autopoiesis" was originally proposed by biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, and the term "autopoiesis" is invented from Greek words: "auto" for self- and "poiesis" for creation or production (Maturana & Varela 1972, Varela et. al. 1974, Maturana & Varela 1980; 1987).

"An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of process of production (transformation and destruction) of components that produces the components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in the space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network. It follows that an autopoietic machine continuously generates and specifies its own organization through its operation as a system of production of its own components, and does this in an endless turnover of components under conditions of continuous perturbations and compensation of perturbations." (Maturana & Varela 1980; p.79)

In short, an autopoietic system is a unity whose organization is defined by a particular network of production processes of elements, not by the components themselves or their static relations. Summarizing the concept of autopoiesis, it turns out that the system has three fundamental features; (1) element as momentary event, (2) boundary reproduction of the system, (3) element constitution based on the system.

The crucial point of autopoiesis in systems theory is the shift of viewpoint of element from substances to momentary events. Element of the system conventionally considered to keep existing, for example cell in living system or actor in social system. In the autopoietic system theory, however, the elements are the momentary event that has no duration. It means that elements disappear as soon as they are realized. Consequently, system must produce the elements in order to keep itself existing. Thus, the boundary of system is determined circularly by the production of elements, and it is called autopoietic system.

In this sense, autopoietic system is not emerged from so-called "bottom-up", just because the concept of bottom-up is assumed to given elements before emerging the whole. Autopoietic system intrinsically implies circular relation between the system and its elements. Luhmann pointed out as follows:

"Whether the unity of an element should be explained as emergence `from below' or as constitution `from above' seems to be a matter of theoretical dispute. We opt decisively for the latter. Elements are elements only for the system that employs them as units and they are such only through this system. This is formulated in the concept of autopoiesis."(Luhmann 1984; p.22)

In the next post, I will explain more detail about element constitution in autopoietic systems.


Luhmann, N. (1984). Soziale Systeme: GrundriƟ einer allgemeinen Theorie, Suhrkamp. (English translation: Social Systems, John Bednarz Jr., Dirk Baecker (translator), Stanford University Press, 1995)

Maturana, H. R. & Varela, F. J. (1972). De Maquinas y Seres Vivos. Editorial Universitaria S.A.

Maturana, H. R. & Varela, F. J. (1980). Autopoiesis and Cognition: The realization of The Living, D. Reidel Publishing Company.

Maturana, H. R. & Varela, F. J. (1987). The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Shambhala Publications.

Varela, F.J., Maturana, H.R. & Uribe, R. (1974). "Autopoiesis: the organization of living systems, its characterization and a model", Biosystems, Vol.5, No.4, pp.187-196.

October 24, 2009

A Brief History of Systems Theory

In the current academic context, there are several theories under the name of "systems theory". In this post, I shall overview a history of the systems theory. We adopt, here, a categorization suggested by Hideo Kawamoto (1995), where the development of the systems theory is divided into three generation (See the Table below).

First generation is summarized as the theories for dynamic equilibrium systems, and their key concept is "homeostatis". They focused on the mechanism how a system maintains itself under the fluctuation from the environment. Leading scholars in this generation are Walter Bradford Cannon of "homeostasis" (Cannon 1932), Ludwig von Bertalanffy of "general systems theory" (Bertalanffy 1968), Norbert Wiener and W. Ross Ashby of "cybernetics" (Wiener 1948; Ashby 1956). The sociologist who applies this generation theory is Talcott Parsons as "social systems theory" (Parsons 1951).

Second generation is the theories for dynamic nonequilibrium systems, and their key concept is "self-organization". They focused on the mechanism how a structure of system is crystallized from disorders. Leading scholars in this generation are Ilya Prigogine of "dissipative structure" (Prigogine & Nicolis 1977), Manfred Eigen of "hypercycle" (Eigen & Schuster 1979), and Hermann Haken of "synergetics" (Haken 1977).

Third generation is the theories for self-production system, and their key concept is "autopoiesis". They focused on the mechanism how a system itself is realized over time. Autopoietic system means a unity whose organization is defined by a particular network of production processes of elements. Leading scholars in this generation are Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela of "autopoiesis" (Maturana & Varela 1972, 1980; Varela & Maturana, 1974). The sociologist who applies this generation theory is Niklas Luhmann as "social systems theory" (Luhmann 1984).

Note that there is a clear distinction between "self-organization" and "autopoiesis" after the revolution caused by third generation. In this context, self-organization is focused on structural formation, but autopoiesis is focused on system formation. Luhmann emphasizes this distinction as follows:

"Autopoietic systems, then, are not only self-organizing systems, they not only produce and eventually change their own structures; their self-reference applies to the production of other components as well. This is the decisive conceptual innovation. […] Thus, everything that is used as a unit by the system is produced as a unit by the system itself. This applies to elements, processes, boundaries, and other structures and, last but not least, to the unity of the system itself." (Luhmann 1990: p.3)
"In order to clarify how much this concept of basal self-reference differs from an earlier discussion of "self-organization", Maturana and Varela have proposed the designation `autopoiesis’ for it." (Luhmann 1984: p.34).

As just quoted, the difference between "self-organization" and "autopoiesis" is of decisive importance for understanding the conceptual innovation of the systems theory.

Ashby W. R. (1956). Introduction to Cybernetics, Methuen.
Bertalanffy, L. v. (1968). General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications, George Braziller
Cannon, W. B. (1932). The Wisdom of the Body, W. W. Norton.
Eigen M. & Schuster P.(1979) The Hypercycle: A principle of natural self-organization, Springer
Haken, H. (1977). Synagetics, An Introduction. Nonequilibrium Phase-Transitions and Self-Organization in Physics, Chemistry and Biology, Springer.
Kawamoto, H. (1995) Autopoiesis: The Third Generation System (in Japanese), Seido-sha Publishers.
Luhmann, N. (1984). Soziale Systeme: GrundriƟ einer allgemeinen Theorie, Suhrkamp. (English translation: Social Systems, John Bednarz Jr., Dirk Baecker (translator), Stanford University Press, 1995)
Luhmann, N. (1990). Essays on Self-Reference, Columbia University Press.
Maturana, H. R. & Varela, F. J. (1972). De Maquinas y Seres Vivos, Editorial Universitaria S.A.
Maturana, H. R. & Varela, F. J. (1980). Autopoiesis and Cognition: The realization of The Living, D. Reidel Publishing Company.
Parsons, T. (1951). The Social System, Free Press.
Prigogine, I. & Nicolis, G. (1977). Self-Organization in Non-Equilibrium Systems, Wiley.
Varela, F.J., Maturana, H.R. & Uribe, R. (1974). "Autopoiesis: the organization of living systems, its characterization and a model", Biosystems, Vol.5, No.4, pp.187-196.
Wiener, N. (1948; 1965). Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, 2nd edition, MIT Press.

October 14, 2009

My Interests with "C"-words

I thought of a new way of my self-introduction, when preparing presentation slides for a conference last week. It is the self-introduction with using only words beginning with "C". Reflecting my research for past 15 years, I found that there are several C-words related to my research.

Okay, now let me show.

First keyword is "Computation". I have engaged in computational sciences, for example, combinational optimization with artificial neural networks, econometrics, computer simulation, and network analysis. Beyond just using computers as an end-user, I have developed several software programs including scientific tools, community ware, and games. The associated words are "Component" as building block for modeling and thinking, "Constructivism" for scientific understanding and learning, and "Connected" to others via cyberspace.

Second keyword is "Complexity". My first book (1998) was about complexity and complex systems, which is written when I was master-course student. The words associated to the concept of complexity are "Chaos", "Contingency", and "Collective". Chaos is quite fascinating phenomena which the unexpected irregular patterns are emerged from simple deterministic laws. Contingency means that things or events do not occurred necessarily nor at random. Then, collectiveness implies there are interactions among elements.

Third keyword is "Creativity". I'm interested in what goes on in creative process and also how one can enhance their creativity. I sometimes invent totally new ideas and think in a different way from others, so I seem be considered as "creative" person. While I don't know whether I am really creative, I'm interested in my thinking process when I create something new. Based on my experience, abstraction to "Concept" is quite important. As Daniel Pink called an emerging creative age "conceptual age", conceptualization is getting to be more important. At the same time, "Cultivation" through prototyping, experiment and improvement of idea is important. Furthermore, in today's society, creative process by more than one person, namely "Collaboration", is important.

Thus, my major keywords are "Computation", "Complexity", and "Creativity". My studies have been done based on these keywords. This is spiral process rather than linear process. You might find a big "C" in the spiral process.

Finally, as an aside, my favorites in daily life can be also shown as C-words: "Cafe", "Camera", and "Cute Characters" :-)

October 12, 2009

My New Blog "Creative Systems Lab"

I've just started my new blog "Creative Systems Lab". In the blog, I will explore the nature of creativity with using systems theory.

I decided to keep writing this blog "Concept Walk", therefore follow both of them, please.

"Creative Systems Lab"

September 14, 2009

Re-reading "Mindstorms" (S.Papert)

Seymour Papert's book "Mindstorms" has been one of my favorite books ever since I read this book almost 10 years ago. I’ve been fascinated with the philosophy of Papert about learning and education, including key concepts of “object-to-think-with” and “debugging”.

Today, however, I would like to take up another minor parts of this book, but which seems to be important to consider, rather than the explicit key concept as above.

"The idea of programming is introduced through the metaphor of teaching the Turtle a new word." (p.12)

This statement implies quite important thought about the relationship between children and computer agent such as "Turtle" in LOGO. Providing this kind of tools, children can obtain not only tools to manipulate but also "buddy" whom they need to teach. Like a children’s play with dolls, robots, and stuffed toys, children can replace the standpoint between themselves and their computer agent, and empathize with the agent. They can be, so to speak, a big sister or a big brother of the agent.

This situation is very interesting, because children play both roles of "learner" and "teacher" at the same time. Borrowing the phrase of this book, it looks like the situation as follows.

"Novice is not separated from expert, and the experts are also learning" (p.179)

I think that the possibility of this nesting structure of learning and teaching should be considered more seriously.

The thought just described seems be true in the light of my own experience. When I was junior and high school student, I really enjoyed to making programs like games, tools for developing it, and some kind of artificial intelligence. My start point was to make games such as action games to go to a goal, puzzle games including competition with a computer player, and conversation game with computer agent. For me, thinking about the algorithm for thinking of characters in games was really attractive, and I felt that I needed to teach a lot of things for the characters to think and act in their world, which is an artificial world in games. I tried to make them more intelligent to overcome the human players, including me, in order to make the games more interesting and difficult. At that time, I thought of myself as a robot designer like the future-type doctor in cartoon, and was getting to empathize each of computer agents.

With these experiences, I became to read books about Artificial Intelligence and also tips for smart thinking, and implemented it to my computer agents. This was my exploration with "object-to-think-with". Then, as an aside, I studied Artificial Intelligence, especially neural network and distributed AI, when I was university student, and wrote my doctor’s thesis about modeling tools for multi-agent social simulation. Furthermore, I have been teaching complex systems with multi-agent modeling and simulation in university. So I could say that my current profession is based on these experiences. I thus learned a lot from my learning experience with "object-to-think-with".

- Seymour Papert, "Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas", Second Edition, Basic books, 1993

Making Process of Learning Patterns

Learning patterns are developed by the really active and creative collaboration for one year at Learning Patterns Project, Keio University. I would like to briefly overview the making process of our pattern language.

In the first half of the process, we started some survey and brain storming about the knack of experienced learners. Again and again we conduct both of divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Sometime we thought in the view related to curriculum, sometimes in the view of campus life. The pieces of idea about effective and creative learning were organized and categorized over the discussion. Summarizing the idea, the candidate of patterns were emerged.

In the latter half of the process, we wrote the detail of patterns and held the workshop to improve the patterns more than twenty times. Drawing the illustration of each pattern was proceeded in parallel, so sometimes the illustration help to shape the contents of the patterns. We always spend six hours a week for workshop to improve a patterns. This phase was a precious experience for us but also really hard task because of no end is in sight.

Here, we shall explain the style of this workshop, because it is very important for improvement of pattern languages. We learned the workshop style explained here is in the Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (PLoP), which is annually held both in United States and Europe. Our method to improve a pattern language is a variation of the method which is sophisticated in the area of software design. The pattern communities have developed the way to improve and approve the patterns, which this process is also a kind of creative collaboration and it is depend on mutual approval.

The participants of the workshop consists of authors of patterns which are taken in the workshop and some volunteers. Participants are required to read all papers in advance, which are including some patterns respectively. Then in the workshop, they spend one and half hour to talk about each paper. Most interesting rule of the workshop is that the author should shut his / her mouth, instead of giving a presentation or explanation. Only other participants except the author allow to talk about the proposed patterns. The author has responsibility to write down the comments for improving the patterns.

The reason why the author ought not to say something is related to the thought that pattern language is "language" to use. Therefore It is necessary for the pattern language to be understandable for the various readers. Through such a process, the author can know which part of description is mistakable for others, and also get more appropriate or attractive words, explanation, and examples. Furthermore it is another important rule of workshop that they can say only positive comments including the clue to improve the pattern. This rule works well to drive the participants into good collaboration. Like this, the proposed pattern language in this paper has been improved through such a workshops in our project.

July 13, 2009

How "Learning Patterns" can support learning design

Let me demonstrate how to use Learning Patterns.

Take, for example, the pattern of Acceleration to Next (36). This pattern is supposed to be needed under the context like "When you are researching" or "When you are studying". The problem frequently occurred is "It not seldom happens that people slack off their efforts subconsciously just before the goal", and the solution is "Set next goal and pass through the current goal without slow down"(See more details about this pattern in this post).

A student who read this pattern may find new idea to design his / her learning activities, because pattern languages can become "concept" to comprehend the reality and amplify the ability of recognition. Thus, the method of pattern language provide the way to understand the existence of problem and the clue of the solution.

Moreover, by virtue of the name of each pattern, it is getting easier to mention some aspect of learning. With using the example above, the teacher can advice the student with using the pattern name; "Don't forget Acceleration to Next!" Otherwise, student can ask the teacher "Do you think I should increase Acceleration to Next?" Like this, pattern language contribute to increase the vocabulary about learning among teachers and students. These are the reason why pattern language is called "language" of patterns.

An Example of Learning Patterns: Acceleration to Next (36)

Final example of Learning Patterns is Acceleration to Next (36).


Acceleration to Next

Just before the goal,
people tend to press the brake pedal subconsciously.
Now is the time to set next goal
and press down on the accelerator.

  • When you are making research
  • When you are writing a paper
  • When you are creating something
  • When your activity is in the final stage
  • When you are at a dead end

It not seldom happens that people slack off their efforts subconsciously just before the goal.

  • Just before achieving the goal, people tend to lose their motivation, unconsciously.
  • End work just before achieving the goal is tough.
  • We can work hard in active, just in the process of pursuing our goal.

Set next goal and pass through the current goal without slow down.

  • Think of the meaning of your activity, and imagine what you should do after achieving its goal.
  • Set the next goal on the extension of your activity temporarily, and consider the immediate goal as a passing point. With an image of bigger goal, you can avoid losing the end work.

Even if you work on your activity with the mind of Passion for Research (6) and Firm Determination (38), it seems tough to achieve the project before its goal. if you are in the situation like this, it is important to put Acceleration to Next. Work on your activity with Bird's eye, Bug's eye (23) for taking the immediate goal as a part of next big goal. With "Bird's eye" for looking down a whole of your project, think of what you can do now, and take next goals. In this way, if you keep on progressing while you take your goals as passing points, you will be Be Extreme! (39).

An Example of Learning Patterns: Community of Learning (28)

Next example of Learning Patterns is Community of Learning (28).


Community of Learning

It is not necessary to study alone.

  • When you begin to research
  • When you begin to study
  • When you are bored with study
  • When you want to learn a new skill
  • When you want to improve your skill

Individual’s capacity is limited.

  • The time we can spend is limited.
  • Everyone has their own knowledge and viewpoints.
  • By getting various viewpoints, people can deepen their understandings.
  • People can work harder with partners together than do alone.

Find people with common objectives and build a ‘community of learning’ to stimulate each other.

  • First of all, plan for making "community of learning". For example, you plan that what kind of workshop or research project you can do.
  • Gather some members of your surroundings who are interested in your plan. Then, you launch your project and make some concept and rough schedule with them.
  • Decide how you show your efforts of your learning. For example, you can make a paper, and publish it on the web site or have a conference. This makes you keep your motivation.
  • People can work harder with partners together than do alone.
  • On the basis of this plan, accept applications for your "community of learning", preferably on a large scale beyond your acquaintances. It may be that you can gather more members who have similar interest than those of your acquaintances. Moreover, with the member of people who you don’t know, you can avoid loose meeting and keep focusing on.
  • To keep the member's motivation, confirm what you have done with each other regularly. If is necessary, you should reset your goal.

There are no rolls such as teachers or students in a Community of Learning. So, they not only always has a chance of Release of Thoughts (29) and Learning by Teaching (31) as well as learn things with each other. Then, you can have Good Rival (30). In a community of learning, your Tornado of Learning (4) which consists of your interests grows together with the other member’s, and grows bigger. As a result, you can have more chances of encounter Academic Excitement! (5).

An Example of Learning Patterns: Brain Switch (22)

Here is another example of Learning Patterns; Brain Switch (22).


Brain Switch

Logic and Intuition ------ Both are absolutely essential.

  • When you are making research
  • When you are creating something
  • When you are writing a paper
  • When you need to get a new view or idea
  • When you are at a dead end

Neither logic or intuition is not enough to achieve a breakthrough.

  • Logical thinking (left brain) inspires acute analysis and inference and has persuasion.
  • Intuitive thinking (right brain) inspires good ideas and expressions and gives impression.
  • It is difficult to use both brains at the same time.

Think, switching two modes of logic and intuition.

  • When you begin to think with the left brain, you think logically as deep as possible. When you begin to think with the right brain, you think intuitively as deep as possible.
  • Switch your brains when you are at a dead end or think sufficiently. If you have thought with the left brain by then, try to think about beauty and wealth of expression. In contrast, if you have thought with the right brain, try to think about coherence and depth of logic. By switching brains, you can find new phases of a matter.

When you are writing something, draw pictures of that.what you express by words. When you are drawing a picture, you think about the logic of the picture. In this way, Brain Switch means switching "ways of thinking" which are logical and intuitive. In contrast, Bird's Eye, Bug's Eye (23) means switching "viewpoints". If you are used to switching ways of thinking and viewpoints, you can acquire Attractive Expression (34).

An Example of Learning Patterns: Learning Design (0)

I would like to show some examples from 40 patterns of Learning Patterns. First, I would like to start the most fundamental pattern; Learning Design (0).


Learning Design

Design your learning.

  • Always when you want to learn

In complex and liquid society, it is inevitable to think how to learn.

  • Human is not able to learn everything because the time is limited.
  • There are several ways to study.
  • People who learn effectively have a knack for good learning, which is independent on their fields or themes.

Learn the `knack' of learning from the experienced learners, and design your way of learning based on them.

  • You can work on your activity with "learning patterns" which tells you the knack of effective learning.
  • First, read roughly whole patterns to understand what "learning patterns" is like, especially the first half of each pattern; pattern name, introduction, illustration, and context. It is better to remember the pattern name and the illustration.
  • Read the detail of patterns in which you are interested. In the last half of each pattern, there are description of "problem", difficulties why the problem is a hard to solve as "forces", "solution", and "actions" which are for solving the problem.
  • You can find a learning pattern according to your situation with using the list of "context".
  • Use "pattern name" of learning pattern as a common language, when you talk about learning with other students or teachers.

Design of learning is important to understand the situation you are in. This means Grasp of Community's Mind (1). Especially, understand and follow Project-Centered Learning (2), if you want to learn with excitement. As a consequence, that helps you recognize Community as "Becoming" (3). You can see the connection between your learning community and you in this way.

Practical Application of Learning Patterns

As an practical application of Learning Patterns, we have handed out the catalog of learning patterns to undergraduate students of our university. The catalog is A5 sized booklet, and the part of pattern description is designed as a double-page spread. We put some thought into designing the booklet, especially for readability and attractiveness.

The catalog was handed out to approximately 3,600 students of two faculties of Keio University, Japan. They are Faculty of Policy Management and Faculty of Environment and Information Studies, which are in Shonan Fujisawa Campus (SFC). These faculties have implemented an unique curriculum which is interdisciplinary and non-graded. It means all undergraduate students can study any kind of academic areas, for example social innovation, public policy, global strategy, environment, life sciences, and information studies, without reference to their grades and experience.

In addition, these faculties are aimed and designed to provide a inter-disciplinary / trans-disciplinary education for undergraduate students, beyond the conventional disciplines like economics, management, politics, literature, computer science, media art, architecture, and so on. Although the students have a wide variety of interests, we think that the shared competency in the abstract level is to create something on the frontier. A new curriculum which focus on the creativity has implemented from academic year 2007.

Therefore, the students belonging to these faculties should design their own learning, and that is why we made the learning patterns for supporting learning design.

We also open the web site for sharing Learning Patterns at http://learningpatterns.sfc.keio.ac.jp/. The site, unfortunately, is currently available only in Japanease. So I will show some examples of Learning Patterns in following posts.

July 11, 2009

Summary of Learning Patterns

Here I would like to show the summary of "Learning Patterns". Currently, learning patterns consist of 40 patterns and are organized in three layers according to the abstract level. In the top layer, there is a root pattern; Learning Design (0). In the second layer, there are three patterns; Grasp of Cimmunity's Mind (1), Project-Centered Learning (2) and Community as "Becoming" (3). In the third layer, there are thirty-six patterns as concrete `knack' of learning; Tornado of Learning (4), Academic Excitement! (5), and so on.

All 40 patterns together form a language for creative learning. We begin with the part of the language which define learning design itself. This is the fundamental and premise to use this pattern language;

0. Learning Design

Next, we shall go through the part of the language which gives you comprehensive attitude for learning;

1. Grasp of Community's Mind
2. Project-Centered Learning
3. Community as "Becoming"

Now we start the part of the language which tells how you can achieve to learn more creatively in detail. This part can be roughly divided into twelve groups of patterns, where each group consists of three patterns respectively.

First group of patterns is related to motivation and fundamental aspect of learning;

4. Tornado of Learning
5. Academic Excitement!
6. Passion for Research

Second group of patterns shows the key to start your learning;

7. First Steep
8. Mimic Learning
9. Good Learner

Third group of patterns treats how to acquire and improve your skill;

10. Embodied Learning
11. Discovery of Growth
12. Shower of Language

Forth group of patterns tells how to make your learning more interesting;

13. Output-Driven Learning
14. Prototyping
15. Learning for Fun

Fifth group of patterns reminds the significance of active effort;

16. Thinking in Action
17. Field Dive
18. Weak-Linked Encounter

Sixth group of patterns is related to the scope of learning;

19. Frontier Antenna
20. T-Shape Learning
21. Hidden Connections

Seventh group of patterns give key ideas for innovative thinking;

22. Brain Switch
23. Bird's Eye, Bug's Eye
24. Quality from Quantity

Eighth group of patterns is related to the way of going about activity and learning;

25. Self-Thinking
26. Appropriate Approach
27. Strategic Discard

Ninth group of patterns is about social aspect of learning;

28. Community of Learning
29. Release of Thoughts
30. Good Rival

Tenth group of patterns mentions how to improve your skill or works;

31. Leaning by Teaching
32. Everyday in Foreign Language
33. Start Small, Let it Grow

Eleventh group of patterns is important idea for the final phase of activity;

34. Attractive Expression
35. Writing up is Halfway
36. Acceleration to Next

Twelfth group of patterns tells the strategy for the medium and long term;

37. Self-Producing
38. Firm Determination
39. Be Extreme!

The sequence presented here is not only one possible sequence, because "A pattern language has the structure of a network"(Alexander 1977). We can capture and trace the relation among the patterns in many way. This is related to one of Alexander's significant findings that the design of a building and a town cannot be reduced to the structure of tree, but can considered as semi-lattice, namely network.

In the catalog, there are some navigations to find the patterns. One of the navigation is based on contexts of patterns. There are five categories of contexts; "at beginning", "for goal setting", "in activity", "for output", and "at dead end". Each category consists of four contexts, which indicate to related patterns respectively. Therefore the reader can find patterns that are relevant to their situation.

Another navigation in the catalog is provided in association with the curriculum of our university. Each course indicates to related patterns, therefore the student can find the patterns that are relevant to the classes they are taking.

July 10, 2009

Format of Learning Patterns

Each of Learning Patterns is written in the format which consists of following items; "Pattern Number", "Pattern Name", "Introduction", "Illustration", "Context", "Problem", "Forces", "Solution", "Actions", "Related Patterns." Especially in the catalog of learning patterns, each pattern is printed in a double-page spread, which is handed out for university student as I will mention later.
In the first half of pattern, which is printed at the left page in the catalog, the overview of the pattern is described.

At first, Pattern Number is sequential number. Pattern Name is named as attractive and memorable phrase.

Next, Introduction and Illustration is provided in order to help for the reader to imagine the meaning of the pattern lively.

Then, there is a list of when the reader can use the pattern as Context. The reader can search his/her necessary pattern from his/her context with using the context navigation.

In the last half of pattern, which is printed at the right page in the catalog, the detail of the pattern is described. At first, Problem which is often occurred is described.

Problem is emphasized in bold type. In succession to Problem, Forces are written as laws which are not able to or difficult to be changed. The difficulty to solve the problem comes from the existence of these forces, because your solution needs to meet all of them. After the Forces, the separator is placed.

Next, Solution is written in bold type. Then, in the part of Actions, more concrete advice like examples or alternatives is introduced. After the Actions, the separator is placed again.

At the last, Related Patterns are provided. Good learning is effectively achieved by combining some patterns. The reader can understand the meaning of the pattern deeper through reading the section of Related Patterns.

July 9, 2009

Learning Patterns: A Pattern Language for Active Learners

We, Learning Pattern Project, made a pattern language for active learners, which we call "Learning Patterns", and handed out the catalog of the pattern language to university students in Japan. Here I would like to introduce our attempt for supporting learners with the pattern language.

As it is well known in the scene of education, there is a difficult problem how we can teach students how to learn. It is quite easy to show the guideline to follow, however it may shut students out of the chance for thinking the way of learning themselves. In addition, there is another difficulty to provide appropriate guideline for every students who are under various situation. So, is it possible to provide something to help the students under various situation to think their way of learning? Our study of designing a new pattern language is made in order to solve the problem.

As I mentioned before, the idea and method of pattern languages was originally proposed for architectural design. We applied this idea and method to learning design in order to share a `knack' against the way of learning. We believe that the method of pattern language is good way to help the student to design their learning, because it focuses on providing a new view for the reader so that they can think. It is quite important that the method is not easy way to get the result without thinking by themselves. It is not, however, irresponsible way to leave all up to individual ability. It is considered as the way that tolerates individual ability while making a good use of abstract rules of past experience.

The patterns are mainly for the students, but they are also for the educators. The patterns will become a good tool for sharing the way of thinking. This is very heart of pattern languages. Two main advantages to use patterns are generally known. One is that it can make beginners easier to solve problems in the most effective way, since the skill acquired by experts is described. Another is that it can provide common vocabulary on the way of solving problems, therefore it makes people to mention the problems and solutions.
Thus, pattern languages can be considered as the method for supporting thinking, action, and collaboration. Our aim is also to share the tacit knowledge for learning activities.

I should note that the method of pattern language is different from how-to guides to follow. Pattern language is focused on providing a new view for the reader so that they can think, although how-to guide leads to only one "right" result. Pattern language is not easy way to get the result, but way to aware the existence of problem and the clue of the solution. Alexander pointed out that "Each solution is stated in such a way that it gives the essential field of relationships needed to solve the problem, but in a very general and abstract way --- so that you can solve the problem for yourself, in your own way, by adapting it to your preferences, and the local conditions at the place where you are making it"(Alexander 1977).

In pattern languages, each individual is expected to design his / her own way by selecting patterns and putting them together according to his / her situation. In this sense, putting patterns together does not mean to put "modularized unfinished parts" together, which can be seen in modern production system. Borrowing Alexander's words, "It may be hard to believe that one might make a work of art by simply combining patterns. It sounds almost as though there was a box of `magic' parts, so powerful, that anyone can make a beautiful thing, simply by combining them. This is absurd, because, of course, it is not possible to make something beautiful, merely by combining fixed components"(Alexander 1979).

Pattern language is not a substitute for human creativity. Pattern language is nothing but the staff to encourage thinking, action, and communication, so that each user is expected to exert their creativity. Thus, a pattern language for active learners is intended to support learners without killing their own creativity.

Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., and Silvertein, M. (1977): A Pattern Language. Oxford University Press.
Alexander, C. (1979): The Timeless Way of Building. Oxford University Press.
Learning Pattern Project (2009): Learning Patterns: A Pattern Language for Active Learners at SFC 2009, Shonan Fujisawa Campus (SFC), Keio University

May 13, 2009

Brief History of Pattern Languages

As I mentioned before, I regard the method of "pattern languages" as a tool for supporting social creativity.  A pattern language is composed by elements called "pattern". Each pattern is described in the same format. Although there are several formats,  it definitely contains "name" of the pattern, "problem" and its "solution". It must also contain "context" to apply the pattern, "force" as a premise that cause the problem, and "related patterns." Such patterns are written and organized in what is called a "catalogue".  

Here, I shall look back the history of the method briefly. The idea and method of pattern language was originally proposed in architectural design and it has been applied and well known in the software design.

In 1970s, Christopher Alexander observed certain things which were seen repeatedly in the shape of buildings, he found that the relation between those things is "pattern" (Alexander 1979). Then he released two hundred and fifty three patterns of construction work and designing from his previous eight years of work (Alexander et.al. 1977).  Alexander aimed to explore "the idea and principle of the process of designing by mass," and "to create a common language for designing and construction, in order to establish a process to let everybody participate in creating their own environment in non-industrialized era" (King 1993). Alexander suggested "You can use it to work with your neighbors, to improve your town and neighborhood. You can use it to design a house for yourself, with your family; or to work with other people to design an office or a workshop or a public building like a school"(Alexander et.al. 1977). 

The idea of pattern language was introduced as an alternative tool to the uniformed production due to the modernization.  Alexander points out that the problem of modern production system is that "Present systems of production are organized in such a way that most decisions are made very much 'at arm's length.' Decisions are made by people remote from the consequences of the decisions"(Alexander et.al. 1985) in each situation.  He also states that "the house is no longer an 'object' which is manufactured, but a thing of love, which is nurtured, made, grown, and personal", so that it leads to the idea that "families would design their own houses" (Alexander et.al. 1985).  Alexander thought that constructing and reconstructing it by ourselves, so that "as a matter of feeling, each house becomes a genuine life base, a place for the heart, a place in which the family, as a unique being in society, may be anchored and nourished" (Alexander et.al. 1985).  Thus, in order to let each family to control their environment directly, the idea of pattern language was introduced.

In 1980s and 1990s, the idea and method of pattern language was applied into the field of software development by Kent Beck and Ward Cunningham (Beck and Cunningham 1987). Then pattern languages in software development had been well known as "design patterns" (Gamma et.al. 1995) in 1990s. Recently, specific theme like school design(Nair and Fielding 2005) and interface design (Tidwell 2005) are also proposed in the area of architecture and software design. And then, some pattern languages have been written for designing organization(Coplien and Harrison 2004; Manns and Rising 2005) and pedagogics (Anthony 1996; Bergin 2000).

In our view, the next areas to be applied in 2000s are the human and social activity related to social creativity, so we ourselves propose several pattern languages such as pattern languages of project management (Naruse et.al. 2008), research activity (Kobayashi  et.al. 2008), and learning (Learning Pattern Project 2009).

Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., and Silvertein, M. (1977): A Pattern Language. Oxford University Press.
Alexander, C. (1979): The Timeless Way of Building. Oxford University Press.
Alexander, C., Davis, H., Martinez, J., and Corner, D.(1985): The Production of Houses. Oxford University Press.
Anthony, D. L. G. (1996): "Patterns for classroom education" in Pattern Languages of Programming 2, J. M. Vlissides, J. O. Coplien, and N. L. Kerth (eds), AddisonWesley.
Beck, K. and Cunningham, W. (1987): "Using pattern languages for object-oriented programs" in OOPSLA-87 workshop on the Specification and Design for Object-Oriented Programming.
Bergin, J. (2000):  "Fourteen pedagogical patterns" in European Conference of Pattern Languages of Programs.
Coplien, J. O. and Harrison, N. B. (2004): Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development. Prentice Hall.
Gamma, E., Helm, R., Johnson, R., and Vlissides, J. (1995):  Design Patterns : Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software. Addison-Wesley.
King, I. F. (1993): Christopher Alexander and Contemporary Architecture: a+u Architecture and Urbanism, August 1993 Special Issue. a+u Publishing.
Kobayashi, Y., Yoshida, M., Sasaki, A. and Iba, T. (2008) . "Research patterns: A pattern language for academic research" in 15th Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs.
Learning Pattern Project (2009): Learning Patterns: A Pattern Language for Active Learners at SFC 2009, Keio University.
Manns, M. L. and Rising, L. (2005): Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas. Addison-Wesley.
Nair, P. and Fielding, R.(2005): The Language of School Design: Design Patterns for 21st Century Schools. Designshare, Inc.
Naruse, M., Takada, Y., Yumura, Y., Wakamatsu, K., and Iba, T. (2008): "Project patterns: A pattern language for promoting project" in 15th Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs.
Tidwell, J.(2005): Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design. O’Reilly Media.

Upcoming Conferences related to Social Creativity and Networks

The followings are conferences held in 2009, which are related to my themes, social creativity and networks. I've submitted the paper or have a plan to participate in these conferences. 

The Harvard Political Networks Conference
Jun 11 - 13, 2009. Harvard University, MA, USA

International Workshop on Network Science 2009 (NetSci09)
Jun 29 - July 03, 2009. in Venice, Italy

16th Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (PLoP09)
Aug 28 - 30, 2009. Chicago, IL, USA

ACM Creativity & Cognition 2009
"Everyday Creativity: Shared Languages & Collective Action"
Oct 27 - 30, 2009. at Berkeley Art Museum & UC Berkeley, CA, USA

May 7, 2009

Thought of Triad

In the previous post, I tried to categorize my approaches into just three. Here, I shall write why I choose three-fold division.

This kind of triad is sometimes used in order to categorize something important, simply because the triad works out. Trichotomy, which is three-fold division, is known to often work out rather than dichotomy, because it can capture the complex relations. But you may wonder why three is special than other numbers like two, four, or five.

As an answer, Charles S. Peirce, who was an American philosopher and emphasized the significance of trichotomy, pointed out as follows;

"The reason is that while it is impossible to form a genuine three by any modification of the pair, without introducing something of a different nature from the unit and the pair, four, five and every higher number can be formed by mere complications of threes."
* Charles Sanders Peirce, "A Guess at the Riddle" in The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings Volume 1 (1867-1893), Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel, Indiana University Press, 1992. p.251

Borrowing the metaphor by Peirce, dyadic relation is similar to direct unforked road. It is impossible to obtain third termination by extending the existing termination of dyad. It can provide only the extension as a chain. The extension of triad, however, can increase the number of termination, then  we can make the relation more complex like a network.

Recall also the three-body motion discussed by Henri Poncare. Although two bodies shows periodic motion, the motion of three-bodies becomes chaotic. It means, so to speak, three is the minimum number to bring complex dynamism into the world. This seems to be a quite interesting idea about the source of creativity. Creativity must need a kind of dynamism rather than equilibrium. Of course, this is just an intuition, so it wants more discussions. I want to keep considering three-fold division as a source of creative dynamism.

May 6, 2009

Drawing Map of My Research

Today I would like to draw the map of my research.

First of all, my main theme is "social creativity". Therefore the word is drawn in the center of the map. Around the main theme, three approaches I take is written; theoretical understanding, data analysis, and tool design. This is the center of  my research.

Specifying each approach, first, I apply the following theories for understanding a social creativity; social system theory, complexity theory, and philosophy of knowledge. Social system theory is a sociological theory which was proposed by Niklas Luhmann. The theory contains the concepts such as autopoiesis, system, environment, contingency, communication, media,meaning, and evolution. Complexity theory is related to complex systems, and it contains the concepts such as emergence, chaos, fractal, power law, phase transition, network, and self-organization. And philosophy of knowledge contains the concepts of knowledge, cognition, learning, and inference, that is induction, deduction, and abduction.

Second, I study with the following methods;  evolutionary analysis, network analysis, knowledge mining. With evolutionary analysis, the process of evolution is investigated. It means that we study how the target is changed over time with remaining some feature  of itself. This kind of method has been developed in biology, computational science, and evolutionary economics, however it is under developing. Network analysis is the method to capture the relation among the target as a network. The method has been developed as graph theory in mathematics, social network analysis in sociology, and complex network in physics. And knowledge mining consists both of qualitative and qualitative, and more specifically text mining and deep interview. 

Third, I design the following tools in order to support social creativity; simulation, map, and language. Simulation is the method to generate phenomena with computer agent and/or human. In a broad sense, it is also related to virtual reality, augmented reality, tangible objects, and  ubiquitous environment. Map is a visual representation to overview a certain world from a certain viewpoint. In this context, the map is not limited to geographic map, but also the map of networks if the position and measure are defined. And language is considered in a broad sense, which contains pattern languages,  modeling languages, and visual languages. All of them have a specific words and grammar to compose more complex representation.

Summarizing the approaches, the whole structure of the map can be drawn like this. Each approach of three-fold division at top level has also three-fold division of concrete theory, method, and product. With using the theories and methods, I am trying to understand the mechanism of social creativity, and also to design tools to enhance the social creativity.

April 28, 2009

A New Map for Social System Theory

I would like to start overviewing the world of social system theory.

In my view, the theory can provide a new fundamental framework to understand the principle of collaboration, however it is almost unknown among the researchers of collaboration studies. It is not only because the theory is proposed in a discipline of sociology but also because the theory is quite difficult to understand.

But don't be afraid. I've drawn a map to walk around much easier!
So, let's start with my map.

Social system theory, which I want to take, was proposed by Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998), a German sociologist. Luhmann suggested a new framework for considering a society as an "autopoietic system" in his book Soziale Systeme (1984). English translation of this book was published under the title of Social Systems from Stanford University Press in 1995.
* Niklas Luhmann, Social Systems, Translated by John Bednarz, Jr. with Dirk Baecker, Stanford University Press, 1995

The theory design by Luhmann is highly abstract and complex. Although some sociologists criticize this abstract and complex theorization, we should know the abstraction is caused just by strictly employing a system theory and the complexity is caused by applying lots of concepts that related one another. This abstraction and complexity is unavoidable and necessary for the breakthrough to the situation in which "Sociology is stuck in a theory crisis" (Luhmann 1984/1995, p.xlv).

Luhmann himself confess "This is not easy book" and metaphorically "Thus the theory's design resembles a labyrinth more than freeway off into the sunset."(ibid, p.lii). In fact, it is quite tough to read a whole book. Especially, in most cases, you will be confused in the first several chapters, which introduce the fundamental concepts of system theory such as "system", "environment", "selection", "function", "autopoiesis", "operation", "meaning", and "dimension". These chapters are indeed great literature as a general system theory, but it is easy for readers who seek a sociological theory to lose their way.

So I want to choose the different path from Luhmann's. It must be permissible in light of Luhmann's accounts; "The sequence of chapters chosen for this book is surely not the only one possible"(ibid, p.lii) and then "The theory could have been presented in a different sequence"(ibid, p.li).

In my strategy, the first step is grasping Luhmann's viewpoint about society, and next is understanding communication. Well, then we'll take the first steps.