A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

My apologies for being repetitious, but repetition is not learning

Marshall McLuhan (1967, age 55).  Read to learn (continued)

Today my students did their oral exam on books I asked them to select from my reading list.  (Here are a reminder of the books on that list:  Jacques Ellul, Propaganda, 1965; E.T. Hall, The Silent Language, 1959, and A.P. Usher.  The History of Mechanical Inventions, 1929; 1954.)

Yesterday, recall, when they asked me what to expect I told them: (1) we’d start at A and go from there; and (2) Don’t tell me what’s in the book, I’ve read it. Tell me what you think now that you’ve read it.  Then we can talk about new things instead of old things.  Most of them succeeded in telling me something that they learned.  As a result, joy springs eternal, we spent most of the class talking about new things rather than old things.  And they found out what I meant by we’ll start at A and go from there.   The first student who volunteered to be examined was given a grade of A.  Enthusiasm and courage deserve to be rewarded.

Michael Hinton (2009, age 57).  Learn to read (continued)

Here is another example of reading by Marshall’s Rules.  The book I will have a go at here is Abbot Payson Usher’s A History of Mechanical Inventions.  Step 1 summarize the idea.  Step 2 talk about what you’ve learned from it.

Step 1.  In Chapter IV, The Emergence of Novelty in Thought and Action, Usher asks the question “Where do new ideas come from?  He argues that what needs to be explained is not the final eureka of the long chain of thinking in the creation of a new idea (gold displaces a volume of water precisely equal to its mass), but the first weak groping for the new (gold is very heavy). What accounts for this initial weak groping is explained by previous writers as a result of (1) some external event that stimulates the thought (Newton’s apple), or (2) the mysteries of the sub-conscious.  This, he says, is not a good explanation.  But as yet he doesn’t have a better idea.  Except he does underline this idea:  If the world was a closed system says eventually all the new ideas possible to create by playing around with things – that is by experimentation, would eventually get created.  And then invention would cease.

Step 2.  New ideas appear every day.  Therefore either the closed system we live in (city, nation, culture) is very large, rich in variety, and complex, or we do not live in a closed system.  Every new idea has the potential to break open a closed system.

Where do you get new ideas?  Where in your view are new ideas needed most?  Who are the greatest new idea creators today?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Abbot Payson Usher. A History of Mechanical Inventions. New York: Dover, [1929; 1954] 1988.

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Michael Hinton Friday, November 20th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Education, Vol. 1 No Comments

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