Final Thoughts

The mind is a plastic snow dome

The mind is a plastic snow dome

"The mind is a plastic snow dome" - Geary, 2010

I believe I have shown through my case studies that the manipulation of non-verbal modalities is an effective pedagogic method of engaging the mind, of sharpening our meaning-making faculties and of structuring the blizzard of everyday experience. Borrowing once more from Williams, our media texts are mini material “structures of feeling” projected into the world to be engaged with anew by willing agents. Like uniquely patterned snowflakes, they combine, recombine and accumulate into compacted layers. The “snow dome” (Geary 2011:16) reference above is lifted from Geary’s ode to metaphor “I is An Other” in which he expounds the often hidden and influential workings of metaphor in creative thought across disciplines.

He argues that the mind is at its most beautiful and productive when “it’s all shook up” (ibid), when seemingly disparate thoughts collide and make new connections. These abstract concepts are made more concrete in the work of a research group called “Adventures in Multimodality” in the Dept. of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Charles Forceville is developing a course where students understand how metaphor structures language, audiovisual discourse, and cognition on the basis that:

“…metaphor is nowadays considered a phenomenon of thought rather than language. But even today only few scholars examine non verbal metaphors.”

Earlier I referenced Sennett’s reflections on the conditions under which intuition can thrive in the world of the craftsman and the ease with which these can be transposed into the environment of media production. Similarly Geary liberates metaphor from its traditional moorings as a literary device, identifying its enduring and subtle influence in a variety of discourses. He theorizes that:

“Our brains are always prospecting for patterns” (ibid:32), hard-wired as a matter of survival to look for things that are like other things. To ensure that this is the case, when a pattern is detected “the neurotransmitters responsible for sensations of pleasure squirt through our brains” (ibid:35).

This may go some way to explaining the pleasures of flow and absorption in the processes of multimodal manipulation. Recombining the already familiar into audiovisual synaesthetic patterns connects our senses in “a meaningful cluster of purposeful activity” (Loveless). According to Geary, we humans are primordially urged not only to anticipate and perceive these patterns but to communicate and disseminate them. How can we encourage more even participation in the unconscious “blending” (Brooks 2011:248) of audiovisual data and conscious pattern-seeking/making of social relations?

To this end I have attested to the sensitive and structured deployment of media production processes as an essential component of mandatory curricula.  Currently these activities, indeed cultural education activity as a whole, according to Mark Reid at BFI Education, is subject to disaggregated “project-ism” (Reid, 2011) fuelled by “extrinsic motivations” (Pink, 2011). In the context of business performance, Pink distinguishes between 20th century “extrinsic motivators” in the form of enticement/reward and threat/punishment versus 21st century “intrinsic motivators” namely: mastery, autonomy and purpose. See his TED talk @ 12:20 mins. and the RSA Animate version of his talk on the same subject:

Pink’s research findings echo Csikszentmihalyi’s in terms of the synergy between the mastery of a skill and the appropriateness of the challenge. Pink claims that appeals to subjectivity have a more profound effect on motivation than explicit rewards and his findings mirror my own in the field of media education. Surely the ideology inherent in the mechanistic ‘carrot and stick’ model, or learning by rote, has run its course and a commitment to sustained, long term transformation, galvanized by “intrinsic motivation” must be researched and developed. Policy changes in favour of progressive media education will see all young people up to 14 years old gaining sustained access not only to the pleasures of creative digital manipulation but also to the rigours of critical interdisciplinary looking and thinking, to levels of awareness that will take them beyond themselves to ultimately perform as agents in the public realm.

This is ambitious thinking, some might say idealistic when faced with seemingly implacable obstacles in relation to socio-economic constraints, inequalities and social deprivation. However, continual pressure must be brought to bear on education policy-makers to find imaginative routes to raising teacher and child aspiration. In this way “some impact of the world” (Merleau Ponty, referenced by Furstenau and Mackenzie 2009:19) may not be met with a damn of apathy or disinterest but with the permeable flow of perception. I contend that creative media practices kick-start an alert eye and mind, fostering a disposition for more social participation in the form of judicious pattern detection, tension release and feelings of pleasure. In microcosm and on a more mundane level, it is like the feeling some get when solving a Sudoku puzzle. Brooks calls this:

“being propelled by the desire for limerence .. the moment when the inner and the outer patterns mesh” (2011:208)

Pursuing the cross disciplinary thinking in my account, I conclude with two additional observations – one by Albert Einstein, referenced by Geary in his TED talk (@ 7:00 mins) and a further one by Sennett. According to the following source, http://enchantedmind.com/html/creativity/inspiration/secrets_creative_genius.html, and also referenced by Brooks (2011:168), Einstein has this to say in answer to Jacques Hadamard’s question about mental images and mathematicians:

“The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be “voluntarily” reproduced and combined …There is, of course, a certain connection between those elements and relevant logical concepts. It is also clear that the desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of this rather vague play with the above mentioned elements. But taken from a psychological viewpoint, this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought – before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of sign, which can be communicated to others … The above mentioned elements are, in my case, of visual and some of muscular type. Conventional words or other signs have to be sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage, when the mentioned associative play is sufficiently established and can be reproduced at will.” (Einstein, my italics)

If Einstein sanctions “rather vague play” with non-linguistic modes as an essential prerequisite to “productive thought”, perhaps there is something in this as a basis for future educational strategies, as well being a vindication of Bassey’s “fuzzy generalisations” in the field of educational research.

Inspired by Sennett’s formulation in relation to craftsmanship:

“Reformatting and close comparison decant a familiar practice or tool from an established container; the stress in the first three stages of an intuitive leap is on the if, on what if? Instead of then. That final conscious reckoning carries a burden – in technology transfer as in the arts, the burdened carryover of problems – rather than the clarifying finality of a syllogistic conclusion” (2008:213)

I argue in favour of embracing the rhetorical, open-ended and self-renewing “what if” of intuitive thought as a premise for creative media education, rather than the concluding “then” of an “if” clause – which I speculate, is the emphasis underpinning much National Curriculum decision-making. Perhaps the faltering progress of media education and the fact that it is the last profession to “reinvent itself”, as referenced earlier by Jenkins, is because it shoulders the “burden” or “gravity” of media change on behalf of the rest of society and at the expense of widespread creative practices which are crucially relevant during the switch from page to screen.

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