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Author Topic: Feedback Matrices  (Read 8383 times)

Richard Moodey

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Feedback Matrices
« on: January 20, 2013, 10:43:39 AM »
I have been reading John Raymaker’s Empowering Bernard Lonergan's Legacy: Toward Implementing an Ethos for Inquiry and a Global Ethics.  He develops the notion of “feedback matrices” as heuristic tools for understanding history and contemporary society.  He points to three different ways Lonergan used “matrix” -- “cultural matrix” (MiT xi), “metaphysical matrix” (IN 588), and “matrix of personal relations” (MiT 50).  He connects this to Lonergan’s use of “feedback.” In Chapter 14 of Method in Theology, “Communications.”  Lonergan says that when it comes to “policy making, planning, and the execution of the plans,” it is the execution that “generates feedback.”  Feedback, he says, “supplies scholars and scientists with the data for studies on the wisdom of policies and the efficacy of the planning” (MiT 365-6). 

On p. 20, John says: “my matrices are dynamic heuristic tools that address or lay a ground for the study of ongoing problematics. They examine the past so as to apply valid insights to present problems through sets of incomplete insights that, related to non-Western points of view, may help GEM address secularism more effectively with a dose of what Lonergan calls historical mindedness; they retain and deploy a feedback notion of the habitual if incomplete insights of common sense.”

As Phil McShane points out in his “Forward,” John addresses two audiences, those who are interested in, but unfamiliar with Lonergan, and those who know Lonergan’s work.  The challenge John presents to readers is suggested in the words of the subtitle “an Ethos for Inquiry and a Global Ethic.”  As Phil puts it the “climb” is “not a simple intellectual one, but a climb towards a new global ethics.”

My reading of the book has led me to further reflections on the use of “matrix” as a metaphor.  John writes: “Linguistically related to ‘mother,’ a matrix is a place or situation within which something originates, develops, takes form. In geology, it is the material in which something is embedded” (p. 16).  In archaeology, we use “matrix” in a way very similar to the geological usage, as long as “material” includes the notion of the structural arrangements of the various materials within which the object of interest is embedded.  It is closely connected to the archaeological meaning of “locus.”

Metaphorically, the object of interest is the “child” of the “mother.”  The structure is, at least in part, a from-to relation: from the matrix to the object of interest, the metaphorical “child” that has emerged from the metaphorical “mother.”  In my emphasis upon metaphor, some followers of Lonergan have reminded me that Lonergan’s philosophy “goes beyond” metaphor.  I interpret this “going beyond” as sublating metaphor.  Lonergan says: “what sublates goes beyond what is sublated, introduces something new and distinct, puts everything on a new basis, yet so far from interfering with the sublated or destroying it, on the contrary needs it, includes, preserves all its proper features and properties, and carries them forward to a fuller realization within a richer context” (MT 241).  So I contend that this structural feature of the metaphor, that of the mother giving birth to the child, the from -mother- to- child structure, is something that the discussion of feedback matrices “needs,” “includes,” and “preserves all its proper features and properties” even as it “carries them forward to a fuller realization.”

It is significant it is in Lonergan’s chapter on communications that he introduces the notion of feedback, and that he says that it is the execution of planning that provides feedback on the wisdom of the plans.  For planning is a practical, common sense business, and the insights behind plans, like the insights in common sense more generally, result in knowledge that is necessarily incomplete.  The execution of the plans, and the feedback from the execution, completes the planning process, and should result in the modification of the plans.  This is the dynamic dimension of John's notion of a feedback matrix.  The matrix changes as the result of the feedback.

The planning is the matrix (mother) that gives birth to the execution (child).  The structural relation is from planning to actions.  Feedback involves judgments about the degrees of success and/or failure of the execution, and the subsequent modification of the plans.  If the plans have not been modified in the light of judgments about the results of the actions, there really has been no feedback.  In terms of the metaphor, giving birth to the child changes the mother.  It is important, however, not to confuse the changes in the mother that result from the initial experience of giving birth with the changes in the mother that result from the feedback from the mother’s learning about the particular child to which she has given birth.

The mother-child metaphor has to be sublated, both carried forward and preserved at the same time as it is realized within a richer context.  That richer context is that human persons are the creators of plans and that human persons execute those plans.  The plans are the matrix from which the execution proceeds, but the success or failure of the execution does not directly feed back to change the plans.  The human planners must change the plans, and feedback results in the kind of learning that will result in better plans only if there are valid measures of the results of the execution of the plans.

This why I said above that it is important not to confuse the changes that result from the experience of giving birth with the mother’s learning of the consequences of having giving birth to this particular child.  In the case of planning, it is important not to confuse the planner’s  experiences of planning and seeing those plans carried out, and the planner’s learning that results from assessing the success or failure of the execution of the plans.  This relates, I believe, to what you say about the incomplete nature of common sense insights.  Planning is a common sense activity, but the insights that went into the planning are incomplete until the results of having carried out the plans have been assessed.
Assessment is likely to be the weak link.  In our work prior to the accreditation visits by Middle States, Gannon University’s planning is always better than our assessment of the results of that planning.  In this, we are in the same boat as other colleges and universities.  Because of the difficulties of assessing the results of our planning, the feedback we get is inadequate, and we fail to learn how best to modify our previous plans.  There are also some obstacles to the learning that might result from the assessments we do have.  Powerful participants in the planning process sometimes are opposed to changes suggested by assessments.

I generalize this to educational policies of the U.S.  Those who make these policies, at local, state, and federal levels, have been getting some important feedback from the international testing of high school students and graduates.  U.S. young people do significantly less well, especially in mathematics and science, than do the young from many other countries.  But those who make educational policies have political and ideological commitments that prevent them from using the best theories of teaching and learning as resources for modifying our educational policies so as to improve the results.

Best regards,

Dick Moodey
“Think, live, be: next try to express scrupulously what you are thinking, what you are living, what you are.”
Henri de Lubac

Richard Moodey

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Re: Feedback Matrices
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2013, 10:45:03 AM »
Poteat on Matrix

In Recovering the Ground,William Poteat uses "matrix" in a way that I connect to the way John has developed the notion of "feedback matrix" as an element in empowering Lonergan's legacy.  Poteat writes:

"When I say, as earlier, that no ontological dualism between the temporal world in which I live and move and have my being, on one hand, and an eternal realm -- obviously outside time -- on the other, what do I mean? ...

"It is to remind myself of what I deeply believe.  My lively, sentient, motile, oriented mindbody, ensconced in the temporality of the ordinary world of its doings and sayings is absolutely radical, whence the whole texture and weave of the world is given defintion; therefore it is the omnipresent, inalienable, logically necessary matrix within which all my acts of meaning discernment are conceived and brought to term, no matter how abstracted from this matrix are the vectors by which these acts are borne."

Acts of "meaning discernment" are "conceived and brought to term" within the matrix -- his mindbody.  These acts are  "borne."

My point is that both John and Poteat use "matrix" as a conceptual metaphor.  It is not just a poetic decoration of something they conceive non-metaphorically.

“Think, live, be: next try to express scrupulously what you are thinking, what you are living, what you are.”
Henri de Lubac


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Re: Feedback Matrices
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2018, 10:28:51 PM »
The past, I have, but find the answer alone about this. This has been known.