Semantics of the Spiral, Unwound

We’ve been talking around the idea of Spiral Thinking for several weeks now, but have yet to advance the metaphor beyond a general sense that it’s an improved way to think about learning. It’s a captivating visual. But in terms of manners and symmetry, it’s clearly less well-behaved than it’s straight-as-an-arrow distant cousin, Linear Thinking.

Spiral GOLD lighted

Spiral as a metaphor for thinking

We’ve learned to date that it’s hard not to run afoul through negative connotations of tornados, flushing toilets, and more generally “spiraling out of control”. We’ve concluded there are more negative connotations for spiral metaphors than there are positive ones.

Our only saving grace so far, perhaps, has been the DNA double-helix. Or the haphazard flight of a bumble bee.

To see if we might further use the Spiral metaphor in useful ways, let’s take it apart, as we think about what it might represent for us as a visual aid, in the context of thinking and learning.

  • Q1. Could each successive band represent progress?
  • Q2. If the bands converge to a single point, might that represent movement toward a solution? (see also Q8)
  • Q3. If the bands diverge into a funnel, might we infer exploration?
  • Q4. Are we mentally beholden to what Lakoff (1980) describes as a cultural certainty: “up is good?”
  • Q5. If we view the path of any given band as a gradual curve, might we regain a preferred sense of an orderly, smooth path?
  • Q6. Does the spiral advance the notion of flow?
  • Q7. How might this metaphor most used in our thinking? our learning? how we approach collaboration?
  • Q8. Is a linear model better when it’s time to move to a solution? (see also Q2)

We know we rarely experience the world or learn from it in a linear fashion. Our lives are a round-about journey.

Perhaps our prevailing metaphors should follow that lead.

We won’t stay in the Spiral metaphor too much longer. We’re clearly testing the limits of how spatial and visual a Twitter Chat can be. But it helps to know the limits of our visual tools. If we’re going to use Spiral Thinking as a metaphor, we need know how and when to apply it, but also, as Lakoff advises (to paraphrase) we need to know when enough is enough.

See you online, MON 8pET at hashtag #CDNA.

Chris

About Chris Jones

Tech consultant. Blogger. Author. Social instigator. Passionate about learning in the workplace and the classroom. Founder of #smchat, #ecosys and #cdna online communities. View all posts by Chris Jones

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