Wednesday, April 29, 2015

'Strategic Management' Prof goes apeshit at class but can't see that he's the problem

This is a rant from Irwin Horwitz. He teaches a class called ‘Strategic Management’ at Texas A&M. In fact, Irwin couldn’t run a bagel stall. He’s angry at his class because they don’t hang on his every word, are disruptive and can’t seem to get anything right. So he’s decided to fail them all – that’s right they all got an ‘F’. He sent them all a standard email, full of detailed, but unfounded, accusations showing that he couldn’t distinguish between reality and generality. I’d be sending Irwin an email – telling him that his behaviour amounts to gross misconduct and that his employment had been terminated.
It’s Irwin who is the failure here. Such little grasp does he have of ‘strategic’ thinking, that he throws the entire tub of babies out with the bathwater. He can’t see that it may be his inability to teach, hold the attention of a class, explain things properly, that could be at fault. He is the antithesis of a strategic thinker, he’s a tactical fool. If he were in charge of a business he’d never get near a managerial job, as he’d be sacking the entire workforce every time anything went wrong. He has all the qualities of someone who should not be allowed near students or workers.

Irwin represents all that is wrong with higher education teaching. It’s simple. He can’t teach. The poor leader who pops up with the clich├ęd bow tie, like Pee Wee Herman caught with his weener in his hand, doesn’t call him out but plays the organisation line - you can’t criticise a Professor, no matter how mad his or her behaviour.
This game is being played out in institutions across the globe. I'm in and out of them all the time. Slamming a bunch of kids into a box and talking at them about 'strategic management' is not going to turn them into effective strategic managers. In fact, it's likely to turn them off the subject. Around the globe hopeless classes in hopeless subjects are being slammed down the throats of young people doomed to forget it all.
Ask any bunch of students and they'll tell you about their 'Irwin'. Someone who can't teach because they can't communicate, hold a class together, explain things properly. This is why even the best of these institutions, such as Harvard, have such low attendance at lectures, at 60%. The students can tell you in seconds who shouldn't be teaching. Does it make a difference - no. It's a profession with the dumbest job title ever - 'lecturer'. The problem lies right there in that one word. To lecture is NOT to teach. You may think it is, but it is not.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Well, well, well: ‘wellness’ blogger lied about having terminal cancer

'I’ve had several goes at ‘mindfulness’, the fake ‘wellness’ cult, ‘happiness’ and 'life coaches', and admit to feeling repulsed by most of this therapeutic psychobabble. But my revulsion reached a new low today when I read that Australian ‘wellness’ blogger, Belle Gibson, had lied about having terminal cancer, to sell her blog and book. Belle is a foolish young girl that deserves pity rather than scorn but many proponents of mindfulness, wellness and happiness are playing a similar game. It’s a game I’ve seen time and time again in HR. A book appears, training courses to become ‘practitioners’ pop up, then an army of HR people get out there promising utopian increases in efficiency and productivity on the back of their own self-propelled beliefs. The whole thing becomes a marketing exercise that uses its own hot air to fuel itself.
First an observation. I started to note the same case studies, same quotes and same figures pop up everywhere. Sure enough, behind every HR fad, there’s usually a book. In this case, it’s ‘Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business from the Inside’ by David Gelles. So I bought it. Well, I bought it but, let’s be clear, I didn’t ‘buy’ it.
His evidence is largely anecdotal, mainly the testimonies of the execs who dabble a little in meditation, like it and want to do a top-down job applying their hobby to their employees. Even when workplace studies are considered they are of such poor design that they’d make you weep.
The key examples are, of course, companies who have the luxury of trying this stuff out. Already, massively successful, cash-rich companies in tech, health insurance and finance. Google, Aetna and Goldman Sachs - yes Goldman Sachs! They used that bunch of thieving rats as an argument for increasing ‘compassion’? Have I entered an Orwellian universe where the crooks define good behaviour? Hedge-fund managers are even quoted. Meditate in order to rape the markets but feel good about yourself at the same time. Give me a break.
Ultimately Gelles doesn’t answer the key question, that many of these companies are in the game of making huge profits, avoiding tax. It’s capitalism, not compassion that drives them. These therapeutic approaches in the workplace are fundamentally about money, not mental health. "Militaries round the globe are using it for their snipers,” says Gelles. Well that’s good to know. Feel calm while you blow someone’s brains out.
Here’s a thought experiment. Let’s suppose you run a factory or hours billable law firm and you’re faced with a recommendation for a ‘Mindfulness’ programme, which was recommended to me as 20 minutes a day. In a 40 hour week you’d have to guarantee a 4.6 % increase in productivity just to break even. Note that in the Gelles book, there is only one solitary example of this being used in a blue collar environment. Are we being asked to believe that factories, shops, rubbish collection, bar staff and dozens of other jobs will see these increases in productivity through meditation? I think not.
When it comes to the evidence, let’s be careful here and ask the usual questions. What is the source? What was the method? There are far too many self-proclaimed, surveymonkey theorists ready to promote something which they already make a living from. As John Higgins (to be fair a supporter of wellness programmes) says, the evidence for the impact of these programmes is never clear, as  those who took advantage of the programs were likely individuals who already highly driven, motivated, and oriented toward self-improvement”. I’d contend that this has far more to do with the on-going obsession HR has with binary, therapeutic and even Silicon Valley narratives, than science.
False binary narrative
While I’m not against attempts to make life less stressful and the use of these techniques on a personal level or where medically diagnosed, mental illness is the target, there is a dangerous line that is crossed with mindfulness, wellness and happiness. That line is their injection into the workplace. While these three mini-movements are different, they are all part of the same broad pathological narrative. The language used betrays the problem.
1. Mindful v mindless
Jay Cross says “Mindful people are more creative and productive than their mindless peers. They feel more content and fulfilled in their lives.” Bold claim but note the juxtaposition of ‘mindful’ with ‘mindless’. Am I really less fulfilled in my life than those who practice Mindfulness? Mindfulness becomes righteousness when it dismisses the rest of us as falling short of its some self-proclaimed cognitive and moral standard. For me, that’s where the line has been crossed.
2. Wellness v unwell (ill)
The same issue arises with wellness, where the assumption is that we are unwell, namely ‘ill’, and need to be made ‘well’ by whatever craze hits the HR conference circuit. Those who don’t take part in dancing to the new company tune are branded as the unwell. Again. I resent this sport of binary benchmarking.
3. Happiness v unhappiness
Lastly, with happiness we have the simplistic ‘unhappy’ versus ‘happy’ assumption. If you’re not being made happy, you are dysfunctional and unhappy. Henry Stewart challenges me by saying “But would we really prefer a workplace where people are unhappy to one where they are happy? Would we really create an unhealthy workplace to a healthy one? Would we prefer a disengaged workforce to an engaged one?
These are precisely the false binary choices that these movements use to peddle one-sided and therefore myopic solutions. It poses mutually exclusive language to artificially bolster a case for the product (usually consultancy or a training course). By all means make the workplace a better place but these simple, binary oppositions in no way reflect the rich and complex mental states of people at work.  These programmes assume simple dualisms and open HR up to ridicule. Treat people well, respect them, make sure they're fairly rewarded, listen to what they have to say, develop their skills but don't cross that line and become their pseudo-therapist.
Therapeutic narrative
Another narrative that underlies all three is the therapeutic narrative that goes back to Freud but includes many others, especially Carl Rogers. This narrative lies deeper than the one above, as it draws on a Freudian view of the world that sees almost everyone in need of therapy. It has its origins in Europe but reached its apotheosis in the US and California in particular. Carl Rogers is known as the founder of 'client-centred' therapy and his promotion of counselling. He also had a keen interest in education and his therapy-oriented methods became widely adopted in education and training through coaching and mentoring. His influence can be felt everywhere in the learning world, especially through counselling and therapeutic techniques in education and the workplace.
This narrative refuses to die and has morphed from fairly benign mentoring to more intrusive counselling and now onto mindfulness, wellness and happiness. Descriptive definitions suddenly become prescriptive techniques to be applied to all. Just as the underlying Freudian theory fades (almost nothing has survived) this narrative, the therapeutic narrative, described well by Frank Furedi in Therapy Culture (2004) gets resurrected. This, I believe is a line that should not be crossed. Employees are not patients and the workplace is not an experimental therapy sandbox and HR are not therapists.
Silicon valley narrative
The third narrative behind all of this is the Californian, Silicon Valley narrative. Jay Cross sees Chade as a missionary for compassion and world peace. In fact, he’s a software engineer, turned trainer, who runs meditation classes for, some would say, spoiled Google kids. Unfortunately, he genuinely thinks he’s on a mission for world peace – pictures with the Dalai Lama, Obama and so on. But isn’t it Chade who has lost a sense of proportion here? A software engineer on the Google dollar, telling the rest of us how to live our lives. Beware of geeks bearing gifts.
Let’s take but one kooky example from Google world. A Googler, as reported by Jay Cross, says that “60% of Google engineers suffer from ‘imposter syndrome”. First, I doubt that such a thing exists, and suspect this is no more than the general self-doubt that almost everyone, except sociopaths and psychopaths, have as a normal part of their mental make-up. It is not a clinical disorder and is not mentioned in the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’. The imposters here are those who pose this false imposter/real dichotomy, then reinforce the need for therapy, to cure the mythical clinical disorder, making us mindful, well or happy. They do this by calling it a ‘syndrome’. This is exactly the sort of pathological interpretation that characterises normal features of the mind, as a ‘disease’. If there’s anything wrong here, it’s the culture of hype and narcissism that exists in these companies. So fixated are they with their own wellbeing that they lose perspective on the problems of inequality that their companies help create. The imposters here are the amateur clinicians and ‘me, me, me’ narcissists at Google.
I feel smart organizations should do everything they can to help workers be happy, fulfilled, productive corporate citizens” says Jay Cross. This is where I differ. I don’t want to become a ‘corporate citizen’. How about ‘Googlers’ becoming, not corporate citizens but real citizens by forcing their rapacious employer to pay their taxes? This issue is being avoided and I won’t be preached to by global behemoths, who have scant care for anyone, other than their well-paid, mollycoddled employees.
Let’s be clear about the scale of the problem. Rather than being obsessed about their own mental fads, they should see what the billions of unpaid tax could do for people with real mental illness. I’m talking about the mentally ill who are often homeless in most major US cities and lack adequate funding elsewhere in the world. People with real mental illness are marginalized, as are their families, where social isolation and financial difficulties abound. Countries struggle to create healthcare systems that cope with this problem. Think what we could do for these people if the global, Silicon Valley organisations decided to do their moral duty and pay the tax they owe? Digital companies have been the most aggressive in tax evasion, using tax shelters to hide billions from national tax regimes. This is downright evil. So bad are Google that the OECD and UK tax clampdown has been called the ‘Google Tax’. Googlers and others – stop meditating and pay your taxes.

I have no problem with anyone choosing to partake in yoga, reflexology, mindfulness, wellness, laughter therapy, happiness – whatever – but that is a lifestyle choice, not a workplace imperative. This lifestyle stuff is something HR are neither qualified nor suited to manage. One minute they hear a conference talk on the subject, the next they are running the ‘course’ and claiming that it will transform the business. Send them to a conference on clowns, and they’ll recommend we all wear red noses and big shoes.
For a light heareted critique of the 'happiness' craze - check out dailymash.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Does gamification play Pavlov with learners? 10 DOs & 10 DON'Ts

The massive success of online games led many to suggest that games and gamification, could be used to turbo-charge online learning. Take a little magic dust from gaming, sprinkle generously and we’ll all find it more fun, be more motivated and learn to love learning. But there’s pros and cons here, as it can both help and hinder learning. If gamification is simply scoring, bonuses and badges, the 21st century version of Pavlov's dogs, that would be a disappointment. So much gamified learning looks like a bad fruit machine. The simple stimuli, scores and rewards may keep learners going forward but it can be a distractive, disappointing and shallow form of engagement, skating across the surface of content. It may also demand more cognitive effort for not much gain. The danger is in taking learning back to the behaviourist era, with simple, Pavlovian, conditioned responses, or S-O-R theory. The learning game still has far too much behaviourist theory, most obviously through learning objectives.
On the other hand, many proven, evidence-based pieces of learning theory seem to be congruent with games techniques, such as chunking, constructive failure, practice, doing and performance. I've given a detailed analsis of a real example here - Angry Birds.
Learning is gamelike
All teaching and learning is a bit of a game - gamification just makes it more obvious. It’s often said that we tend to blame the players not the game in education. Students quickly learn how to play the ‘game’; minimise attendance at lectures, get a hold of past-exam papers, cram for the exam.
There’s also a sense in which social media is also game-like. Twitter's really one long never-ending 'game' with plays (Tweets), rewards (Favourites & Retweets), wins (Followers). Similarly with Facebook, where the race for friends, comments and likes has a game-like feel. Going back to check your comments, notifications and likes can be as addictive as any game.The huge success of social media, measured in the billions who use it daily, even hourly, may be down to its gamelike addictive qualities.
What’s in a game?
Wittgenstein saw the word ‘game’ as an example of a word that defies definition, with a spread of related meanings, that resemble one another, like family relations. In fact, he saw all use of language as ‘language games’ in the sense of being involved in a way of speaking within a context – idle chat, teaching, scientific discourse, flirting and so on. So let’s not play the dictionary definition game but take a position and look at the DOs and DON’Ts.
1. Distract
Games can distract from true learning. In learning, often contemplation, steady progress and cognitive calm are required - not the cognitive distraction of cheap gamification. In this sense, needless gamification can hinder learning. As Merrill said, “there’s too much ‘-tainment’ and not enough ‘edu-‘ in edutainment products”. True motivation does not come from gimmicks, it comes from a true undertsnading of the needs of your audience. For adults, this rarely means sexing things up with game accessories.
2. Destructive competition

At its worst, game players can become less interested in learning, knowledge, content… and get obsessed with simply winning. That’s a real danger. You see this in leaderboards, where a few at the top get obsessed and battle it out for days, while the rest get demoralized, as they know they’ll never get to the top. I once built a bar-quiz kiosk for product knowledge (for Barclays bank), which was incredibly popular but encouraged fierce rivalry between teams at different locations around the country. It worked but a side–effect was that this encouraged competitive, rather than collaborative, behavior.
3. Disappoint
Poor efforts at games and gamification can disappoint. The problem with games is that although they seem exciting and fun, they are actually fiendishly difficult to design and make. It’s easy to try, not so easy to succeed. So I’ve seen lots of half-baked, condescending or childish attempts at gamification with cheap cartoons, crass special effects and dire sound effects. If it doesn’t work, it can seem condescending or superfluous. It may even be worse than nothing at all and can demotivate learners. The lesson here is that learning does not always need to be ‘fun’. It sometimes needs to be taken slowly, seriously, with intense focus and persistence, not pimped up like a teenager’s car.
4. Put off
‘Game’ is a pejorative word for some. Not all older learners appreciate the idea of games in learning and may find it faddish, even condescending. Games of a certain type may also exclude female audiences. It may be difficult to get gamified learning experiences accepted by the people who have to implement them or older, more conservative, audiences.
5. Overload
Gamification may well introduce extra cognitive effort that may outweigh any planned advantage. It may result, not in cognitive gain but cognitive overload. This can be counterproductive and can hinder rather than help learning. Don’t imagine that games techniques can be inserted into learning experiences without extra cognitive effort. Multitasking is a myth.
6. Naive behaviourism
Collecting coins, rubies and other tokesn may be fine, if you're 10 years old, but less interesting to adults. This simple Pavlovian form of rewards is often little more than behavioural fluff. The aim is often the false god of addictive learning. Unfortunately, it is all too shot-lived. The gamification becomes a little tired, even tiresome.
7. Inappropriate
To assume that a game or gamification is always good for learning is a mistake. There are plenty of instances where games and gaming would be superfluous, even inappropriate. I’m not sure I appreciate games in sensitive medical subjects such as chronic diseases. In academia, many would regard gamification as a cheapening of their subject.
8. Incongruent
There is one species of gamification that results in little more than superflous overload and that is when the game is an add-on. The game elements are not congruent with the learning but occur before or after the learning experiences. You swing through the jungle as a monkey have to land on a platform, then you get a multiplication problem. When the gamification is so removed and separate from the learning, it's become nowthing more than dressing.
9. Sounds, special effects & spin
The mechanics of gamification, especially the use of sound effects, animation and excessive scoring can be totally destructive in learning. Far from acting as motivators, they become increasingly annoying elements that destroy retention and recall.
10. Over-spend
Let’s not forget the expense. Games and gamification usually involve extra costs, such as design, writing, coding and testing. The extra time and expense must be justified by gains in speed of learning , impact or retention.

On the other hand there's some DOs
1. Control progress
Games and gamification are very clear in terms of self-awareness of progress. There’s tasks, levels and clear points where achievement is recognized and rewarded. Levels is a good example. High-end games, with levels, force the gamer to stay within a competence level until they prove they are competent at that level and can move on. This is comparable to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Personally, I think that games' developers know far more about this than Vygotsky ever did. Within that level you are subjected to repeated failure, unless you show clear competence or make fast progress. It forces the learner to master complete competence before moving on. This is important in highly structured domains, such as maths.
2. Chunk
Games are sensitive to chunking, whether its short video, tasks or levels. This breaks learning down into manageable and meaningful tasks. This can be short videos, certainly shorter than the 6 minutes recommended by data from large scale video based courses, sprints (see Duolingo) and the all-important levels. Chunking, intrinsic to games, is also intrinsic to good memory theory and learning.
3. Allow failure
Games thrive on failure. You lose, die but live to play again. This catastrophic failure often results in you being thrown back to the start or at least back to a certain point, to come at the task again. This has two powerful learning effects; 1) you repeat the experience which is no bad thing in learning, 2) you are motivated to avoid failure the second time around as the consequences are severe. Both combine to push the learner towards competence. I have used these in gamified, soft-skilled simulations in subjects like interviewing skills and conflict resolution. As a pedagogic technique, it works beautifully and is, in my view, the most valuable thing we have to learn from games in learning.
4. Learn by doing
Games are rarely about digesting large amounts of ‘knowledge’. They come into their own in domains where you have to learn processes, procedures or real-world tasks and competences. Scenario-based learning is a great candidate for games techniques. It is here that levels of competence, learning from failure and learning, as well as assessing competences, comes into its own. But make no mistake this is difficult to design.
5. Practice
Games are largely about repeat cycles. You do something, fail, go back and do it again. There’s much more opportunity for repeated deliberate practice, therefore reinforcement in long-term memory, better retention and recall. This is what games are all about but learning rarely faces up to the truth, that it, above all, requires repeated deliberate practice, hence the massive inefficiency of sheep-dip training and lectures. Gasification, if it introduces spaced practice, can be a bonus in terms of retention.
6. Adaptive
If the gamification intoduces some adaptivity, namlel the treating everyone uniquely, in terms of what they actually need, then it can be a powerful form of personalised learning. Adaptive learning can be gamified to present content appropriate to that learner's need at that particular point in their learning journey, like a satnav in learning. Word of warning - this is not easy to achieve and needs some smart software.
7. Motivation
For some audiences; reluctant learners, children, learners with special needs and so on, gamification can be the feature than attracts them in the first place and keeps the learning. The idea that learning can be fun and not the experience that many had at school, which is one of boredom and failure, is an attractive proposition.
8. Mobile
Mobiles give you an umbilical cord to learners. We also know that people like to play games on mobiles, witness the Cany Crush epidemic. So there's a good argument for seeing mobile gaming as a useful thing to consider in online learning. If learning can be inserted into that down-time, on trains and elsewhere, that's great.
9. Time
Military simulation sometimes introduce progressively faster expected completion times. Faster than they would be expected in the real world. That is because it instills better levels of competence. Timers often create a slightly more intense expectation and raise attention and focus in learners, which may, for certain tasks be useful. They can push towards automaticity in recall, as there’s a world of difference between a competence that is measured by immediate action and recall and one that takes some time to recall. I’ve seen this work well in drill and practice tasks, recognition of aircraft and so on.
10. Make game and learning congruent
This is perhaps the best rule of all. The game must be congruent or as close in rules and structure of the learning experience. If they feel like two separate layers, it will all have been in vain. I once produced an interactive version of The Joy of Sex book. We included a Mr & Mrs game, where, as a couple, you were asked questions separately, then compared your answers. It was fun and it lived up to its intended purpose, to allow couples to have some informative (at times edgy) fun in their relationship.

I like the light touch gamification in Duolingo - sprints, adaptive and spaced practice but not so keen on all the bonus symbols. When gamification is congruent with good principles in learning theory, it has the power to increase the effectiveness of the learning.  I'd call it ‘gamish’ as I’m fond of the chunking, repeats and mastery but less keen on superficial scores, bonuses and badges. That’s not to say they don’t have a place but they often seem like a superfluous layer of complexity.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

VR and consciousness – some truly freakish ideas

The Hard Problem
For the last year I’ve been playing around with Virtual Reality, using the Oculus Rift’s DK1 then DK2, demoing it to hundreds of people all over the world. I’ve seen them scream, shake, fall and have their mind blown, almost replaced by these experiences. Almost to the last person, the reaction has been ‘that’s awesome’. It’s made me think – think hard.
The fact that it can, in seconds, replace consciousness of the world you know with another completely different world, floating around the International Space Station, walking across the bottom of the ocean, getting your head cut off on a scaffold during he French Revolution, bungee jumping, whatever…. led me to a renewed interest in consciousness. Philosophy has long seen consciousness as an intractable problem. What is it? Does it even exist? Theoretically, we seem to have been wandering around in a cul-de-sac of dead-end irreducibility. PS - if you don’t think this is a problem, think again, as this may mean the death of the human soul, a belief that keeps the three major Abrahamic religions, and others, alive.
Chalmers zombie hypothesis
Consciousness gave Descartes his anchor as the irreducible ‘I’ in I think therefore I am’, but science and solid philosophical debate about the difficulty of how separate minds and bodies interact, ate away at dualism. Some, like Daniel Dennett, now think that consciousness is a superfluous epiphenomenon. David Chalmers, a philosopher, rocked the philosophical world, when he came up with an idea that promises to break this age-old problem, the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness. That problem is why consciousness exists at all. Why do we feel anything? Why are we not zombie automatons? It is the subject of Tom Stoppard’s new play The Hard Problem, which received lukewarm reviews. Then again, theatre has never been good at deep philosophical analysis. Chalmers asks us to think of a doppelganger or equivalent of our own selves but without consciousness – just a zombie or Cartesian machine. Then poses a solution – that all networked machines are, to some degree, conscious.
Age of Algorithms
Renewed interest in the problem of consciousness has come from the recent rise of AI in our Age of Algorithms. Many are now practically engaged in replicating human abilities but the dividing line between soft and hard AI is still the notion of deep intelligence and consciousness. Not that AI is not always about ‘replicating’ human abilities and consciousness. We didn’t succeed in conquering the problem of flying by copying birds but by designing a different technology that did it better. Nevertheless, the issue of consciousness remains. In what way do sophisticated ‘thinking’ machines have consciousness? This has sparked a renewed interest in the problem. But another medium is also contributing.
VR as medium of the mind
Chalmers was moved by a childhood experience that corrected an abnormality in his left eye, where the world suddenly popped into 3D. I have the same disorder , and know exactly what he means, but it was my extended experience with VR that blew my mind. Rather than a qualitatively, improved experience of perception, my entire mind was put in another place, through involuntary ‘presence’. My reptile brain forced me into thinking I was somewhere else, doing something I wasn’t actually doing but simple experiencing - doing a real bungee jump. I can only explain it be reference to another experience in my life that was similarly revealing – taking LSD. Stephen Downes and I had an interesting talk in a bar last month on the revelation that act had on us both in terms of the arbitrariness of perception and consciousness. We both agreed that it was a life changing experience that influenced our philosophical view of the world. VR was similar, if not more controlled!
When I first tried VR with a bungee jump using a $350 VR headset and headphones, I was immediately transported to another place, could look around, saw people behind me waving, waved back, walked to the edge of a platform, looked down and it felt real. I jumped and felt myself falling. Then, hanging on the end of an elastic, I looked up and saw the water, down and saw the sky. I was upside down. But I wasn’t – it was all in my mind..
The bold move
Koch has argued that the line has changed over the years, as consciousness has been granted to dogs and higher animals, even insects or anything with a network of neurons. In a bold thought experiment, he extends this further, to include any communicating network. Couldn’t the internet, our computers, our phones – be conscious? The internet has the same number of synapse connections as about 10,000 human brains. Is it in any way conscious?
We have evidence that consciousness is related to networked activity. The obvious examples are sleep and anaesthetic states, where one can measure the actual decline in networked activity as we lose ‘consciousness’. Could it be that consciousness is simply a function of this networking and that all networked entities are, to some degree, conscious? What Chalmers, Koch and other posit, is an explanation that keeps the physics, neuroscience and philosophy in place. It is an intriguing idea stimulated by my experiments in VR.
They have their critics, such as Daniel Dennett and Patricia Churchland, who simply dismiss consciousness as an illusion. Some even think the problem is insoluble and that our brains are not equipped to solve the problem. But the issue keeps nagging away at me – very time I try VR, which is getting better and better, more ‘real’, more ‘extreme’, more ‘revelatory’.
VR and consciousness
Some experiments in VR may be instructive here. You can easily experience ‘presence’ in VR – the belief that you’re somewhere you’re not. That is commonplace. But consciousness-swap experiments show that you can experience something more – the consciousness of being someone or something else. 
There’s gender-swap experiments where you see your body and external world from a female or male perspective. There’s racial-swaps, disability-swaps, even living the life of someone else for a long period. I’ve been involved in a  social care VR programme where you become an elderly person and see the world from their perspective with blurred vision and a touch of induced memory loss. I’ve also been working on VR ideas that put you in the position of driving while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or distractions, like using your mobile.

We may be no more than super-evolved, networked, operating systems – literally androids. Technology, the internet, AI, philosophical analysis and neuroscience may be coming together t crack the problem of consciousness. I think VR, as a medium, will accelerate this analysis, as it creates a window on consciousness and the opportunity for experimentation that has never been possible before. Indeed, we could be on the verge of seeing consciousness as massively manipulable. I could be lifted from a depressive experience in seconds, see myself as others see me, be someone else. The only limit is the imagination of our own conscious thought to explore these new worlds and new ideas.