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October 24, 2002 Gardiner's mind is open




Communications Studies Professor W. Lambert Gardiner.

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Mark Rieger

One of the hallmarks of the information age is the sheer amount of information available to us. Unfortunately, because there’s so much of it, it’s often impossible to take it all in, let alone remember what we’ve already read, seen and thought.

While many people keep diaries to help them remember the events of theiir daily lives, Communications Studies Professor W. Lambert (Scot) Gardiner has taken the idea of recording his thoughts for posterity a few steps further.

His creation is called Siliclone, and when fully operational, it will be a kind of virtual version of its creator, a computerized storehouse of Gardiner’s thoughts and ideas.

“Siliclone is an attempt to integrate all of my information in one place, so I can see it whole,” he said of his ongoing project.

Although Siliclone is still being developed, Gardiner has already made extensive use of its storage capabilities. Drawing a distinction between information, which he called content, and its meaning, or context, Gardiner said that he and Siliclone each perform an important task.

“There is no need for me to memorize stuff,” he said, noting that the CD-ROMs which currently house the project are much better suited to that task. “Siliclone can memorize stuff — it loves lists. My function is to put content into context.”

Gardiner said he had so far stored in Siliclone two books, four chapters of books, four articles, five reviews and seven talks. He hopes that by the time he dies, Siliclone will allow students and other interested people to continue to access his thought. “Essentially, when I’m out of here, I’ll leave my mind here,” he said.

Gardiner is the author of A History of Media, published earlier this year. He has taught in Concordia’s Communications Department since 1985, although his teaching career at the university began 20 years earlier when Gardiner started teaching psychology at what was then Sir George Williams University.

“After five years of that the lectures evolved into a book, and the book made me obsolete,” Gardiner remarked.

He realized that once he had developed his course to the point of being able to write a book based on his lectures, he had gone as far as he could with the subject.

Rather than remain in the psychology department, Gardiner travelled, exploring the burgeoning American counterculture while thinking and writing about new ideas of teaching and learning.
“I wrote a book called The Psychology of Teaching, which argued for turning teaching inside out,” he said. After further reflection, he came to believe that the way to effect such change would be to turn teaching from what he called an “outside-in” process to an “inside-out” one.

Traditionally, Gardiner argued, teaching has been regarded as a process in which a person with knowledge, the teacher, gives that knowledge to people without it, the students.

His new educational concept, he said, was based on the idea that after centuries of evolution, human beings are already in possession of the collected wisdom of the species.

Teaching, according to Gardiner, should focus more on developing that wisdom in students, and allowing them to realize their potential abilities.

“Essentially, teaching is passing along the operating manual [of the species]. It helps people unwrap the conception-day gift,” he said.

Siliclone, which has a Web site siliclone.com, plays a role in Gardiner’s new teaching idea. When it ultimately makes Gardiner’s virtual mind available, he said, he hoped it would allow his students to choose which aspects of his thought they wished to study.

“They access it and explore it,” he said. “It’s much more useful [than traditional teaching].” However, it will still be some time, Gardiner acknowledged, before Siliclone is a fully operational, interactive resource.

“At the moment, it’s pretty primitive. There is the need for a good search engine, so you can put together pieces of my mind based on your interests,” he said.

Still, the process of recording his thoughts and memories has been very rewarding, Gardiner said. His only regret is that he didn’t start collecting information about himself sooner.

“I find it a very rich process,” he said. “It makes you conscious of your consciousness.”

You can access Siliclone at http://www.siliclone.com.