GREENBERG and K. Greenberg (2020) – Personal and Shared Meaning



There are multiple senses in which “meaning” is deployed (example), particularly in philosophy (example). But at its root, MEANING is a function of connectedness. Arguably, nothing has meaning except insofar as it is more-or-less connected to other things. In an important sense, meaning derives from the way information is organized.  Defining words with words (as in any dictionary) exemplifies this, although, of course, any other sensory modality would work: visual, musical, and so on.  At the cognitive level of organization, thoughts may be stimuli or percepts–things–that are more-or-less connected.  Degrees of connectedness may be exemplified by the emergence of greater complexity as connections are discovered or created between stimuli leading to percepts leading to concepts.   There is likely a priority of selectivity in the evolutionary sense that relates to the existential outcomes of actions that result from thought.





Neil Greenberg and Katherine Greenberg

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

In pursuit of enduring, even transformative, learning experiences, we will explore ways to encourage the discovery and creation of connections within and between students in the mastery of course content.  Informed by existential phenomenology, the interdisciplinary seminar, “Art and Organism” utilizes graphic mind-maps, diaries, dialogues and—unexpectedly—doodles to provide paths enabling students to explore what they self-identify as their deepest personal and professional concerns.  As class unfolds, these activities reveal the intertwining of emotion and reason as well as the critical processes of individuation and socialization.  We will ask practice session participants about their own experiences and insights.

“In my interdisciplinary classroom I am concerned in particular with how best to create meaning that leads students from mere knowledge of course content to its realization—the transformative learning experience” (N Greenberg et al 2015). 

   In “Art and Organism,” my interdisciplinary seminar for advanced undergraduate and graduate students, we focus on the biology of art and aesthetic experience and the discovery and creation of connections within and between individuals in relation to mastery of course content.  I have presented variations on this theme and most of the material, annually updated, for about 40 years.  The course, conjoining science and aesthetics, was originally titled “The Art and Science of Art and Science” in our University’s interdisciplinary department.  Currently I teach “Art and Organism” in my home department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology where it is taken by advanced undergraduates and graduate students. Context includes an essential conversational safe-zone in which there are significant student experiences of other students (KH Greenberg, et al, 2019) and a “freedom to connect” (Sohn et al 2016).

  Participation in the development of a collaborative book, The Phenomenological Heart of Teaching and Learning (KH Greenberg, et al, 2019), was instrumental in giving structure to my vaguely formed disposition for both giving a voice to my students and situating  course content in ways more personally meaningful.  In recent years I have also joined them in several presentations including CHEP and in journal articles (eg, Sohn et al 2016).   My intention here is to explore how deploying principles of existential phenomenology in the classroom has affected my students and, frankly, me.

   In this session, we will look at ways to move away from over-emphasis on lecture as we cultivate student engagement and try to resolve the persistent and sometimes pernicious tension between our needs for both individuation and socialization as often highlighted by the course theme conjoining science and aesthetics. 

   As often observed, we are paradoxically most alone and most fully ourselves in the context of our community. Indeed, this tension often energizes the overarching philosophical theme of existential phenomenology. In light of this (or some might argue in its shadow) students are invited into conversations and exercises that explore what they self-identify as deep personal and professional concerns.  We will discuss how use of graphic mind-maps, diaries, dialogues and—unexpectedly—doodles provide paths to the discovery and creation of connections.

   We will then ask our practice session’s participants to explore in small groups how these outcomes relate to their own teaching experiences—or could. Participants will then share issues that arose and insights they gained with the large group.



Greenberg, Neil, Katherine Greenberg, Kristina Plaas, Brenda Murphy, Brian Sohn, & Sandra Thomas (2016) The Natural History of the Teachable Moment: Exploring Practices that Enhance Profound Learning Experiences.  8th Annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy, Virginia Tech., Blacksburg VA 

Greenberg, K., Brian Sohn, Neil Greenberg, Howard Pollio, Sandra Thomas, John Smith (2019)  The Phenomenological Heart of Teaching and Learning: Theory, Research, and Practice in Higher Education.  New York: Routledge.  DOI  eBook ISBN 9781351245906

Sohn, Brian K., Kristina Plaas, Karen Franklin, Tiffany Dellard, Brenda Murphy, Katherine H. Greenberg, Neil B. Greenberg, Howard R. Pollio, and Sandra P. Thomas (2016) Freedom to Connect: Insight Into the Existential Dimension of Transformative Learning in a Graduate Seminar. Journal of Transformative Education.  Vol. 14(3) 178-199.  DOI: 10.1177/1541344616631425  












connect to a subsequent presentation at the IACEP conference in 2021  

In ART & ORGANISM, a scaffold of connections within and between students facilitates connections between individuals and canonical course content.  I outlined this in July 2021 for a presentation to the International Association for Cognitive Education and Psychology (IACEP):  Personal Meaning meets Canonical Meaning