So Deep!

The word “deep” is one of the ultimate bullshit terms. You want to talk about something pretty ordinary but want to give it a sheen of profundity? Add “deep”!

But every word is a word that has good uses, and not everybody is bullshitting. Deep isn’t always off the deep end. Still, I am wondering what it means in different contexts.

Here, Barbara Holmes talks about “deeply mining the human experience”. She talks about mysticism, the things that are hidden in everyday surface perception. There’s an aspect of intuitive, emotional experience to it, but she also talks about connections to her ancestors (in her experience of Pentecoastal exstasis), to “Africanism’s long-lost past—in the transport from Africa to the Americas that my ancestors made.” Depth is an intuitive awareness and experience of history, a direct connection to it, not as an abstract or scholarly account, but as an experience of oppression and liberation. And it is at the same time a mystic religious experience, a connection to, unity with the divine.

Deep learning, not in the machine learning sense but in Marton’s opposition between deep and shallow learning, is about changing the student’s conceptual thinking instead of, or in addition to, their factual knowledge. Here, depth refers to the complexity of changes that form part of learning: Do we change the whole conceptual framework with which we approach the world, or do we simply add elements to our existing way of thinking and doing?

I wonder if the two ways of thinking about “deep” are connected. We often say someone “deeply cares” about something and mean that there isn’t just lip service paid to something but that the person has a stronger affective and possibly moral commitment to what they care about — something that is part of deeper learning in the sense that it comes with the affective aspects of motivation, which might be part of a sense of connection to others, to history, to the bigger picture of existence. (Still, beware of people who say they deeply care; it’s easy to add a 4-6 letter word to whatever one says.)