A very interesting discussion on transparency! I wonder what the role of knowledge is in relation to transparency and signs such as graphs.
In our research in the workplace, we noticed that people indeed sometimes look through graphs as if they are transparent, just like Michael Roth says. This seems to be related to a very good knowledge/understanding of the situation that the graph is representing.
However, we also have an interesting case study of an operator (who left school at 16) in a factory who can spot the location of production problems by looking at graphs, but he mostly does not know what the causes actually are. He needs someone, an engineer with more knowledge of physics and chemistry, to find out what the exact problem is. If I understand the notion of transparency, graphs are not transparent to this operator - he looks AT graphs rather than through them. Yet these graphs mediate his troubleshooting work fairly successfully; they are useful tools, but not really an extension of himself? Can we call graphs tools, or just signs? Is this operator performing actions if he is troubleshooting?
How would people interpret this? Is this somewhere on the continuum towards transparency and does knowledge indeed play an important role here? And how to characterise this knowledge in relation to tools and signs?
Who can shed some light on this?
From: email@example.com on behalf of Wolff-Michael Roth
Sent: Sun 03/07/2005 03:14
To: eXtended Media, Culture, Activity; firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Re: [xmca] LCA: Transparency continued
I think I am struggling as much as you--perhaps it is the notion of
"mediation" by tools or signs irrespective of the fact--nobody seems to
make the distinction--whether we are dealing with consciousness, i.e.,
actions and goals and activities and motives, on the one hand, and
operations, on the other.
Are operations "mediated" by tools? But if the tools we use are not
attended to consciously. . . this is where Bateson asks the question,
where is the boundary between the blind person and the world, at the
end of the stick, at the beginning, or somewhere in the middle?
He continues saying that the question is inappropriate. Heidegger, in
my reading, is concerned with everyday action where signs and tools are
ready to hand, not attended to consciously--unless they are broken, at
which time they become the object of actions, themselves operated upon
by means of other tools.
I think that theoretically we need to make a distinction between two
forms of mediation or need to call one mediation--when we consciously
use tools, interpret text, etc.--and the other something else. If what
I do with my hands is not mediated, using a hammer, using a cane as a
blind person. . . is part of me--just as riding a bicycle is as I
articulated together with Domenico Masciotra in a chapter in a book
honoring Ernst von Glasersfeld where we are critical of his ideas.
As a longtime (expet?) cyclist, I "feel" where there is trouble in the
bicycle, as if it was part of me, I can feel the joint that hurts,
whether it is my elbow or somewhere along the line to the "tip" of the
tire on the road. I can feel the pebble that I hit, literally, as if it
was a finger that hit it. I am not sure I am making sense, but perhaps
if I use a language that I don't like but others seem to--in "flow
experience" of the high performance athlete--I remember my days on the
German national rowing team--there is no longer a difference between
you and your equipment, the equipment is you. If there is a sense of
difference in the me-in-situation, then it is at the other end of the
equipment. . . the tire, the hull of the skiff, the head of the hammer
where it hits the nail.
As a teacher teaching art in southern Labrador, a village of 500 people
isolated for 6 months of the year, I asked students to get into the
grove, to work with the wood, to feel when it hurts--when you go across
the grain with sandpaper or rasp. I think it is exactly the same, you
actually begin to extend into the wood and beyond the tool.
Domenico Masciotra and I also wrote about karate fighting, and Domenico
likens his position and possibilities as threads emanating from his
body, which thereby extends and occupies a space and reaches far beyond
his physical body.
We cannot analyze all of these situations in the same way that you
would analyze me grappling with Being and Time for the past 30 years,
or grappling with the Il'enkov texts for 5 years before having the
sense that I am slowly coming to understand. My conscious interpretive
efforts are different than my engagement with the world in expertise or
And this is what happens when Karen points to a spike in a graph and
says, "This is a clogged pipe". Just as most of the people on this list
don't think twice when they see the word "school", they don't look and
interpret the word, the seem to be transported right into school
On 2-Jul-05, at 4:25 PM, Mike Cole wrote:
> Thanks, Michael, for a copy of your paper which takes the discussion
> in a direction I did not anticipate on the basis of your note.
> Here are some reactions and indications of why I think it relevant to
> the sign/tool discussion.
> Speaking of seeing "through" a graph to what the graph represents,
> Michael writes:
> This has an equivalent in visual perception. Although there are specks
> on my glasses, I frequently do
> not experience them in my perception; I have adapted to their presence
> and see as if they did not exist.
> This phenomenon applied to signs and referents is referred to as
> fusion or transparency, and in prior
> discussion is linked to blind man and his cane or a person using a
> The blind man metaphor a la Bateson (from Cole, Cultural Psychology,
> chapter 5:
> Gregory Bateson (1972) highlights the way in which mind is constituted
> through human activity involving cycles of transformations between
> "inside" and "outside" that are very reminiscent of Pepper's writing.
> "Obviously," Bateson writes, "there are lots of message pathways
> outside the skin, and these and the messages which they carry must be
> included as a part of the mental system whenever they are relevant."
> (p. 458, emphases added). He then proposed the following thought
> Suppose I am a blind man, and I use a stick. I go tap, tap, tap. Where
> do I start? Is my mental system bounded at the hand of the stick? Is
> it bounded by my skin? Does it start halfway up the stick? Does it
> start at the tip of the stick (p. 459)?
> Michael relates the shift from separation of sign and referent, or
> non-transparent to transparent to the shift from action to operation.
> Seems reasonable. But, exactly, is the nature of this process?
> Bateson would relate it to a "difference that makes a difference." I
> have been thinking about this problem in a somewhat different context
> that relates the gradual appearance of transparency or fusion to forms
> of coordination. I think this might be relevant to thinking about
> transformations between actions and operations in the way that Michael
> suggests but I am still gnawing at that bone. Some of the implications
> I have drawn from this phenomenon, which relate to the fact that our
> own culture is often invisible to us, e.g. transparent, can be found
> in the article by Cole and Levitin.
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