[xmca] Copernicus 2.0 [toolforthoughts]

From: Jay Lemke <jaylemke who-is-at umich.edu>
Date: Thu Jun 21 2007 - 18:47:12 PDT

Herewith some notes on the Chosen Article:

Shaffer and Clinton offer us an awkward term
“toolforthoughts” and a profound challenge to
find more intelligent ways of participating in
the new world of pervasive computationally active systems.

I suspect that some readers of their proposal
will balk at its moral or humanistic revisionism,
and others at its radical ontological and
epistemological perspectives. I have things to
say about both, but I think the most important
pragmatic implication of what they are saying
comes in their challenge to our notions of
literacy and numeracy, and to our hopelessly outdated goals for education.

Knowing something of the history of their
thinking from personal contacts, I believe it
makes sense to see the issues of new literacies
and numeracies as the impetus that pushes their
thinking toward its revisionist ontology, and the consequent moral conundrums.

So let me start from the concrete and back my way down to the abstract.

Imagine a world, already half-way here, of
pervasive computationally-active systems in which
we all live. Systems we may still call houses,
schools, offices, but much of which will be
“virtual” … i.e. will be immersive participatory
simulation environments in which are embedded
computations ‘tools’ and computationally active
‘partners’: artificial intelligences, of lesser
and greater capacity, that will talk to us,
suggest directions and options, carry out tasks,
take initiatives, and immerse us in simulated
spaces and places filled with perceptual
information and motor affordances. Nor will the
there remain clear lines between the virtual and
the rest of the material infrastructure; they
will blend more and more seamlessly in our experience and activity.

If you play an immersive, interactive computer
game at the frontiers of current technology (or
get military training in such a simulated
reality), you get a glimpse of what’s coming. If
you participate in a non-game virtual world like
SecondLife, you can pretty easily imagine it as a
prototype for a new kind of “school”, or artists’
collaborative, or bordello. If you talk with
traditional mathematicians about why they hate
computational modes of “proof”, despite the fact
that some significant results can only be
obtained by such methods, you begin to understand
how deep the challenge to “numeracy” runs. If you
try to understand what kinds of “literacy” enable
young people to make meanings across films,
books, websites, interactive games, and active
play with toys throughout a transmedia franchise
like Star Wars or Harry Potter, you see how
hopeless the old notions of literacy are.

Algebra is becoming obsolete as a tool for the
purposes for which it was invented. And so, quite
possibly, is writing. Education which takes
traditional literacy and numeracy as its
fundamental goals is worse than obsolete. It is
obstructionist, an obstacle to the efforts of a
new generation to prepare itself for a new world, a new reality.

Yes, there’s a bit of hyperbole in what I just
wrote. But less than you may wish. I hope we can
talk about the fine points here on xmca.

So what is replacing the older tools of literacy
and numeracy? Shaffer and Clinton give a bit of a
description, and much more could be said. I don’t
think we know just what this future will look
like yet, but it’s certainly well along in its development.

What about the ontology? While not well-known,
the notion of causality has largely dropped out
of its central place in the physical sciences,
from quantum theory to nonlinear complex system
dynamics in chemistry and even biology. Causality
is the core of our intuitions about agency, and
the lesson from natural science (perhaps inspired
in a roundabout way by our consciousness of
complex computational-and-human systems) is that
we are always in systems (and so is everything
else), and in systems, everything is mediating
(in various ways) the behavior of everything
else. There are no prime movers. The implications
for epistemology have occupied Latour and his
critics for some time. The short answer: every
view is a view from inside, and more complete
views require articulations among different
insider perspectives (from which Latour derives his version of democracy).

And the morality? What should we really think of
a morality grounded in humanism? i.e. in the
notion that it is what makes humans different
from all other systems (souls, intentions) that
allows us to hold ourselves and others
‘responsible’ for actions? I don’t think it’s a
logic that can command much respect once we
subject it to rigorous critique. Shaffer and
Clinton don’t mention Bakhtin and his notion of
‘answerability’ in this connection, but I think
it holds promise for getting to something better,
something more consistent with a mutual-agency view of active systems.

So what do other people think??


Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
Email. JayLemke@UMich.edu
Website. <http://www.umich.edu/~jaylemke%A0>www.umich.edu/~jaylemke
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Received on Thu Jun 21 18:50 PDT 2007

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