Re: [xmca] Copernicus 2.0 [toolforthoughts]

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Fri Jun 22 2007 - 11:13:02 PDT

Time for others to chime in if they wish, David and Katherine included.
My one question, Jay, is an old one, but an important one.

I believe that knowledge is power. So the issue of who needs/gets to learn
is likely to become more and more acute as the toolsforthought become more
and more complex.


On 6/22/07, Jay Lemke <> wrote:
> Mike takes us to an important issue, for
> education and for theory, when he asks whether
> it's really wise or safe to rely on, call them
> thinking-support-systems, that we don't know how
> to build up from earlier technologies, like
> algebra or writing.
> I wrote:
> >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, yes, I was making the point in an extreme
> form. But if we take Mike's concern seriously,
> then we have, first of all, the question of what
> knowledge for everyone? Does everyone have to
> know how to fall back on algebra or differential
> equations if their simulator goes down? do we all
> have to know how to repair the cars we drive or
> the computers we use? or how their operating
> systems are programmed, or even how a programming
> language talks to a chip?
> Or only some of us? Distributed cognition is,
> after all, not just distributed between people
> and things, it's distributed among people,
> according to the division of labor, which is as
> basic a principle of social organization as I
> know. (In fact, I think we are more united as a
> society by our interdependence on each others'
> skills and knowledge than we are by what we all
> "share".)
> So, no, not every educated person needs to know
> how to factor a polynomial, not even in
> emergencies! Beyond this level, ship navigators
> can realistically (sometimes?) do by hand the
> math to keep the ship from cracking up, but I
> doubt the same could be said for calculating a
> re-entry orbit from space, or a hyperspace jump
> (if we get to that), and depending on the
> timescales involved, probably not even
> replicating a simulation of a global weather
> model, an ecosystem management model, or, god
> help us, Microsoft Vista! it takes a big village
> of diverse specialists a LONG time to link the
> by-hand skills into the complex simulation
> environment. (Michael Roth has argued similarly
> that 'science literacy' has to be defined as a
> collective, not an individual, achievement and
> goal.)
> Latour has an interesting analysis in his book
> Aramis, where he considers just how complex the
> technology of an automated train system, or a
> next generation passenger jet, really is, and
> what it really means to "design" or "understand"
> such a system. It a good example of how we pass
> the threshold of complexity to systems in which
> it just no longer makes sense to imagine
> individual minds or even small groups of people
> playing any privileged role as cognizers. Many
> people today have the intuitive feeling that our
> technologies are not 'ours' anymore, that they
> are beyond our ability to understand and control,
> and that not only our computers and planes are
> like this, but our economies and our global
> environment. Yes, it's scary and uncomfortable.
> It's also the objective material condition of our
> lives today.
> So what to do? Smash the machine? Return to
> low-tech? Augment our brains so they can cope?
> All are, I think, old-fashioned romantic
> fantasies. We need to reconceptualize our place
> in the universe once more, as Copernicus
> non-geocentric model forced us to do (very
> slowly!) a few centuries ago. Only now it's not
> our place in space, in the physical universe, but
> in a more metaphorical 'universe' of
> people-with-things. We are no longer the
> designer-gods of humanism. We are at best the
> stakeholder partners (and maybe before long the
> junior partners) in the systems we, collectively,
> participate in.
> So how then to re-imagine? what are the new
> literacies and numeracies of the Age of
> Complexity? I think that Shaffer and Clinton are
> trying to reach out towards possible answers, as
> is Latour. More Foundationally (and Asimov was
> very much a romantic, look at his robots!), we do
> need to get beyond humanistic ontologies (what we
> humans see), epistemologies (ditto know), and
> theories of mind. Post-Cartesian views of
> knowing-as-embodiment-in-systems are a good step,
> The next step has to be what Latour calls
> 'symmetrizing', i.e. removing the vestiges of a
> privileged human point of view, not just by
> moving up to the collective point of view, but to
> the system (the village?) multi-view.
> What I think Shaffer and Clinton are arguing is
> that we can't get very far with this next step
> unless we re-imagine systems as more active,
> autonomous, meaning-generating, emergent,
> initiating ... and not just as the stage props
> for our divine Agency. Since my current interest
> is in re-integrating feeling and emotion into our
> view of meaning-making, I'd want to go perhaps a
> step beyond their proposal, to include a notion
> that our feelings as well are distributed
> system-effects.
> JAY.
> >Thanks for the economical parsing of David and Katherine's paper, Jay.
> >Let me pick up on just one of the issues. Perhaps others can contribute
> >on this or other parts of the complex puzzle.
> >
> >You wrote:
> >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.
> >
> >You know the book, Foundation? A post apocolyptic world where all the
> >complex
> >technologies are still working, but the knowledge of HOW they work has
> been
> >lost
> >or is to be found only in one place and the superstructure of
> civilization
> >is crumbling
> >while its core is hidden away. and etc........ in later Asimov novels.
> >
> >You know the scene on Ed Hutchin's ship coming into San Diego harbor. The
> >naviation
> >equipment breaks and the navigators have to fall back on algebra that
> they
> >had to
> >painfully reconstruct from years of disuse. But they did so (in a
> >distributed, collaborative fashion, of course). The ship did not crash.
> >
> >So without writing, without 2+2, what would it means to have education in
> >which
> >literacy (old fashioned defintion) and numeracy (old fashion defintion)
> were
> >known
> >to no one? I am TOTALLY in favor of the use of complex computational
> >simulation models as a basic (dare i use the word?) tool for education. I
> >think David's work on creating
> >simulations of professional practices is terrific. But the use of such
> tools
> >needs, I believe,
> >to be combined with an understanding of the principles upon which they
> are
> >based.
> >
> >We often say that development requires top down and bottom up processes
> to
> >work in
> >synergy with each other (a version of the dialectic of everyday and
> >scientific concepts in
> >Vygotsky). Complex simulations can be a terrific medium for accomplishing
> >this purpose.
> >But to advocate a form of enculturation that depents upon technologies
> which
> >no one knows how to regenerate strikes me as, minimally, risky as a
> general
> >strategy for human survival.
> >
> >None of the above negates the importance of the point that we cannot
> fully
> >understand a system we are inside of, nor can we get a view from nowhere.
> >Its mediation all the
> >way down. But the constituents of the human system of life are not all
> made
> >of the same stuff except at a level sufficiently micro that it is
> difficult
> >to see how to reason about human life in such terms.
> >
> >mike
> >
> >On 6/21/07, Jay Lemke <> wrote:
> >>
> >>
> >>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.
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>Jay Lemke
> >>Professor
> >>University of Michigan
> >>School of Education
> >>610 East University
> >>Ann Arbor, MI 48109
> >>
> >>Tel. 734-763-9276
> >>Email.
> >>Website. <>
> >>_______________________________________________
> >>xmca mailing list
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >_______________________________________________
> >xmca mailing list
> >
> >
> --
> Educational Studies
> University of Michigan
> 610 East University
> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
> Ph: 734-763-9276
> Fax: 734-936-1606
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Received on Fri Jun 22 11:15 PDT 2007

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