RE: [Possible SPAM] Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [xmca]Copernicus, Darwinand Bohr

From: Michael Glassman <MGlassman who-is-at>
Date: Thu Jun 28 2007 - 10:32:58 PDT

Martin and others,

I'm hoping to draw this discussion around back to the article "toolforthoughts" because that's why I actually started writing this. I think one of the basic points of the article has profound consequences, and is actually something I have raised in a couple of recent presentations. First, if you will bear with me, I want to start with a short, personal story.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the Chicago Historical Society Museum. They have this really interesting room where you start will Louie Sullivan, move to Jane Addams and Hull House and then on to John Dewey. Louie Sullivan, who I am coming to see as one of the heroic figures in changing how we look at the world, was the one to not only suggest, but to act upon the notion, "Form Follows Function." I don't know if he could have pursued this idea if he wasn't an architect because I think you really need some concrete architecture to explore and explain it. As I walked around to Hull House and Dewey I started to recognize that this was the idea that they were working with, form follows function, and began to wonder why this wasn't a mantra for all social sciences. Let's face it, in many respects it has fallen out of favor. And it struck me it is because there really was no architecture to explore and explain it.

That is until now, virtual space offers this type of architecture for the first time. I think Shaffer and Clinton are trying to make this point, that this new architecture allows us the dynamic tools to explore how, in knowledge development form follows function. As a matter of fact they make that very point on pg. 293 "A theory of distributed mind thus proposes that the fundamental unit of analysis for cognition is the systemic effects of individual toolforthoughts - that is, the particular forms of social interaction they foster."

Now to explain this they use Dewey, in particular his ideas on humans' relationship with nature, in which humans, instruments (I think using tools as their identifier might have been a mistake - but they needed to do it for other theoretical reasons.) But I think the important factor here is that thinking occurs in action and can only be recognized in purposeful action, and that in this purposeful action human, instrument, and nature are inseparable, fluid, and dynamic, and constantly changing in relation to the changing context. It is hard to know how far Shaffer and Clinton would like to go with the implications of this because they only lightly reference Dewey, but mostly only Hickman talking about Dewey and technology (I am pretty sure how far Hickman wanted to go with the implications of this). What needs to be recognized in this scenario is that there is no way to separate yourself out from the thinking as action, to reify it as a static entity so that is can be critiqued. I might suggest that this is an act of maintenance - maintenance of a specific way of thinking counter posed to what is being critiqued. In other words critiquing in this scenario does not really move the action being critiqued, but creates both a dualism between thought and action and occurs for purposes that are different from the purposes of the action being critiqued.

To go to your examples of the Frankfurt school (both first and third generation) - at least the first generation was critiquing capitalism as being highly susceptible to authoritarianism and ideology (was Marx's theory really a critique of capitalism - I know the Frankfurt school posed it that way, but did Marx really mean it that way. I don't know enough about Marx to know for sure - but I thought he was more interested in the evolution of labor, taking a more dynamic view). But the way I see it the first generation critiqued capitalism in order to counter pose communism as a utopia where you did not have to fear the emergence of the authoritarian personality - in other words turning capitalism in to a reified, static concept. But because it turned in to a critique did it really have as much impact as it should have (and here I see critic and critique being perhaps closer than you suggest). It is because of this static nature of the critique of capitalism that Fromm broke away from the Frankfurt school (although some might say that Adorno kicked him out), at least partially under the influence of Dewey's work, changing the static notion of capitalism to the more dynamic, fluid notion of consumerism, where you could really not separate out the instruments of capitalism, from humans, from the relationship to nature. Anyway, the question becomes, is critical thinking really part of the evolution of knowledge, or is it more about the maintenance of certain ideas as I have suggested.

But getting back to the article, I think one of the reasons this more dynamic perspective on knowledge evolution had such a difficult time is that while you could reify and create notations for things like critique "I don't like A because of B" (similar to Shaffer and Clinton's discussion of notating mathematics or science) you never really had any way of really exploring knowledge evolution of a dynamic force - until now, until this virtual space, and we should not become stuck in old habits about the need to reify and categorize knowledge.

Sorry this was so long. I hope it made sense.


-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Martin Packer
Sent: Thursday, June 28, 2007 8:08 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Possible SPAM] Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [xmca]Copernicus, Darwinand Bohr


Critique is not criticism; your colleague was confused.

For Kant, the purpose of critique was to investigate the conditions for the
possibility of some phenomenon.

Marx's critique of capitalism showed that one of the conditions for this
kind of economy is the extraction of value from workers' labor. Since then,
critique has also involved a sensitivity to inequity and exploitation.

So for Horkheimer the purpose of critique was łto liberate human beings from
the circumstances that enslave them.˛

For Habermas critique has meant, amongst other things, questioning the claim
that the natural sciences are disinterested in their pursuit of technical

For Foucault, critique "is no longer going to be practiced in the search for
formal structures with universal value, but rather as a historical
investigation into the events that have led us to constitute ourselves and
to recognize ourselves as subjects of what we are doing, thinking, saying."

Close to what Vygotsky was doing, no?


On 6/27/07 3:37 PM, "Michael Glassman" <> wrote:

> Just to throw an idea out there, but what really is the purpose of an action
> such as critique? Actually what is critique? Is it to enhance problem
> solving or is it to control information? Is anything really ever created out
> of critique - or is critique an instrument of maintenance? (My favorite
> quote from college, although I don't know how appropriate it is to the
> conversation - "When a critic turns around he see a eunuch's shadow.") Isn't
> more progress accomplished through experimentation? And isn't the evolution
> of experimentation more a process of failure, recalibration, and further
> experimentation?
> Michael
> ________________________________
> From: on behalf of Vera Steiner
> Sent: Wed 6/27/2007 4:22 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [xmca]
> Copernicus,Darwinand Bohr
> Martin,
> I just want to express my agreement with the distinctions you have
> drawn. They seem very valuable in the context of this discussion,
> Vera
> Martin Packer wrote:
>> Hi Lois,
>> The attention to tools, and tool-mediated activity, is obviously important,
>> and I wouldn't want to discard it. My concern is that other dimensions or
>> areas of life are neglected. Whether it's Habermas' triad of instrumental
>> action, communicative action, and emancipatory action... Or Foucault's
>> attention to three arenas: games of truth (knowledge), power relations
>> (politics), and care of the self (ethics)... there are aspects other than
>> the mode of production which was central to Marx. (That's not to say they
>> were of no interest to Marx, but they didn't take center stage.) Attention
>> to these would surely enrichen our view of thinking. The third
>> dimension/arena in particular draws attention to thinking as critique,
>> rather than thinking as construction of knowledge or as instrumental
>> planning, or as pragmatic tool use. Critique can surely still be
>> distributed, but it involves more than smoothly using a tool, or skillfully
>> playing a computer game. Do we want our kids to play games well, or to be
>> able to change the game, or to design new games, or to reflect on the
>> culture that celebrates these games...? Does the distinction you make
>> between tool for result and tool-and-result help me figure all this out?
>> martin
>> On 6/26/07 3:05 PM, "Lois Holzman" <> wrote:
>>> I wonder if sharing what I thought of as I read this discussion might be
>>> useful. One question is, are you both talking about tools in their
>>> instrumental sense? What about the distinction between tool for result and
>>> tool-and-result (stemming from Vygotsky's search for method being
>>> simultaneously the tool and the result of study, which I and others have
>>> found important in understanding developmental and learning activity).
>>> Related to that is understanding people as not only tool users but tool
>>> makers. Add to that that we are creaters We create something other out of
>>> what exists, including entirely new kinds of tools.
>>> Is that consistent with what's being described here? If how I see it is even
>>> remotely like it is meant, then a diverse grouping (including many different
>>> levels of expertise
>>>> From: Michael Glassman <>
>>>> Reply-To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
>>>> Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2007 14:36:38 -0400
>>>> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
>>>> Conversation: [Possible SPAM] Re: [xmca] Copernicus, Darwin and Bohr
>>>> Subject: RE: [Possible SPAM] Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [xmca] Copernicus,
>>>> Darwinand Bohr
>>>> Martin
>>>> Why this distinction between expert and novice? What does it really buy
>>>> us?
>>>> And who gets to make the distinction? It seems to me in an expert/novice
>>>> scenario all power lies in the hands of those who get to make this
>>>> distinction
>>>> on whatever level, and get to define the two classes. Take a look at the
>>>> political class in the United States, we define experts as those who have
>>>> the
>>>> right cultural capital, wear the right type of ties and suits, who speak in
>>>> somber, modulated voices with a weary sigh of resignation, suggesting "of
>>>> course you cannot see what I can see, but trust me."
>>>> This is not to say every generation starts from scratch. Every generation
>>>> starts with the tools that they have, but then they figure out how to use
>>>> those tools to solve what invariably must be new problems, or they develop
>>>> new
>>>> tools out of the old tools. Let's say we have a set of spears we use to
>>>> hunt
>>>> food. There are great spear throwers who use those spears and teach others
>>>> to
>>>> use them as well. Their "expertise" in spear throwing gives them great
>>>> power
>>>> within the community. But things change, and the spears that were once
>>>> used
>>>> on larger animals are not as good for smaller animals. Are the spear
>>>> throwers
>>>> going to give up their place in the community as "experts?" Or are they
>>>> going
>>>> to say, well if we just wait, or if we use the spear in a different way, or
>>>> it
>>>> is the fault of our lazy children who do not train in spear throwing the
>>>> way
>>>> previous generations did. Meanwhile the food supply dwindles for the
>>>> community. A young person examines the spear and says, hmmm, the arrow
>>>> head
>>>> pierces the skin but it cannot reach the skin with these new animals that
>>>> we
>>>> hunt. Perhaps I can create something else - a bow and arrow perhaps. But
>>>> she
>>>> is not an expert. Who, in a hierarchical system of knowledge development
>>>> would listen and adopt the work of this young innovator? This is always
>>>> the
>>>> danger of a heirarchical system of knowledge development.
>>>> In a more lateral system of development information is everything. As a
>>>> species were are problem solvers, but our problem solving is based on the
>>>> easy
>>>> access and flow of information. I just read the most fascinating article
>>>> by
>>>> the economist Amriyat (sp?) Sen. In it he talks about famine. He makes a
>>>> really good argument that famine is almost never about food. There is
>>>> always
>>>> enough food even in some of the major famines of the twentieth century. It
>>>> is
>>>> about the lack of capability for getting to the food. At its core the lack
>>>> of
>>>> information as a tool in obtaining this basic human function. What else is
>>>> there other than information. When we define information as static and
>>>> give
>>>> it value separate from the problems we are working on, isn't that when we
>>>> find
>>>> the most trouble, have the most difficulties in problems solving?
>>>> I watch my son play his World of Warcraft game. I wish I knew more about
>>>> it.
>>>> But I see him adapting and recalibrating constantly, developing strategies
>>>> and
>>>> processes that see incredible to me. It is a virtual world in which there
>>>> are
>>>> no "experts." The world and my son and the other players co-exist.
>>>> I don't know if I've done such a good job trying to explore this. Perhaps
>>>> a
>>>> problem that needs greater consideration.
>>>> Michael
>>>> ________________________________
>>>> From: on behalf of Martin Packer
>>>> Sent: Tue 6/26/2007 2:04 PM
>>>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>>> Subject: [Possible SPAM] Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [xmca] Copernicus,
>>>> Darwinand
>>>> Bohr
>>>> Michael, you would have each generation start on their own, from scratch?
>>>> No
>>>> experts, just novices? That really is a post-apocalyptic vision!
>>>> My point was there is more to life (and education) than "functioning" and
>>>> "information." The danger with the tool metaphor, and the emphasis on
>>>> artifacts as tools, is that they reduce all of life to the production
>>>> process. That is not just a conceptual mistake, it is a political agenda.
>>>> To
>>>> argue that thinking is not important, only tool use, is not to argue
>>>> against
>>>> formalization, it is to promote a purely instrumental conception of human
>>>> action and interaction. It is to promote an extreme version of the division
>>>> of labor, in which only a tiny elite get to think about the nature of
>>>> thinking, and everyone else is simply using tools skillfully but
>>>> thoughtlessly.
>>>> On 6/26/07 12:40 PM, "Michael Glassman" <> wrote:
>>>>> But if this information is so important, and it exists as part of the
>>>>> problem
>>>>> solving tools of humanity, don't we trust humans to discover it through
>>>>> their
>>>>> own activities?
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