RE: [xmca] Problem solving and expertise

From: Michael Glassman <MGlassman who-is-at>
Date: Sat Jun 30 2007 - 14:43:07 PDT

Looked at the video - it was pretty cute. Is the girl (and how about the guy?) on the video solving a problem. Sure, why else would they be doing it? What is their problem? I couldn't tell you for sure, because I don't have enough information. They are not teaching me how to crazy fold a shirt, because again, they don't really give me enough information (though perhaps enough information to start experimenting - but hey I can't fold a shirt the normal way). Is their goal to simply fold the shirt? Perhaps, though then why put it on Google. If I were going to make a guess it would be that they are trying to get as many Google hits as possible. And the reason I would think this is because I have enough information to know that individuals in Asia can actually become stars based on where they are ranked in Google hits.
What is the tool - again I far prefer instrument to tool - well it would be the shirt folding technique, just like if I was trying to develop something beautiful out of paper oragami might be an instrument. The big question is - is this person an expert at shirt folding, or an expert at getting many hits on Google. The second is easier to answer - just because you are able to create one video with many hits does not mean you are going to create another video at another time with many hits. Yet people might hire the makers as consultants anyway, and we might see a thousand more Google videos on clothes folding. As to he first, well they are able to fold those shirts in those particular conditions, but would I call them an expert on clothes folding? When I lived in a rural village in India many years ago they used to take the clothes down to the river to wash them and then dry them there. They would fold them before they brought them home. They would pull the clothes right off the line and fold them in a couple of swings, very different from the video. But there was no place to put the clothes down without them getting diry again. So you tell me, is the girl in the video an expert at folding shirts.
Would I want her to fly an airplane. Well if it was a choice between me and her I think I would choose her. I somehow associate clothes folding with the ability to fly a plane.


From: on behalf of Cunningham, Donald James
Sent: Sat 6/30/2007 4:11 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [xmca] Problem solving and expertise

Michael (and others),

Is the person in this video solving a problem? Or put another way, is it
useful to think about this from the perspective of solving a problem?

Is she an expert? Using a tool (or a technology)? Is there a distinction
between the first person to come up with this and those who use it? Is
there a qualitative difference here between this video and flying an

I'm really struggling to put into some coherent perspective all of the
terms buzzing on my screen: tools, thinking, experts, problem solving.

Don Cunningham

Indiana University

Ancora Imparo!

From: []
On Behalf Of Michael Glassman
Sent: Saturday, June 30, 2007 1:57 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [Possible SPAM] Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [xmca]
Copernicus,Darwinand Bohr

Well, more related to information than to knowledge I suppose. Relating
back to your earlier message - if as humans we are not problem solvers,
then what are we? The way I look at it now, if our actions are not to
solve a problem, then they are being manipulated to solve somebody
else's problem. And the degree to which we are able to solve problems,
or understand that we are being manipulated to solve other people's
problems is dependent on informaton, use of it, and more importantly
control of it. If I can control information I can limit your ability to
solve a problem, or for you to even know that you have a problem.
Whether you actually do solve a problem is another issue. Recently I
have been reading the capability approach of Amartya Sen. He suggested
that many times oppressed individuals create the illusion they are happy
and don't have problems because they feel they have to do so to protect
community and those who are oppressing them (Friere makes a similar
argument from another direction I think). The more they lack
information, the greater the possibility of this happening. For
example, individuals from poorer regions actually report lower morbidity
and ill health than individuals from regions with greater health and
access to health care.

Maybe the idea of expert was developed precisely to control information
in a heirarchical fashion. It's hard for me to see how you can have
experts that are not related to information. Or how you can have human
action that is not in some way related to problem solving.

And in following the new and worthwhile admonition to link - here is a
link to some of Sen's ideas on social choice for those who might be



From: on behalf of Lois Holzman
Sent: Sat 6/30/2007 12:32 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [xmca]
Copernicus,Darwinand Bohr

How come all the examples of experts are connected to knowledge?

> From: Michael Glassman <>
> Reply-To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
> Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2007 23:18:18 -0400
> To: <>, "eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity"
> <>
> Conversation: [Possible SPAM] Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [xmca]
> Darwinand Bohr
> Subject: RE: [Possible SPAM] Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [xmca]
> Darwinand Bohr
> But the argument the other way around is that when you have an
> expert you also have a hierarchy, and you give the knowledge of that
> identified expert some a priori higher worth. And again, I would ask,
> would be the person to identify the expert? We have financial experts
> invest our money for us, but for many you could do just as well
tossing darts
> at a board. You have international experts who tell us how to handle
> difficult international situations - and get us in to brutal wars with
no end.
> If you are in a birthing room with a nurse and a doctor, and the
doctor tells
> you that you must have a C-section right now, and the nurse tells you
that you
> should wait who do you listen to? Who gets listened to? If you go to
> brilliant Park Avenue heart doctor and he tells you that you need to
have a
> double bypass, and you go to a homeopathic doctor in a four floor walk
up in
> Brooklyn who tells you that you would do better with diet or
excercise, which
> is the right advice to choose?
> Of course the whole idea of expert is hard to shake loose. But the
truth is
> that we never know what the next problem, the next issue will be, so
how could
> anybody really be an expert at it? That doesn't mean we devalue the
> and knowledge individuals already have. When I raise the idea of
there being
> no experts to students they say, "Wouldn't you want a doctor who was
an expert
> operating on you?" I think from what I know of hospitals I would
rather have
> nurses that have not been overworked and an operating unit that works
> together - but if I thought about it I would rather have somebody who
> explain to me what they were going to do and help me make an informed
> than somebody who carried that label of expert surgeon.
> We don't all start denovo, but to use Pepper's description of
contextualism -
> we come to a river and we build a boat to cross. We will never come
to that
> river, at that crossing point, at that particular time again. We
always have
> to take that in to account when we meet the next crossing point. To
> our frailties and flaws, no matter how successful we may be been
> is to invite tragedy.
> Michael
> ________________________________
> From: on behalf of Mike Cole
> Sent: Wed 6/27/2007 10:51 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [xmca]
> Copernicus,Darwinand Bohr
> Hi Louise.
> I spend a lot of my time working on creating activities where
expertise is
> widely
> distributed across age, class, gender, etc. So the heterogeneity of
> expertise
> is important to me for many reasons. It is a wonderful generative
> of human life, or can be.
> But, to deny that in a domain specific way there are people who have
> attained a deep
> mastery of activities in that domain: abacus users, magicians, cooks,
> pre-school teachers,
> invites the idea that there is no differentiation, in general, to cope
> with life challenges.Next time
> you fly, ask yourself if you want to change places with the
> I fear that that way lies cultural nihilism and the idea that we all
> de novo. That is a very despairing
> view. Equal to the despair of the experts as unquestionable, context
> authorities, and not, as my son likes to remind
> me, drips under pressure.
> mike
> On 6/27/07, Louise Hawkins <> wrote:
>> I also find issue with the distinction between expert and novice, as
>> the expert has something to give and the novice something to receive.
>> How many times is it the student who poses a question that raises a
>> point that the 'expert' learns from?
>> Louise
>> ________________________________
>> From:
>> On Behalf Of Michael Glassman
>> Sent: Wednesday, 27 June 2007 04:37 AM
>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>> Subject: RE: [Possible SPAM] Re: [Possible SPAM] Re: [xmca]
>> Darwinand Bohr
>> Martin
>> Why this distinction between expert and novice? What does it really
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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?"
>> 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
>> in spear throwing the way previous generations did. Meanwhile the
>> supply dwindles for the community. A young person examines the spear
>> and says, hmmm, the arrow head pierces the skin but it cannot reach
>> 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
>> adopt the work of this young innovator? This is always the danger of
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> in obtaining this basic human function. What else is there other
>> 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
>> virtual world in which there are no "experts." The world and my son
>> 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" <>
>>> But if this information is so important, and it exists as part of
>> problem
>>> solving tools of humanity, don't we trust humans to discover it
>> through their
>>> own activities?
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