RE: [xmca] Explaining the construction of "real things" & "systems don't think"

From: Peter Smagorinsky <smago who-is-at>
Date: Mon Sep 03 2007 - 10:19:03 PDT

A classic:
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of
Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter,
and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that
though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute
it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking
his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it
-- "I refute it thus."
Boswell: Life

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Michael A. Evans
Sent: Monday, September 03, 2007 12:36 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [xmca] Explaining the construction of "real things" & "systems
don't think"

Dear All,

Despite it being early in the semester, my grad students have already
managed to stump me on two critical issues in a course I'm teaching on
computer supported collaborative learning <Syllabus:> paraphrase, students want satisfactory
responses to:

1. From a social constructivist ontology/epistemology how does one explain
"real things," like trees, buildings, and keys?

2. In a theory such as CHAT, how does one prevent the individual from being
"lost to the system or collective"?

As to crafting a response to the first question, I vaguely recall an article
that explained that a social constructivist position does not deny "obdurate
reality" but is concerned with meaning making - an example in the article
(if I recall correctly) had to do with "misplaced keys" - i.e., the question
is not whether the keys continue to exist (though being "out of sight") but
what it means in terms of "not having keys to unlock the front door"...I was
wondering if anyone was familiar with that article (or something equally

As for the second question, two interesting derivatives: a) students
strongly maintain that "systems can't think, only individuals can"; b) East
Asian students are more immediately comfortable with the notion of a
collective than US domestic students...again, I was wondering if there was a
reference I could use to help students (and myself) analyze this question,
agreeing to accept the notion of "group cognition" <Stahl (2006), Group
Cognition, MIT Press> without denying that the construct remains problematic
for many...


michael a. evans
assistant professor
306 war memorial hall (0313)
department of learning sciences & technologies
school of education
virginia tech  
phone: +1 540.231.3743
fax: +1 540.231.9075
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Received on Mon Sep 3 10:20 PDT 2007

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