Re: [xmca] Copernicus 2.0 [toolforthoughts]

From: Elaine Parent <eparent who-is-at>
Date: Fri Jun 22 2007 - 13:01:02 PDT

On Jun 22, 2007, at 12:50 PM, Andrew Babson wrote:

> Prof. Lemke's thought below (emphasis in bold) made me think of an
> article I recently read by Paul Goodman, in the NY Review of Books,
> from 1966.
>> 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. *
> Here's the link to the abstract:
> article-preview?article_id=12302 .
> It makes me think of the concept of "locus of control"- a highly
> relevant topic for my research into the possibilities of digital
> learning technologies for rural South African schools. There is a
> balance here between harnessing the power of agentive objects to be
> acted upon (technologies) to do more than you could do (alone and/
> or otherwise) and feeling /overcome/ by the technology. In the SA
> case: great, this technology can help youth and adults learn the
> foundations of literacy in multiple languages, esp. English,
> outside of the classroom; on the other hand, people feel put upon
> to learn how to speak English (a technology in itself) and use a
> computer just so they can get a job.
> Thanks to Victor Kobayashi for introducing me to the work of
> Goodman, whose ideas about technology, education, sexuality, and
> the emotional aspects of learning and teaching were, it seems to
> me, controversial at the time but still highly relevant now.
> All best,
> Andrew
>> 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. <>
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Received on Fri Jun 22 12:59 PDT 2007

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