Re: [xmca] Copernicus 2.0 [toolforthoughts]

From: Jay Lemke <jaylemke who-is-at>
Date: Sun Jun 24 2007 - 18:18:02 PDT

Thanks to everyone who chimed in on these issues.

Mike's question remains basic: what knowledge and
for whom? regardless of whether we are talking
about the old literacies and numeracies or the
new ones, there are two principles at work in our
society. One is the division of labor: not
everyone needs to know everything, so long as
enough people know the various pieces of our
complex puzzle. The other, however, is class
division: to reserve some kinds of knowledge to
people who can use them to exploit others who are denied real access.

But I don't think we should confuse these two
perspectives. Knowledge is both for-use and
for-power in our society. I am reminded of
Ruqaiya Hasan's criticism of Bourdieu for so
beautifully articulating the very real "symbolic
power" of discourses (and even accents), but
somehow forgetting that discourses are not valued
on the market ONLY by their relations to power,
but also by their functional utility. (Not that
these two are completely separable, of course,
but they are analytically distinct and we need to think about both.)

So where is the power, Tony? NewsCorp is off
buying up MySpace, but that's a lot harder to
control ideologically than is a newspaper or
broadcast market. What will persuade the most
people in an election: a lot of critical
editorials, or more movies like Fahrenheit 911?
Or, I think, more voices from one's online peer
networks, working toward some sort of consensus
in an affinity group? The old literacies are
wonderful for persuading people who are steeped
in them, as we are, but we are a tiny fraction of
the world's population, or even the US's. Make
everyone like us so that we can all engage in
literate rational discourse? I think that's now
become a romantic and unrealistic dream. We do
not yet know how political or scientific
argumentation in new media will differ from that
in old media. Science at least is doing more and
more with the new media. Research groups are
exchanging their simulation models, and others
are trying out various test scenarios in them. Of
course we still look at the program code, and we
still translate into mathematics (but not when
it's too complicated to bother), and we still
publish print articles ... but cutting edge
science articles are heavy on the visuals, and in
fields where dynamics matters, no print argument
will replace a running simulation. In computer
science, the proof is always in a program that
actually runs and does what is claimed.

There is a wonderful essay, and hypertext, you
may know, called Socrates in the Labyrinth, that
investigates some of the philosophical and
rhetorical issues of hypertext as a medium for
argumentation. Compared to traditional text,
there are advantages and disadvantages. The same
is true for simulation-based persuasion or
in-gameworld-like rhetorics. We cannot say today
that the old forms of textual argumentation are
the high point of human history. They are not,
they are being superseded, or at least they are
being incorporated, embedded, within larger
rhetorical spaces and more diverse media.

I don't think it is at all true that interactive
media, or hypermedia, or video- or immersive-
media are inherently less _critical_ than text in
print. I have made some arguments about this that
have been slow in getting published (see my
website for my Valencia paper, or a shorter
reprise in my Pavia paper) that suggest that
multimedia may have greater critical potential
than text, and such arguments have also been made
for hypermedia. The key idea is that the
incommensurability of media make it easier to
deconstruct arguments through the lack of perfect
fit between say text and images, and that
nonlinear (non unicursal) media make it harder to
lead a reader down the garden path ... their
being many paths, with longer-scale construction
of relationships as dependent on reader choices as on writer skill.

Be that as it may, post-textual is hardly
post-literate and certainly not post-critical. I
think we often underestimate the critical
dimension of popular culture media because we
analyze only the media themselves, and their
dominant or most-probable readings, and not how
people actually do read them, respond to them,
etc. Media studies and literary criticism for
that matter have not paid very much attention to
readers. We certainly ought to know, whether from
Peirce or from CHAT, that meaning does not inhere
in text or signs apart from interpretation, use,
and re-appropriation. And it's a lot easier to
re-approrpriate what you can understand in the first place!

Still, as Mike says, WHO is going to get the new
literacies? for one thing, they are NOT being
taught in schools, and by and large schools are
our most effective way of insuring that knowledge
gets passed preferentially to the children of the
upper middle class. So there is a window of
opportunity in that sense. Of course, we have
other ways of controlling the distribution of
knowledge and skills, such as the cost of the
material infrastructure (for multimedia, for
simulations, for fast and effective web access,
for videogames), and of course the habitus or
disposition to WANT to acquire. But again, the
fact that schools are so out of synch helps here,
not tainting the new media with the curse of
being 'school stuff'. And while there are already
class-divisions in such mass media as computer or
video games (i.e. in the software, not just the
cost of hardware), much of the underlying literacies are the same. So far.

How do we encourage these literacies for the
otherwise disenfranchised? At a very basic level,
the commercial producers are already doing this
for us. They know how to use erotics, violence,
sexism, appeals to macho, etc. to market them.
That still leaves quite a gap to ecosystem and
climate change simulators or nonfiction
transmedia on a social class basis. Mike's 5th
Dimension project has shown for a long time
various ways in which the judicious use of
Wizards, social solidarity, cross-age interaction
around learning, and a mix of fun/play and useful
learning (largely forbidden in school as a part
of its middle class bias) can bridge the gap at
some critical age levels. Personally, I don't
think we will succeed in bridging it further
until we also lift the taboo on sexual eroticism
as a dimension of learning, and perhaps with it
on depictions of violence, and a few other middle
class Victorian taboos. I realize this is a
scandalous point of view, and I don't mean it to
apply only to working class students, though it
does apply more significantly to male students
(who are doing worse and worse in school compared
to females, as often noted). I am not sure what
the right formula for girls is, or particularly
for working class girls. Someone else can
probably tell us. What I refuse to believe is the
male and middle class shibboleths that the ideal
educational methods and media ought to be the
same across classes, or across genders. The needs
are different enough and the dispositions are
different enough that it seems more likely to me
that standard middle class liberal doctrine is
here part of the problem, not the solution (cf.
the well-known arguments of Lisa Delpit).

If we want to see a fundamental change in the
distribution of knowledge/access, we need to see
things done that have long been taboo. Taboos
exist to support the status quo. If the taboos
can be broken for the sake of corporate profits,
why the hell can't they be broken for the sake of social justice?


At 02:55 PM 6/22/2007, you wrote:
>Mike raises here the concern I have with what
>Jay says about literacy. Of course, Jay uses
>modifiers so he's literally saying only that
>_obsolete_ literacy is obsolete -- not all
>literacy, or literacy in general -- but the rhetoric is more sweeping.
>Here's how I was thinking about the concern I think I share with Mike:
>It seems to me that Jay's world is a world where
>Rupert Murdoch wins. Without the literacy to
>write critically, as Jay does, and to read
>critical writers like Jay, we are being swept
>away in systerms that too few people are aware
>of (from any vantage point), much less able to do anything about.
>Jay suggested Bakhtin's notion of answerability
>as an alternative to what's becoming obsolete.
>Maybe I would understand better, Jay, if you
>could say a bit more about the differentiation
>that you're making here, and what you see as the
>promise of answerability. Or am I putting too much weight on that suggestion?
>On Fri, 22 Jun 2007, Mike Cole wrote:
>>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
>>>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
>>>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
>>> >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
>>> >lost
>>> >or is to be found only in one place and the superstructure of
>>> >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
>>> >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)
>>> >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
>>> >needs, I believe,
>>> >to be combined with an understanding of the principles upon which they
>>> >based.
>>> >
>>> >We often say that development requires top down and bottom up processes
>>> >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
>>> >no one knows how to regenerate strikes me as, minimally, risky as a
>>> >strategy for human survival.
>>> >
>>> >None of the above negates the importance of the point that we cannot
>>> >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
>>> >of the same stuff except at a level sufficiently micro that it is
>>> >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
>>> >>
>>> >>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" Š 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
>>> >>
>>> >>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
>>xmca mailing list
>Tony Whitson
>UD School of Education
>NEWARK DE 19716
>"those who fail to reread
> are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
> -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
>xmca mailing list

Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
Website. <>
xmca mailing list
Received on Sun Jun 24 18:22 PDT 2007

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