RE: [xmca] Material cognition

From: David H Kirshner <dkirsh who-is-at>
Date: Tue Oct 30 2007 - 10:45:56 PDT


Not sure I can speak to the latter part of your question, however, in
recent years tacit knowledge--and more spectacularly, tacit
learning--has made considerable headway in mainstream psychology within
the "implicit learning" paradigm. In the first study in this paradigm
Arthur Reber (1967) exposed subjects to multiple instances of apparently
random stimuli, that actually were generated by a complex mathematical
algorithm. He demonstrated that subjects are able to exploit
regularities in the task domain, without awareness that they had learned

His work in this genre languished for almost two decades before it was
picked up as an important window into cognitive functioning (see Stadler
& Frensch, 1997, for a review). In my opinion, this hiatus reflects the
grounding of mainstream cognitive science in dualist framings that
assume intellectual skills are rooted in conscious representations.
Toward the mid-1980s, as cognitive science's underlying assumptions were
becoming more subject to critique, the significance of Reber's findings
could be better appreciated. (Reber's, 1993, own summation of this genre
interprets implicit learning in terms of connectionist architectures
that resist many classical assumptions of cognitive science.)

What is interesting is the continuing fetishizing that goes on around
the question of just how tacit is this learning (e.g., Berry, 1997).
There has been momentous energy invested in showing at least a hint of
conscious recognition of some underlying structure (lest we become too
far removed from the authority of consciousness).


        Berry, D.C. (Ed.) (1997). How implicit is implicit learning?.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
        Mathews, R. C. (in press). Implicit learning: Attacking the
authoritarian view of mind. Contemporary Psychology.
        Reber, A. S. (1967). Implicit learning of artificial grammars.
Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 6, 855-863.
        Reber, A. S. (1993). Implicit learning and tacit knowledge: An
essay on the cognitive unconscious (Oxford Psychology Series No. 19).
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; New York: Clarendon Press.
        Stadler, M. A., & Frensch, P. A. (Eds.) (1997). Handbook of
implicit learning. Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

-----Original Message-----
From: []
On Behalf Of Martin Packer
Sent: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 10:01 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Material cognition

Once again a thread on XMCA has intersected with something I'm currently
working on. I'm feeling stupid, so let me just throw out a question,
provocative, perhaps dumb. How do we reconcile the fact that tacit
is undoubtedly important but neglected by much mainstream research (and
devalued in society) with the suggestion that participation in the
of modern society leads to MISunderstanding how that society works
consciousness, alienation, etc.)?


> All of these hover around my central interest, which is the often
> (sometimes called "tacit") knowledge that people working develop and
> about how to get the work done. For example: a class which we have
> asked to teach in November will take place at a plant where the
workers are
> represented by the grainmillers' union. This is an old plant. Under
> original management, the workers essentially ran the plant -- they had
> knowledge and the means to run the plant efficiently and safely. Then
> plant was sold and new management came in. This new management took an
> adversarial position against the union and attempted to take over
control of
> the work without fully understanding how it was done (without
exploring the
> social practices related to the working knowledge of the plant?). A
> non-productive culture developed. Now another new management has taken
> and this new management has gone to the union and together they have
> approached us to teach a class to the supervisors that is essentially
> getting them to respect the working material knowledge that the
workers have
> developed. "Leave us alone and we'll run the plant better than you can
> do it," the union is saying.

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