15.453 metaphors of education and research

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty (w.mccarty@btinternet.com)
Date: Tue Jan 15 2002 - 02:23:32 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 453.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois
    Lachance) (37)
             Subject: Scheffler's rival metaphors

       [2] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (32)
             Subject: empirical and imperial

             Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2002 07:13:22 +0000
             From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
             Subject: Scheffler's rival metaphors


    Some time ago, I promised, if no other subscribers had time or
    inclination, to take up Israel Scheffler's "rival metaphors" with which he
    concludes his 1985 presentation "Computers at School?" (collected in _In
    Praise of the Cognitive Emotions_, 1991). I thought I would follow through
    on the promise before the commencement of the year of the horse soon to be
    upon us.

    I ask your forbearance for a post with longish bits of quotation.

    Scheffler is reacting against what he considers to be a computer-model
    based on the notion of "information". He summarizes and characterizes the
    notion of information thus:

    A prevalent public image of the computer is, surely, that of an
    information processor. Information comes in discrete bits, each expressing
    a factual datum. Data may be entered and stored in the computer's memory,
    retrieved from memory, and processed in simple or complex ways according
    to various programs, which instruct the computer exactly what functions to
    perform. These functions are in the nature of algorithms, specifying
    determinately how the data are to be transformed. The human operator
    determines that the solution to his problem might be computed by program
    from input data, punches in his instructions to the machine to instituted
    the relevant program, and eventually sees the solution displayed on the
    screen before him.

    As well as the traces of gender-coding, one finds here the vocabulary
    associated with main frames and terminals (e.g. "operators" and
    "punching"). What I want to emphasize here is that some 20 years ago, not
    withstanding the incursion of images personal computers, such as the Apple
    McIntosh, upon the popular imagination. the debate about computers in the
    classroom invoked a dichotomy which depicted the human as flexible and the
    machine as being set in its configurations. I want to suggest that there
    is now a set of players on the human side of the machine-human interaction
    that can be figured as possessing an expertise lying between the
    "operator" of the maching and the "programmer". As well more people
    think beyond and around the image of a single machine. The network is
    a key element in the representation of computers in popular culture.

    I turn now to Scheffler's three rival metaphors: insight, equipping, rule
    model. The insight model "speaks not of information but of insight and
    perception, vision and illumination, intuition of nuance and pattern,
    grasp of overtone and undertone. [This sounds very much like Seymour
    Papert's work with children learning to programm with Logo -- Sherry
    Turkle's reporting on this in _The Second Self_ appeared in 1984.] The
    equipping model is contrasted with the information model in that it
    concerns "the forming or strengthening of abilities, the know-how
    commanded by a person, rather than the know-that, the capability to deal
    with the tasks and challenges of practice in the various domains of daily
    life." Finally, the rule metaphor "focuses on norms rather than
    capacities, on the pronenesses, likelihoods, tendencies, and dispositions
    of a person rather than what he _can_ do."

    I wonder, if we put Scheffler's typology beside Turkle's musings about
    gendered-styles of human group interaction as reflected in human-computer
    interactions, if we cannot arrive at a model where the user and the
    programmer both are like the humanist who percieves (with or without the
    benefit of insight or the promise of arriving at a valuable insight), who
    applies knowledge (in the true ignorance of the tester of the
    hypothetical) and who judges self, result and apparatus (by the ever
    changing measures of rules negotiated in communication (computer-mediated
    and otherwise) with other judges, perceivers and applicators). It would
    then perhaps appear or be deemed to appear that the "information" model is
    incomplete without consideration of its articulation in a cybernetic (or
    general) system that takes as its fundamental premise the fungibility of
    data and program, instruction and state.

    Thanks for the air time,


    Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
    per Interactivity ad Virtuality via Textuality

             Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2002 07:16:07 +0000
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: empirical and imperial

    Two ironies, or two stories that perhaps share an irony.

    Years ago an old friend, a scholar of Mongolian and Chinese, told me that
    he had received notice of publication of the first index ever to be made to
    an old Chinese encyclopedia. (I am sorry to have forgotten the name of the
    reference work.) Excited by the prospect at first, he was intending on
    purchasing this index -- he used the encyclopedia quite frequently and, as
    anyone who knows a bit about the language will understand immediately,
    always spent quite a bit of time looking around in the book for whatever it
    was that he wanted. In the end, however, he decided not to buy the index.
    He reflected that nearly every time he took up the book, he found in the
    process of looking for whatever thing it was something else unexpected and
    far more interesting than the original object of enquiry. Having the index
    would be just too tempting for the busy scholar.

    Greg Dening, in "The Randy and Imperial Eye" (Readings/Writings, Melbourne,
    1998), quotes the historian David Miller's account of a contemporary's
    amazement at walking into the estate office of Joseph Banks in late
    Hannoverian London:

    "'There is a catalogue of names and subjects in every drawer so that
    whether the enquiry concerned a man or drainage, or an enclosure, or a farm
    or a wood, the request was scarce named before a mass of information was
    before me. Such an apartment and such an apparatus must be of incomparable
    use in the management of every great estate or indeed in any
    circumstance.'" Then Dening goes on to note: "It is the retrievability to
    purpose that makes knowledge empirical -- and imperial.... At the end of
    the twentieth century, when the hardest of the sciences and the softest of
    the humanities are preoccupied with copyrights, patents and economic
    rationalism, we might have a better understanding of how visions of science
    are subject to empires of many sorts" (pp. 82f).

    The above suggests a number of things, and I think the moral is not hard to
    find. One thing it suggests to me is part of what continues to bother me
    about "big humanities" research: paying the piper. There's of course the
    (mis)use of research results for purposes to which the original researchers
    would never have agreed, but there's also the effective shaping of research
    directions by the trail of money that we feel ourselves forced by
    circumstances to follow. I don't wish to suggest that we can be pure. Of
    course we cannot. But, being humanists, are we not obliged to ask
    questions? And, getting back to the first story, are we also not obliged to
    compare what the machined efficiences do against what unassisted human ways
    lead to?


    Dr Willard McCarty / Centre for Computing in the Humanities /
    King's College London / Strand / London WC2R 2LS / U.K. /
    voice: +44 (0)20 7848-2784 / fax: +44 (0)20 7848-2980 /
    ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/ maui gratias agere

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