15.469 minds and bodies

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty (w.mccarty@btinternet.com)
Date: Thu Jan 24 2002 - 02:35:51 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 469.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Thu, 24 Jan 2002 07:32:58 +0000
             From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com>
             Subject: Re: 15.467 minds and bodies


    Thanks for sending Charles's enormously stimulating post.

    Just on one point:

    At 03:52 AM 1/23/02, you wrote:
    >That is: somewhat as Pirsig wrote convincingly in his famous _Zen
    >and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance_, _contra_ the romantics who believe
    >we are more genuine and more genuinely in touch with "nature" when we strip
    >away our technologies - at least up to a point, it seems to me that these
    >technologies indeed help us expand (sometimes dramatically) our sense of
    >connection with a larger world. At least insofar as they are designed along
    >"Engelbartian" lines - i.e., precisely so as to minimize the sense of
    >"interface" between user and machine by devoting as much computational
    >resources as possible to help the machine "fit" the natural/cultural human
    >ways of knowing and acting in the world as embodied beings and kinesthetic

    Of course, this fitting goes both ways; it is not just the machine that is
    fitted to us, but we who become fitted to the machine. Every user of a Palm
    Pilot who has learned their "Graffiti" letter-shapes knows about this, as
    do the rest of us if we haven't forgotten ... Palm cracked the handheld
    market open when it realized that it was far easier for them to ask human
    users to reprogram her- or himself to write according to a set of specified
    constraints, than it was to engineer even tolerably robust
    handwriting-recognition software on a small platform -- and that the
    relation of benefits to costs, even given this cost (which admittedly is
    hidden to most technophiles), was such that users would go for this.
    Accordingly, every new user of a Palm Pilot goes through a period where
    they are, in effect, helping to configure the user interface by learning to
    write Graffiti.

    But we have all done this. I can touch-type without thinking, as I'm sure
    can most readers of this post. Hopefully, I *am* thinking -- but hopefully
    not about the typing. In taking command of any technology, any craft or
    skill, we have to go through a period of looking *at* the technology, until
    it becomes familiar enough that we can forget, internalize, start looking
    through it. This process is, I submit, part of any learning. The problem of
    user interface design is not, therefore, an either/or problem -- is the
    machine fit to the user, yes or no -- except at the extremes. Between,
    there's a wide fuzzy grey band, wherein one can find, in fact, most user
    interfaces, which only work sort of.

    The work of coming to mastery is not done when we become aware of the
    working of the machine and the uses to which it is put, but only when we so
    take that working for granted that we forget it, just as we know how to
    walk or speak without thinking about it. A good technology is one that you
    can learn and then quickly forget you have learned it. (Let's hope, while
    that happens, that you do so out of choice, wary of whatever new
    dependencies it introduces.) A bad one is one you have to keep learning.
    Yes, then the machine becomes transparent; and we can, yes, if we are not
    taken with whatever distortions and delusions it may then flash like banner
    ads on the screens of our awareness, look through it to see the world in a
    new way.

    This suggests that "body" is the part we know well enough to have forgotten
    it, "mind" is the part that we don't yet know, but are struggling with --
    "consciousness" is only related to knowing in a complex way: it is not
    knowing but rather what happens when (as) we stand face to face with our
    not-yet-knowing. Mind-and-body, exactly.

    Writing as a stimulated apprentice of my own partial knowing,

    Wendell Piez mailto:wapiez@mulberrytech.com
    Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
    17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
    Suite 207 Phone: 301/315-9631
    Rockville, MD 20850 Fax: 301/315-8285
        Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML

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