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Subject:

RE: Thought/action ...

From:

"Terence Love" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

<[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 14 Nov 2000 22:33:03 +0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (288 lines)

Dear Tim, Rosan and all,

I feel that there is some confusion between terms and concepts, and the
objects, events and activities in the "real world" that they are used to
represent.

>From a pragmatic perspective, the validity of concepts and theories are
grounded in their usefulness. There is no direct or totally accurate
correspondence between a concept/theory and what it represents. (For
example, a car with an engine does not have the same utility as the same car
with theories about engines placed under the bonnet instead of the engine.)

>From this perspective, at different times, and in different circumstances,
some of the theories and concepts (such as  'pure' cognition, 'being,
situated functioning, informatic representations, affectively-based
cognition) are more appropriate and useful than at others. For example, in
trying to create computer-based assistance for designers, theories of
cognitive science are useful. These cognitive science theories do not
provide a complete picture of designing - they are very weak in addressing
qualitative and affective aspects of human designing - but for quantitative
issues they have a good correspondence with the theoretical models needed to
build computer and information systems. Problems arise only when it is
argued that this cognitive science approach is 'the' model of design
cognition. Similarly, phenomenology is useful because as a theoretical
perspective it takes under its theoretical wing much more of the breadth of
human experience than many other perspectives. Its weakness is in its
practical application - it assumes that individuals are able to experience
directly - a skill that is rare to find except in, for example, Buddhist
monks who have spent many years training. Again, problems only arise when it
is argued that phenomenology offers the 'full service' of theory. From a
pragmatic perspective, theories and concepts are tools with specific uses
and limitations. It is up to the user to make their decisions about which
theories/concepts are appropriate to use in particular circumstances.

In terms of validity and justification of theories and concepts, there are
several measures that spring to mind. First, is internal consistency - does
the concept/theory make sense in its own terms. Second, is 'fit' - does the
concept/theory do what it is constructed to do. Third, is external
consistency - does it coherently align with all the other concepts and
theories that it depends on and helps define. Four, is communication
consistency - does the concept/theory fit with discourses that are already
in place. Five, is clarity - does the concept/theory have well-defined
boundaries.

It seems to me that it is unhelpful that design researchers and designers
are focusing on trying to identify an 'ultimate' theory that exactly fits
designing. The underlying problem that forms a backdrop to this situation is
our weakness in understanding the detail of the attributes of
concepts/theories and how we can best use them. In terms of educating
designers, it implies that more attention needs to be paid to the
theoretical aspects of praxis rather than manual or tacit practice skills.

Best wishes,

Terry

________________________________________

Dr. Terence Love
Assoc director (Innovation)
We-B Research Centre
School of Management Information Systems
Edith Cowan University
Churchlands, Western Australia 6018
[log in to unmask]   +61 (0)8 9273 8682
________________________________________


.. to respond to Mary Kay Johnsen's question (J7Nov). My
view of thinking and acting (as not being separable) has a
lot to do with the nature of being, and it has been
strongly influenced by work that has been published in
four books. They are (in the order in which I read them):

 1. Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores, 1986. Understanding
 Computers and Cognition: A new foundation for design,
 Norwood, NJ: Ablex Pub and Co.

 2. Humberto R Maturana and Francisco J Varela, 1988. The
 Tree of Knowledge: The biological roots of human
 understanding, Boston, MA: New Science Library, Shambhala
 Publications Inc.

 3. Lucy A Suchman, 1987. Plans and Situated Actions: The
 problem of human machine communication, Cambridge,
 England: Cambridge University Press.

 4. Francisco J Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch,
 1991. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human
 Experience, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

All these books, in their own particular ways, bring out
the essential and necessarily embodied and situated nature
of human thinking (cognition) and action in ordinary
every-day being.

Winograd and Flores base much of their critique of
classical representationalist
thinking---cognition=manipulation of (mental)
representations---on the works Heidegger, Gadammer, Searle,
and other Hermeneutical philosophers.  In particular, they
draw heavily on Hiedegger's notion of "being-in-the-world"
(Dasein); a notion that rejects, as a starting point, the
subject/object separation found in most Western
philosophies.  What is important here, as Winograd Flores
say, and why they are attracted to Heidegger's work, is
that Heidegger was concerned to understand ordinary
every-day behaviour, not the expert or specialist
behaviour that most academics seems to concern themselves
with, believing that these are somehow more representative
of 'true' or 'real' thinking and acting.

Winograd and Flores also draw on  the work of the
biologist Maturana.  They argue, rightly, I think, that
there is an essential similarity between Heidegger's
notion of being and Maturana's notion of "structural
coupling" between living systems and their environments.
Neither Heidegger or Maturana accepts the existence of
'things' that are the bearers of properties independently
of interpretation.  They both argue that you cannot talk
coherently of an 'external' world, but only of
interpretations,  Maturana describes the nervous system as
closed (ie, not as an input/output system) and argues
against the appropriateness of terms like 'perception' and
'information'.  Heidegger begins with his
being-in-the-world, observing that the present-at-hand
objects emerge from a more fundamental state of being in
which readiness-to-hand does not distinguish objects or
properties.

When it came out Wingrad and Flores' book attracted a lot
of criticism and made many converts.  It now seems rather
less well known, as I see few people refer or point to it
these days.  It remains, however, I think, one of the most
important books concerned with the design of computer
systems and computer-based applications.

The Maturana and Varela (M&V) book, The Tree of Knowledge,
sets out their theory of autopoietic unities---a theory
(originally) of single living cells---and use this to
develop a theory of cognition.  The idea of structural
coupling is central to the  functioning of autopoietic
unities.  An autopoietic unity or autopoietic organisation
is formed from a combination of components all of which
are involved and only involved in the production of the
same components. Autopoietic unities are self-producing.
All  autopoietic unities must be embedded in and must
interact with an environment, from which they obtain the
basic materials and energy of their production.  In this
necessary interaction, the structure of the environment
only triggers structural changes in the autopoietic unity,
it does not specify them, and vice versa  for the
environment.  The result is a history of mutual congurent
structural changes as long as the autopoietic unity and
its containing environment do not disintegrate: there will
be, as M&V put it, "a structural coupling" between the
autopoeitc unity and its environment.  For them, the being
and the doing of an autopoeitic unity are inseparable, and
this is their specific mode of organisation.  In  the The
Tree of Knowledge, M&V raise this theory of living cells
to a theory of human cognition, so that cognition itself
becomes a mode of organisation of an autopoietic cognitive
unity.

The Tree of Knowledge too was received with quite a lot of
criticism, both for and against, when it first came out,
but again, it seems to be a book that has been left
behind.  Again, I think  this is a pity.  It is not an
easy book to read, but it does seriously challenge widely
accepted Western dogmas about what cognition is and its
separate existence from  acting on an external world that
comes already categorised into objects.

Lucy Suchman's book was yet another book that caused a
stir when it first came out.  This is also a book concerned
with the design of computer-based systems.  In it Suchman
argues, and presents evidence, that systems designed and
implemented on the "planning model" confuse plans with
situated actions, where the "planning model" is her term
for the classical idea that we first plan (think) and then
act (out the plan).  (In an appendix to this message I
re-quote the quote that Suchman opens her book with, to
illustrate the difference between planning and situated
action.  It's hard to improve on this quote.)

Suchman's book presents an unusually careful and detailed
analysis of the way people interact (communicate) with
artifacts, and with computers in particular.  Once again,
I believe that everything she says remains relevant and
important today.  Although the idea of situatedness has
now entered our way of thinking about acting, we still
have not taken on the full sense in which Lucy Suchman
means 'situated action', which she uses to mean a way of
being (involving thinkiing/acting) in communication with
artifacts.

The last of my four books, by Varela, Thompson, and Rosch,
presents arguments based upon M&V's earlier work
(including the Tree of Knowledge) and on Buddhist
philosophy, to present a view of cognition as embodied
action.  In this view, cognition has no foundation beyond
its history of embodiment, a view that contrasts and
contradicts the Western objectivist view of cognition.
Although the idea of embodiment being important to
cognition and to begin and agent had been introduced and
argued for before, by these authors and others, this book
served to mark out the embodied cognition movement as an
important alternative, and competing theory,  in the
cognitive sciences.

So, what I want to say by all this is that my view that
thinking and acting cannot be separated, is based upon the
works of others that draw heavily on existing philosophy,
chiefly Hermenuetic philosophy, the biology and cognitive
theory of Maturana, and for a general humanistic concern
for what ordinary every-day being in the world is really
like.

And what has all this got to do with designing? Well, I
think, it is the widespread failure of designers and
design researchers to develop an understanding of what the
nature is of ordinary every-day being in the world that
results in so many poor designs: products, places, and
services that are difficult and inconvenient to use, and
often imposible to use by people with some kind of
disability. How bad this is, and how little importance we
(as designers and consumers) still seem to place on this,
is well illustrated in yet another favourite book of mine:
Donald Norman's "The Design of Everyday Things", which was
first published (as "The Psychology of Everyday Things")
in 1988, and which advocated User-Centered Design.

Tim Smithers
CEIT, Donostia / San Sebastián


Appendix -- Planning and situated action

The preface to Suchman's boook opens with the following
quote from Berreman (1966):

 "Thomas Gladwin (1964) has written a brilliant article
 contrasting the method by which Trukese navigate the open
 sea, with that by which Europeans navigate.  He points out
 that the European navigator begins with a plan---a
 course---which he has charted according to certain
 universal principles, and he carries out his voyage by
 relating his every move to that plan.  His effort
 throughout his voyage is directed to remaining "on
 course."  If unexpected events occur, he must first alter
 the plan, then respond accordingly.  The Trukese navigator
 beings with an objective rather than a plan.  He sets off
 toward the objective and responds to conditions as they
 arise in an ad hoc fashion.  He utilizes information
 provided by the wind, the waves, the tide and current, the
 fauna, the stars, the clouds, the sound of the water on
 the side of the boat, and he steers accordingly.  His
 effort is directed to doing whatever is necessary to reach
 the objective.  If asked, he can point to his objective at
 any moment, but he cannot describe his course."

---Berreman (1966), p. 347.


References

(Berreman, 1966) Berreman, G, 1966. Anemic and emetic
analyses in social anthroplogy.  American Anthropologist,
68(2)1:346--54.

(B7Nov) Buchanan, phd-design list post [Tue, 7 Nov 2000
10:33:48, Subject: Re: Thinking and acting ...]

(Gladwin, 1964) Gladwin, T, 1964. Culture and logical
process. In W Goodenough (ed.), Explorations in Cultural
Anthropology: Essays Presented to George Peter Murdock,
New York: McGraw-Hill.

(J7Nov) Johnsen, phd-design list post [Tue, 07 Nov 2000
15:47:26, Subject: thought/action]

(S7Nov) Smithers, phd-design list post [Tue, 07 Nov 2000
10:12:40, Subject: Thinking and acting ...]



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