Wednesday, October 19, 2005

structural couplings and object oriented programming

I've read through section IV now, and wow. That's a lot of new information for me. I haven't quite gotten my brain around a few particular concepts and one is really irking me: the concept of "cognition as a history of structured couplings" (206). In this entry, I am going to try to get at this concept by playing with an analogy to object oriented programming.

In the past I have poked fun at people who talk in amateurish ways about computer programming or technology in general and then make these wobbly parallels to huge concepts like "society today" and the "nature of thought." (Although I am a fan of Sherry Turkle, she seems to do this...) I always wonder what an actual programmer would think. They would likely roll their eyes and say "pffft, whatever." But hey, I'll try anything once, so here goes. I do not know any programming languages, but I became familiar with the concept of object oriented programming while learning Flash ActionScript some years back. Basically, you create an object for a process that is going to recur (for example, you are going to have several sound clips in a movie you are making). You build the object ready with all sorts of variables that you can set: for example, play this particular clip, sound fade in/out, and set to loop or stop at end, etc. Then, when you create your movie and have a place where you want a sound to play, you "invoke an instance" of the object and set the variables the way you want them for that particular instance. (I heard that pffft back there, let me finish!) So, let's pretend that our embodied experience enables us to construct these objects in our minds, and then we invoke them in various carnations as we use our minds. It's different than the Platonic Ideal ontology, however. We constructed these objects. Also, it's not like Gibson's discussion of "invariance," in which "invariance comes from reality, not the other way around" (203). Rather, we "enact" the objects by "coupling" them, or "invoking" them in our lived experience. The authors write, "these projections are not arbitrary but are accomplished through metaphorical and metonymic mapping procedures that are themselves motivated by the structures of bodily experience" (178).

Hmm, that really didn't work, did it? Ah so, it was fun anyway. In case it's not obvious from my posting, I really liked this section of the book. I wonder if the authors would object to using the concept of couplings and also affordances (Gibson's concept on page 203) to differentiate the way different people in different positions of power interpret their environments? What is an affordance for one person in one position does not apply to another...for example. It would suggest that people in different levels of a power structure literally perceive things differently. I am going to do some work with feminism's standpoint epistemology in my paper for this class (I think), and perhaps these concepts would apply.


Blogger Jim said...

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss your "coupling" of couplings and object oriented programming. I may actually be one of those people you talk about, but I at least do some programming myself. I think the way you apply structured couplings to programs works pretty well here, but it might work even better with the schema theories we've read. Is the object or function withing a program a schema that gets invoked by/invokes experiences?

Not sure if that works either.

We need to talk about programming, though. I've written some stuff about object oriented programming.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Anthony M. said...

Well, IIII've written some programs in my day, let me tell you, so I've got something to say about this... No seriously I don't know a damn thing about it... But isn't there some kind of programming where the code actually rewrites itself during execution? If there is, this might be a good model for the embodied mind because it doesn't imply that the mind comes to the world with objects that remain in use always but that through experience, the object may be fundamentally changed or even replaced...

7:50 PM  
Blogger asw said...

I agree with Jim and Anthony...MDL - I think you present an interesting case of how we can view the embodied mind from a programming language standpoint.

I actually teach Flash to my students in my class this fall and have been programming HTML and javascript for over 10 years -- you made me realize that there are some connections that can be made there to the structural coupling aspect you mention. I am wondering how as Anthony suggests that code that rewrites itself could help explain the embodied experience...I think this may tie into Ajax....has anyone heard of this? It's an interesting concept on the Web right now that is a type of web application allows for the pages to dynamically change without having to refresh the complete page based on the constant stream of data it receives and it dynamically changes in the anyone else heard of Ajax? Great post MDL...:)

8:13 PM  
Blogger gfp said...


Thanks. I have really no clue what the whole programming this is all about, but that's how I feel about much what we read in class, so it seems to hit home with me. You did do a good job of presenting "coupling," which had eluded me. So, does coupling start in the mind (that I guess doesn't exist anyway) or is it triggered first be experiences with the external environment? Does that make sense? If it starts in the mind, then it seems to lend more to relativism or subjectivism, whereas if it's linked to the environment from the get-go, then existence really is somewhat meshed. I'll stop talking now, since I'm beginning to sound as clueless about this as I am about programming....

12:29 PM  
Blogger jmj said...

MDL, all:

I think you would have to adjust your definition to say that the objects are not created in the mind, but through the interaction of the mind and the environment. Even though our mind would create these objects, I think the idea that they are soley the product of our mind would be problematical for Varela, et al.

2:23 PM  

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