Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Clark vs Hutchins: A Truly Deep Thought (Kind of)

Okay, this week's reading really picked up speed. I really enjoy the insights Hutchins provides, and I admire the amount of detail he gathers, but at times it makes the book a bit tedious. I guess if I had lots of time to mull over the intricacies of navigation, it wouldn't bother me so much. Instead, I catch myself thinking, "Okay, I believe you--so tell my why it matters...."

I liked how Hutchins addressed an idea of Clark's that had been confusing to me. Clark had insinuated that artifacts themselves had knowledge and could modify themselves to be used by people--for example, that language was easy to learn because of the features of language and not the capabilities of humans. To this, Hutchins says, “Clearly, a good deal of the expertise in the system is in the artifacts (both external implements and the internal strategies)—not in the sense that the artifacts are themselves intelligent or expert agents, or because the act of getting into coordination with the artifacts constitutes an expert performance by the person; rather, the system of person-in-interaction-with-technology exhibits expertise” (p. 155). Even though the focus of the book is distributed cognition, Hutchins places cognition in the control of the person, and the external artifacts are significant within the framework of interaction. I think this explanation is easier for me to accept because it more closely aligns with the notion in cognitivism of the mind being the center of cognition. Sad to say, it's hard to let that one completely go. However, if you find this to be a lousy post, I must tell you it's not my fault but the failings of the text and and technology in developing expertise....

By the way, I was doing some research for my paper for this class, and I stumbled upon an article entitled, "Language: The Ultimate Artifact?" I wanted to attach it to my post, but I couldn't find a way to do that in the blog. If anyone's interested in looking at it, you can email me at and I can send you an electronic copy.



Blogger mdl said...

Hi Greg--So, I may be misunderstanding your post, but I have a question. Would you say that Hutchin believes that individuals are in control of their cognition, or that it's really the systems around them that are in control? I'm thinking of his whole "stupid ant, smart environment" example in chapter 3?

7:01 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

mdl raises an interesting point - and I think it's another one of those "middle way" answers: Wouldn't Hutchins fall into the "emergent" camp? The ant example seemed to be saying that the "smart environment" was a function of years and years of knowledge. So, it's not that individual agents don't matter, but they don't make huge changes. Huge changes happen when a whole bunch of agents carve out paths in the sand. Right?

10:28 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

We should revisit this question when we discuss complexity--it'll be fun to compare how differently the authors of our books would view the power/influence structures and connections within an ant farm (human or otherwise :).

8:40 AM  
Blogger IB said...

Jim, I agree with you about the larger effects of groups of individuals compared to the changes a single individual could initiate. This kind of goes back to Fleck - it is not the one scientist in isolation that makes the pathbreaking discovery, it is the whole community and the thoughts that circle in it.

3:10 PM  

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