Feb 2014 Ammending a symp paper


A tweet, Dave Winer I think, drew my attention to this classy piece on writing narratives. Adam Westbrook teaches a short, online course1 on story design. The interesting illustration he writes about the production of what he calls the long game2. What he is interested in is how very successful folk get to be that way. He revisits some of arguments that have been popularised by, e.g. Malcolm Gladwell and Steven Johnson. What's interesting in all of these stories is how written out what he calls the lost years are, i.e. the time these folk spent stuffing about, making mistakes, having no luck etc. The origin of the3 is probably in the normal telling of these stories, i.e. here is Da Vinci painting away and then skip 16 years and here is the Last Supper! Click! Westbrook mentions his use of a recent book by Robert Greene4, who asks the questions Westbrook asks in his videos. Nice pick up I think for PCP if there is a bit on the time before famous folk got to be famous.


I'm quite a fan of Dan Dennett's writing. His notion of intuition pumps5 has a heap of gems. This quote, more or less captures something of the PCP notion I have struggled to express clearly.

Evolution works the same way: all the dumb mistakes tend to be invisible, so all we see is a stupendous string of triumphs. For instance, the vast majority— way over 90 percent—of all the creatures that have ever lived died childless, but not a single one of your ancestors suffered that fate. Talk about a line of charmed lives!
One big difference between the discipline of science and the discipline of stage magic is that while magicians conceal their false starts from the audience as best they can, in science you make your mistakes in public. You show them off so that everybody can learn from them. This way, you get the benefit of everybody else’s experience, and not just your own idiosyncratic path through the space of mistakes. (The physicist Wolfgang Pauli famously expressed his contempt for the work of a colleague as “not even wrong.” A clear falsehood shared with critics is better than vague mush.) This, by the way, is another reason why we humans areso much smarter than every other species. It is not so much that our brains are bigger or more powerful, or even that we have the knack of reflecting on our own past errors, but that we share the benefits that our individual brains have won by their individual histories of trial and error.*
I am amazed at how many really smart people don’t understand that you can make big mistakes in public and emerge none the worse for it.
… Actually, people love it when somebody admits to making a mistake. All kinds of people love pointing out mistakes. Generous-spirited people appreciate your giving them the opportunity to help, and acknowledging it when they succeed in helping you; mean-spirited people enjoy showing you up. Let them! Either way we all win.
Of course, in general, people do not enjoy correcting the stupid mistakes of others. You have to have something worth correcting, something original to be right or wrong about …

5th - 18th

A bunch of stuff to fill in. Terrific input from the dialogue crew and then having to trim the version that went in back to the required 9 pages!


The fuzzier space that grew out of the PCP stuff is this notion of curating ignorance. I'll be adding stuff to that without making the links always back to this paper which needs to be kinda closed soonish.


The latest version of words is on the G drive. Will so how the dialogue around this develops. I did another look for learning in public. Lots of folk writing about it but what they appear to be doing is sharing in a more or less didactic manner what they use various bits of social software for. It still seems that actual PCP stuff is stuff you stumble over. Still too many ideas in the paper but at base, it is informed by looking at practices, what folk actually do when they use the L-word. I quite like the Janus metaphor - two faces speaking at the same time: ready made learning and learning in the making. I've stumbled upon Kathryn Schulz's book, Being Wrong via a Michael Neilsen tweet. There are some ideas that mesh with Dan Dennett's intuition pumps, of which learning from mistakes is his #1. Maybe I am reading too much into the black-boxing of the L-word but everywhere I look, I see so much stuff being glossed. I'll have another opportunity to try out the protocol in a small Masters course I am teaching this semester. I'll keep the log on this site rather than the course site (also on Wikidot).

And I went to check version 1, the ladder version of the paper which the reviewers did not like and it wasn't there. I could have sworn I put it all up, including the reviewer comments as comments (by me). What intrigued me was that the notion that you forget how you learned things the more you learn about a field seemed to seriously annoy at least one of the reviewers. It may have been the implication that perhaps experts are not that well placed to design learning experiences for novices (not a new idea).

My sense is that learning from mistakes, being wrong is an important part of doing learning. This, as I like to call it, wee experiment is like most experiments, likely to fail. Ian Hacking6 puts it well:

Most experiments don't work most of the time. To ignore this fact is to forget what experimentation is doing.

To experiment is to create, produce, refine and stabilize phenomena… . But phenomena are hard to produce in any stable way. That is why I spoke of creating and not merely discovering phenomena. That is a long hard task.

Or rather there are endless different tasks. There is designing an experiment that might work. There is learning how to make the experiment work. But perhaps the real knack is getting to know when the experiment is working. That is one reason why observation, in the philosophy-of-science usage of the term, plays a relatively small role in experimental science. Noting and reporting readings of dials-Oxford philosophy's picture of experiment-is nothing. Another kind of observation is what counts: the uncanny ability to pick out what is odd, wrong, instructive or distorted in the antics of one's equipment. The experimenter is not the "observer" of traditional philosophy of science, but rather the alert and observant person. Only when one has got the equipment running right is one in a position to make and record observations. That is a picnic. (p. 230)


Came across a wonderfully distracting piece via a tweet from Howard Rheingold (@hrheingold) pointing to a new essay by Michael Nielsen, reinventing explanation. The genre is partially thinking out loud but it, to me is mainly didactic. He develops this lovely notion of prototype explanations. One of the examples he uses is a prototype7 of Bret Victor's. To me it's media for public learning. Then a tweet from @buffer pointing to a post by James Clear who is one of that group. The post is about the time it takes for folk to excel in their field. He cited the work of John Hayes and then an account by a guy called Robert who recounts what the basket baller Kobe Bryant does in the lead up to offical practicee. While part of the line was the 10,000 hour point made famous by Gladwell, it was how he did the time that was simply invisible to even his team mates:

For those of you keeping track at home, Kobe Bryant started his conditioning work around 4:30am, continued to run and sprint until 6am, lifted weights from 6am to 7am, and finally proceeded to make 800 jump shots between 7am and 11am.

Oh yeah, and then Team USA had practice.

It's this invisible, perhaps secret stuff that my hunch is the same for learning. We tend to see the good or bad basketball player and nothing of what was done to get to that point, the mistakes, and in this case the deliberate nature of Bryant's practice.

But back to the paper and I think I am trying to map what we have called ready made learning (borrowing from Latour's notion of ready made science8) into a representational space and PCP into a non-rep space. Writing of which, a couple of useful quotes from Thrift9:

In particular, when we say that human beings act to think or that they learn by doing, we need to refigure what we count as thought and knowledge. In particular, much cognitive thought and knowledge may, indeed, be only a kind of post-hoc rumination; ‘to be aware of an experience means that it has passed’ (Norretranders 1998: 128). For example, most of the time, an action is in motion before we decide to perform it; our average ‘readiness potential’ is about 0.8 seconds, although cases of up to 1.5 seconds have been recorded.

and in writing about the political imperatives of this book:

Fourth it requires a much better sense of the ways in which practices need objects against which to react and from which to learn, but these objects may have many versions (Despret 2004), many ‘offers of appropriateness’, to use a Latourian phrase.

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