drwex (drwex) wrote,

We hold these truths to be self-evident

I am running into a situation where (my favorite, very intelligent) cow orker and I disagree on something I consider so self-evidently true that I'm having a hard time mustering coherent arguments for the proposition. I dig in and realize that no, not everyone believes this thing. It's still a subject of argument. So once again I turn to my unscientific polling audience (you) and ask:

Do you believe that tools we use are agnostic, or do you believe that our thoughts and behaviors are shaped by our tools?

Some explanatory blah-blah follows

This is sometimes referred to embodied cognition, or material engagement (see for example Malafouris's recounting) and in psychology it's congruent with ideas that get called "scaffolding". See also Hutchins' work on cognition in the wild (http://www.amazon.com/Cognition-Wild-Press-Edwin-Hutchins/dp/0262581469).

The idea is that we don't follow abstract processes, or think in some kind of isolation chamber. Instead, our thinking and behavior is shaped by the environment it's done in, and the tools present in that environment. Of course, it runs both ways in that we tend to invent tools that promote the processes we like or find useful.

The theory also abuts linguistic theories that are often credited to Worf (as in Sapir-Worf) which is an argument that the language(s) you think in affect your thinking.

Kevin Kelly once expressed a related idea as "function melts form", which I very much like. That is, you don't have an ideal process or behavior in mind and go out to create the (process-neutral) tools that allow you to execute it. Instead, you grab what's at hand and the result is that you get something influenced by the tools at hand, not an idealized instantiation of your mental model.
Tags: thinky stuff
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