Pat and Ali,
How about this way of trying to bring the two of
you to agree and collaborate?
Pat is concerned with both Ontologizing (the
philosophical exercise) and ontologizing (the IT discipline), in each of which
one tries to identify and abstract the common amidst the variations. So of
course he finds the common threads of thought and its products through all the
changes that technology has wrought. So the changes are conceived as
largely irrelevant to that route.
Ali concentrates on the non-common, the
differences, between situations. And of course the differences and changes
seem to be what counts for him.
Both are doing good work.
So Pat and his ilk will in due course build the
bases for continuity and agreement, while Ali and his cohorts will fleece out
what doesn't fit neatly into those patterns but will help people better discover
their uniquenesses and manage their differences.
Both schools are necessary.
But neither approach will mesh productively with
the other without appropriate conceptions of O/ontology. (And that, of
course, is a story for another time...)
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, April 12, 2010 4:07
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Cultural
variation in cognitive machinery
Dear John and Pat,
[JS]This is the kind of thread that can go on indefinitely
much, if any, contribution to the methods for developing
Agreed. I've just never come across a coherent
criticism of McLuhan that wasn't a severe misinterpretation, and I've looked
very hard. This will be my last response on this topic. Note though, there can
be a very real connection to how one develops an ontology, but i'll leave that
to the side for now.
[JS]I'm sorry that I stated my original point without
to clarify the point I was trying to make. But
1. The basic cognitive machinery for all humans is
the first 3 years during which the basic
biological needs and
interactions with parents or other
caregivers are the major
influence -- not technology,
including writing. In fact, some
technology, such as
television can be a deterrent by reducing
the amount of
I agree with this. The basic cognitive machinery is relatively
stable. However, like the weather, there are enormous variations in its
manifestation. How we choose to, and in what contexts we employ which
cognitive machineries is highly dependent on the technologies / frame of mind
we are in. When writing on the computer, with access to the internet, the type
of thought that comes out, with all the attendant references, links etc, is
very different than a conversation conducted say by letters over a several
month period. Of course, we being humans, the net results of our
thoughts would be accessible in both, but more likely, flow more easily in one
vs the other.
Imagine we spoke what you just said. The "content" is the
same, but I'd have to have a pretty good memory to remember what your point #2
was. With symbolic representation, it's there, plain for me to refer to. How I
think about, process and use what you said has
When I am engaged in
argument with my friends, a general rule of thumb we employ is to interpret
each others' remarks in the most reasonable manner. We get to the crux of our
disagreements much more quickly in this way.
There are several
comments of yours which completely baffle me. Do you really think so lowly of
me(?) to think that I'm making such absurd claims. Hilarious... Anyway, see
On Sat, Apr 10, 2010 at 3:37 AM, Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
On Apr 9, 2010, at 7:56 AM, Ali Hashemi wrote:
I apologize for the length of
this message, I am generally internetted only through phone, so I am being
thorough in my intermittent access. I have tried to make the last section
of the message more relevant to the ontology
Dear John, Dan and
Thanks for that ... response. Perhaps as an
exercise, we can reflect on the very fact that you and I are able to have
such a conversation.
For fun, let's briefly devolve the history of
Before internet, we could phone. Assuming
we'd had met or exchanged information, either you or I would have had to
call the other. Additionally, if you made the call, I'd have to happen to
have the time to talk (or pre the cell phone, had physically been in the
same location that you were calling).
And before the phone? We
could try to carry on this conversation via what, a telegraph? I suppose
each day, we would excitedly go to the telegraph station to see the short,
dotted response. You know, Twitter, but old school.
that? Well we could mail, I guess airmail or before that, rail or boat or
perhaps horse, or lights along an imperial road. It might take days, weeks
or months, but I guess it'd make the anticipation of how this conversation
would evolve all the more intriguing.
Let's also consider the act
of writing. Imagine instead of typing, at what, 40-120 words per minute,
we had to grasp a pen and write these messages on paper. For me at least,
the type of thought that comes out through pen is profoundly different
than when on the computer. Imagine if we had to use a quill and ink,
refreshing the tip every few minutes?
And what if we had to use
stone? To communicate our ideas, you and I, living in different locale
would either have to send each other stone carvings or happen upon one
another in some fair town, a port most likely, and sit down to an
enlightening discussion. If I were on another continent, to carry out this
conversation, would require a commitment of months to travel to a common
physical location. I would certainly hope that the results of said
conversation would be worth that time!
Now, were you actually
suggesting that the way we consider space has not changed?
Yes, I am suggesting exactly
I think you are misreading what I mean by "consider space." The laws
of physics are still the same. Our idea of what it means for a person to be at
a particular location in space is completely different! You in Florida can
communicate with me. You can be here in a matter of minutes. I am at a loss
how you do not see how this changes how I think about space.
That the way we form, exchange, communicate and
shape our thought has not fundamentally changed?
And that, yes. I see no evidence that our *thinking*
has changed because of technology. We still read Homer and understand, and
even empathize with, the thoughts of his characters. Their ideas and
thoughts have not become alien or
!!! How in the world did what I say come to mean "because we think of
space, communication, etc. in different ways, reading Homer would be
incomprehensible". ? This is beyond absurd and a complete red herring.
Nowhere does the claim that "the activities and technologies one
engage in affect and alter our employed patterns of thinking" lead one to
conclude that "these changes render artifacts and experiences from the past
inaccessible." The absurdity of this example makes me think you have not
really understood the point at hand.
Let me go back to an example you
"debunked" in an earlier email:
[AH] 3) Which brings me to the last example. Consider
communities where the predominant form of transport is:
Each person in these communities
will have a fundamentally different conception of space, location, time
[PH]Again, I think this is highly unlikely; and I
know that there is no evidence for it. When railway travel was introduced to
English culture, nobody had ever travelled faster than about 20 mph, and
many doctors predicted that speeds over 35 mph would be fatal. But they
weren't, and the introduction of the railway, while having many profound
social and economic changes, did not seem to change people's notions of
space, location or time.
Aside from the fact that this is a specious argument (just because
someone using a hammer broke a glass doesn't mean hammers don't work...), what
you write is not only consistent with what i've been arguing, but demonstrates
the point quite well.
For one, the car (and railroad) decreased the
abstraction of space-at-a-distance. Whereas long distances (say 500km) when
walking were serious impediments, a car contracted what it meant to traverse
this space. Bringing entities in the car-driving range into roughly the same
conceptual store as those when walking.
But more acutely, the rules of
what movement is in space changed too, which is also why there weren't all
these accidents. The way people understood space when walking (or riding, but
lets stick to walking for brevity) were completely altered. When walking, the
wind is generally enjoyable, I can walk quite closely behind another, I can
swerve immediately. What it means for me to be in space is quite different
than when I'm driving, people are abstracted to their cars. I need to follow
only at a safe distance. I rarely care about the visages of other drivers, but
of their tools.
Not only that, but consider the implications of what
space means to an urban planner. An urban planner, emphasizing a car wrt to
space might design cities on grids. It might also lead one to centralize
shopping into malls, and delegate the pedestrian use of space to small,
unwelcoming sidewalks on busy thoroughfares. The ontology of space and roads
for an urban planner who considers only cars will be vastly different than one
who considers other forms.
Or more importantly, a planner who actually
has experience / engages in significant walking will be able to better
understand how to translate the understanding of space and time via walking
much better into a city design than one who mainly commutes by car.
can't imagine how much more obvious this point could be.
Our agency in space has increased. Our
projection of mind, ability to share and engage has been
Our understanding of a social network has
changed. The very notion of what it means to be a productive, living human
being is radically different.
The fact that you and I take
this projection of thought and language through space for granted – the
fact that it is so trivial, trite and assumed that we, one located in
Quebec, the other in Florida can so easily converse at near instantaneous
speed is exactly the point. Remind me again, how is this all complete
It is incontrovertible that different senses, different
sense modalities are more suited to different types of
Nothing is incontrovertible. And this claim is, IMO, a
contemporary myth, a kind of widely accepted assumption without any
Even if I turn my speaker upside down, sound still
comes at me right side up... I can stare at sheet music all day, but
I at least, won't really appreciate Bach's Cello Suite No.6 in D
Major unless I hear it.
Of course. The *sound* of the cello suite is uniquely
auditory. But that is a different (and trite) claim.
Not at all. The content of the music is ostensibly the same. Access
to this information is mediated by our senses. I'm surprised that the first
example wasn't picked up. Note, orientation of sound source does not affect my
interpretation of said sound - i.e. sound in its raw form is less suited for
communicating that "something is upside down" -- it just isn't supported by
the medium. Of course you could use sound to make that claim in language, but
that's a different medium.
Now I certainly am not taking the strong
position. I won't deny that there are other routes to such appreciation,
but obviously, certain ones are better suited. And our lifestyles
reinforce these choices and have other attendant
As this email is long, I won’t go into the
details of the rest of your post, but if you like, I can do so… I do
have to however remark on the attack on Postman (I don't recall McLuhan
proclaiming "the world is going to hell, or at least to some undesirable
place, in a handbasket.")
I wish I had Postman’s book physically
with me (it’s been lent out to a friend), or that I had a pdf copy, but
alas, my everyday assumptions of this work in space and time are
I have become so used to thinking of text as remotely
accessible, that it is only in the absence of such access, I can
appreciate that it is quite remarkable what was once considered an
intimately physically bound artefact has been transformed into “mere”
Let's quickly unpack the implicit assumptions in
McLuhan and Postman.
1) Our interaction with the world is mediated
by our senses
True, of course. But a platitude.
2) Depending on what we are doing, we are engaging
our senses in different ratios (i.e. watching TV, we are more aware of
what our eyes see; playing basketball, we are more aware of our sense of
touch; listening to music, we are more aware of our
More *aware*, I am not so certain of. I do not find
that I am *aware* of using my eyes when watching TV. I simply watch, using
my eyes (of course).
I spoke loosely. You are attending more to your eyes that say your
sense of touch. The fact that you are sitting on your couch (unless it is
uncomfortable etc..) is not something you will generally notice...
3) Habitual, repetition of the same types of
actions affects one's disposition
Again, is there any evidence for this? I am not sure
what it means, actually: what do you mean by disposition here? And do you
mean to imply that seeing or hearing are actions?
I mean to imply that watching is an action (the rest of the body is
relatively passive, the brain functions differently than when reading
Disposition i mean the attitudes. I.e the fact that eating
fast food makes one impatient changes that person's disposition. Hence, if
that person were to be required to consider something, they will be less
likely to use those parts of their cognitive machinery that is employed for
careful consideration. Instead, said person will likely use the parts of their
cognitive machinery that is more rash, abrupt and immediate. Hence how this
person thinks in this context is fundamentally different than if they were not
And here's the "leap"
4) Different media,
technologies, lifestyles will draw out and engender biases in those who
repeatedly engage in them
Well, at some level that is no doubt inevitably true.
At the least, one can become skilled at certain kinds of perception due to
familiarity. When I first came to the USA, I found the rapid-fire switching
of topic in news programs almost dizzying: now it is second nature. But I
don't accept that this is usefully referred to as any kind of
It would really help if you stopped thinking I was arguing some sort
of exclusive / strong position. If I am habituated to watching "30 minute"
television programs which are themselves interrupted every 7-9 minutes with 30
- 180 seconds of commercials (which contain "emotional conclusion /
association" messages). And if the vast majority of these 21 minute programs
contain a very similar story arcs, the same level of content complexity (aimed
at the perceived "average joe"), and generally resolve all the issues /
conflicts that arise very neatly so that everything can be reset for the next
week. Then you will be biased to perhaps not expect, but appreciate this type
of thinking more often. It will be far easier to understand an argument in
this form than one which breaks these norms.
By Jove - your experience
proves exactly my point; if you would only care to interpret it reasonably
instead of as a cheesy strawman... :D
The same way that the cultural
shock you experienced was discomforting and dizzying, and after a bit of time,
habitual exposure to said phenomena made the parsing of such content "second
nature." Now think about it going in reverse. You are habituated to
rapid-fire, quick conclusions etc. Might not then long arguments, complexity
etc. be dizzying? Would you not be "biased" against arguments employed /
communicated in said form? Especially if you weren't in an environment which
habituated you to these complexities, would you not be more suspicious of
arguments in this form?
Would you not prefer the argument presented in
a familiar form, in a familiar style? Especially if it is packaged and
delivered to you via a pseudo-authority figure that you empathize with on some
level? This is exactly and only what I mean by bias and fundamental shift.
Your cognitive machinery is still all there, though obviously you do not make
use of all of it. Indeed, which aspects of it you choose to employ are largely
(tho not completely) dependent on your culture. And let's be clear, culture
includes very immediately, how you choose to express your thoughts (an essay
written on a cellphone is much different than one on a computer!).
Japan, novels written on cell phones have become very popular. Are you arguing
that the same types of ideas are communicated in these ( http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/20/world/asia/20japan.html
Of last year’s 10 best-selling novels, five were
originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short
sentences characteristic of text messaging but containing little of the
plotting or character development found in traditional
“It’s not that they had a desire to write and that the cellphone happened
to be there,” said Chiaki Ishihara, an expert in Japanese literature at
Waseda University who has studied cellphone novels. “Instead, in the course
of exchanging e-mail, this tool called the cellphone instilled in them a
desire to write.”
Indeed, many cellphone novelists had never written fiction before, and
many of their readers had never read novels before, according to
Rin said ordinary novels left members of her generation cold.
“They don’t read works by professional writers because their sentences
are too difficult to understand, their expressions are intentionally wordy,
and the stories are not familiar to them,” she said. “On other hand, I
understand how older Japanese don’t want to recognize these as novels. The
paragraphs and the sentences are too simple, the stories are too
predictable. But I’d like cellphone novels to be recognized as a
Forget about the "this will ruin writing." That's
an interpretation based on the very basic observation that different
forms/types of thought are generated / disseminated. Feel free to disagree
with Postman's conclusion (I disagree with many parts of his work too), but
the basic chassis of analysis is quite apt.
This is all
I, and indeed, McLuhan (and Postman's analytic technique) are laying claim to.
I have no idea what makes you so upset.
Does the above acceptable to
Mostly not, no.
Now extend this basic premise to public
discourse. Simply because of the over exuberant tone of your post, I'm
tempted to ask if you've been hiding under a rock for the past 20 years.
However, I’ll leave that as a voiced temptation.
consider a news broadcast in 2010 vs. one in 1960. Consider a "serious"
interview today, to one 30 years ago. Is it even conceivable we might have
a televised Chomsky - Foucault debate today (irrespective of whatever one
thinks about their ideas)?
About the most complex message that the
current US presidential election affords (quite literally), is "hope and
Policy is reduced to soundbites. Public awareness of
issues is (with many many exceptions) dominated by knee-jerk reactions and
cartoonish television personalities. Voters are spend inordinate amounts
of time trying to decide whether evolution should be taught in school, or
whether two men or two women should be allowed to enjoy the same rights as
I could go on and on…
You could indeed, but I would still fail to see what
point you believe yourself to be making.
Indeed. This seems to be crux of the problem...
below for one last attempt.
Again, due to my limited internetting, I would
need to physically go to a library to access the requisite research, and I
am not very inclined to do so right now. I'm sure you can see what I'm
Actually, no. You seem to be repeating familiar cliched
complaints about the dumbing-down of American democracy, etc. etc. , all of
which I am familiar with and all of which I fail to see any hard evidence
for. Plato thought that teaching people to read was a disaster because it
would ruin their memories. My father thought that TV was a kind of
brain-rot. My son believes that playing video games all day leads to brain
rot. I don't believe any of this, Seems to me that people are about the same
as they always have been, no better or worse, and that they will likely go
on being about the same for the forseeable
Incidentally, Jon Stewart makes a very similar point here:http://watch.thecomedynetwork.ca/#clip285117
a curious thing when sometimes the most honest news is in a satirical comedy
I'll additionally cite one more study and one more article.
conclusive, but yet another drop in the ever increasing bucket for the fact
that the tools we use alter how we think. Again, not the base cognitive
machinery, but which parts of it are employed / emphasized / focused upon.
This is a key distinction that seems to be consistently....
[CD] I believe -- really believe -- in the stirring words
of the Maker Manifesto: if
you can't open it, you don't own it. Screws not glue. The original Apple ][+
came with schematics for the circuit boards, and birthed a
generation of hardware and software hackers who upended the world for the
better. If you wanted your kid to grow up to be a confident,
entrepreneurial, and firmly in the camp that believes that you should
forever be rearranging the world to make it better, you bought her an Apple
But with the iPad, it seems like Apple's
model customer is that same stupid stereotype of a technophobic, timid,
scatterbrained mother as appears in a billion renditions of "that's too
complicated for my mom" (listen to the pundits extol the virtues of the iPad
and time how long it takes for them to explain that here, finally, is
something that isn't too complicated for their poor old mothers).
The model of interaction with the iPad is to be a "consumer," what
William Gibson memorably described as "something the size of a baby hippo,
the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in
a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It's covered with eyes and it
sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It
has no mouth... no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of
murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal
The way you improve your iPad isn't to figure out how it works and making
it better. The way you improve the iPad is to buy iApps. Buying an iPad for
your kids isn't a means of jump-starting the realization that the world is
yours to take apart and reassemble; it's a way of telling your offspring
that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the
Dougherty's piece on Hypercard and its influence on a generation of
young hackers is a must-read on this. I got my start as a Hypercard
programmer, and it was Hypercard's gentle and intuitive introduction to the
idea of remaking the world that made me consider a career in computers.
This is another prime example. The implicit message in the ipad is
that one should simply purchase one's problems. That is part of the indirect
message of this medium. In contrast, as the writer notes, the implicit message
in the Apple ][+ was, if you have a problem, you dive in and figure out what
Imagine I grow up in a culture where linear connections are
emphasized. I will be more likely to look for and recognize said types of
patterns. This doesn't mean it's impossible for me to learn other ways of
thinking. However, I will be primed / biased to look for these patterns.
Alas, if you reject that these two products don't bias one towards
different types of thinking, if you reject that the patterns of thought, the
dominant metaphors do not affect how we employ our cognitive machinery, then
there is no hope for this conversation.
, but if you need more convincing, I suggest you
consult the reading list of nearly any Public Relations, Media Studies or
Thanks, but I won't bother. Ive spent too much time
already dealing with cross-disciplinary communications among the, er,
I wish you well Pat. My friends have suggested that you have no
interest in understanding what I've been trying to communicate and that I
ought not bother to engage further. I have had difficulty appreciating why
this simple point has been so arduous to communicate.
If you wish, we
can continue this offline. I only as that you:
(a) state what you think I'm
(b) state what evidence would be compelling for you
point, it'll be abundantly obvious if I should throw in the
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