Concept Experience 4

Concept Experience #4: Formulative Thinking vs. Formulated Problems

“It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.”  Alfred North Whitehead

Last week’s concept experience asked you to reflect on how the computer records, reveals, and makes shareable your own associative trails. Many of you found some surprises in this exercise – you began your online search journey with “digital media” and ended up at some crazy places (witchcraft! Donald Trump! Auntie Anne’s pretzels! Internet addiction! Just to name a few). I enjoyed reading some of your reflections on how you ended up where you did, and I got a few chuckles reading this post:

A post that really impressed me was Marina’s post here:

Her associative trails reflection serves as a great model for a strong #thoughtvectors blog post.

You were also tasked with finding connections / trails between your peer’s trails. This was hard to do – it was a challenge I wanted to see if you were up to. Sometimes you found two bloggers and then moved to some new idea that these blogs lead you to think about (which was okay – you were thinking!) other times you tried to find some common theme between the two posts, even when the connections felt forced. That’s okay. I wanted you to push yourself to make connections – to associate one idea with another.

Concept Experience 4

Formulative Thinking vs Formulated Problems

This week’s concept experience asks you to reflect on how you interact with the computer to create new associative trails deliberately, but without a preconceived formula. In other words, how can you use the computer not as a map but as more of a compass?

Once again, this exercise will make your Internet searching more visible to you. Some of you noticed that as soon as you started the associative trails concept experience, you could no longer ignore that you were doing the associative trails concept experience, and this made your associative trails different from what they usually are. But I want you to try to make search choices in this exercise based on what you would “normally” make given the topic you chose.

Here’s the experience:

  1. Start a blog post with the title “Analyzing the Obvious.” Then think about one of the most obvious statements you can imagine, and write it down: “water is wet,” “dogs bark,” – okay the options are endless. Choose one of your own!
  2. Notice the time you start your experience. (look at the clock). You don’t need a URL yet, just note the time. You’ll find urls in your browser history, later.
  3. Now pretend that your obvious statement is the research focus for your inquiry project, and raise a question about it. (Why is water wet?) If this doesn’t make you feel a little silly, then you haven’t chosen a truly obvious thing to analyze.
  4. Now start your research (in another browser tab or window) on your computer. Your job is to pursue this obvious statement and the first question that grows from it.
  5. Here’s where you’ll need to be creative. You’ll need not solve a “problem,” but you’ll need to find new problems too, in order to keep researching. You’re not just looking for an easy answer. You’re looking to raise better questions. Obvious things can’t be analyzed unless you come up with really good questions. You’re taking a leap of faith, trusting that you can be persistent and creative enough to be that “unusual mind” that Whitehead talks about.
  6. Work on this concept experience for 50 minutes (the time of one full MWF class period). You can take a break if you want, but the longer you can work uninterruptedly, the better the chance that your search will be sustained and spontaneous – with one new question following another, and one search prompting another search.
  7. After you’ve finished, look over your browser history and go back to your blog post. Write an extended and thoughtful blog post that reflects on how you interacted with the computer(there’s the Man-Computer Symbiosis link) as you analyzed the obvious. By “extended” I mean more than one paragraph.

If you don’t have time to write the blog post after the 50 minute browsing experience, take a photo of your browser history after you finish, so that you can refer to it in your blog post.

Review your browser history and try to make sense of a few of your intellectual “leaps” during the search.What did you learn — both about the “obvious” and about yourself as a researcher? Please create a category for your post: Analysis

Except from Licklider related to forumulated and formulative concepts:

Present-day computers are designed primarily to solve preformulated problems or to process data according to predetermined procedures. The course of the computation may be conditional upon results obtained during the computation, but all the alternatives must be foreseen in advance. (If an unforeseen alternative arises, the whole process comes to a halt and awaits the necessary extension of the program.)

Many problems that can be thought through in advance are very difficult to think through in advance. They would be easier to solve, and they could be solved faster, through an intuitively guided trial-and-error procedure in which the computer cooperated, turning up flaws in the reasoning or revealing unexpected turns in the solution. Other problems simply cannot be formulated without computing-machine aid. Poincare anticipated the frustration of an important group of would-be computer users when he said, “The question is not, ‘What is the answer?’ The question is, ‘What is the question?’” One of the main aims of man-computer symbiosis is to bring the computing machine effectively into the formulative parts of technical problems.

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