The Pretence of Knowledge

The social sciences, like much of biology but unlike most fields of the physical sciences, have to deal with structures of essential complexity, i.e. with structures whose characteristic properties can be exhibited only by models made up of relatively large numbers of variables.

…This corresponds to what I have called earlier the mere pattern predictions to which we are increasingly confined as we penetrate from the realm in which relatively simple laws prevail into the range of phenomena where organized complexity rules. Continue reading…

Spatial Design Literacy

The world is trying to figure out urbanism for the urban era: green-, new-, crowd-, smart-, adaptive-, etc. The most fundamental problem to address is physiological deprivation — water, food, shelter, clothing, heat, sleep, security, etc. — not only for the people currently on Earth, but for all future people as well.

In South Africa, for example, the basic food and non-food necessities of life are not being adequately met for 63% of the population1The Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit — South African poverty lines: a review and two new money-metric thresholds. Here, as in other places, most of the government’s top-down approaches to problematic urban form have aggravated the situation. “Subsidised housing has neither reduced the backlog nor integrated cities2Western Cape Infrastructure Framework 2013; “The overall effect of public housing is a worsening of the apartheid space-economy of segregation, division and fragmentation3Edgar Pieterse, African Centre for Cities; “Malnutrition is high and contributes to 64% of all deaths in children under the age of five4Unicef South Africa; Food security is deteriorating52016 Provincial Economic Review and Outlook; We have a carbon-intensive dirty economy, as does everyone else; etc.

User-centered, everyone-driven creation of the built environment is required. “It is essential only that the people of a society, together, all the millions of them, not just professional architects, design all the millions of places6Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way Of Building. There is consequently a worldwide move towards bottom-up, community-driven urban (re)design initiatives. These are aimed especially at the informal urban sphere as the world’s population is increasingly urban and “the poor are the major producers of houses7SA SDI: South African Shack/Slum Dwellers International Alliance meaning “informal is the new normal8Alfredo Brillembourg, Informal is the new normal.

However, it will not profit to focus on crowd-sourced urban planning solutions if the crowd is illiterate — in the sense that we, as individuals and society, evidently lack a placemaking ‘language’ with which to reason about, ‘read’ and ‘write’ wholesome urban form. Continue reading…

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. The Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit — South African poverty lines: a review and two new money-metric thresholds
2. Western Cape Infrastructure Framework 2013
3. Edgar Pieterse, African Centre for Cities
4. Unicef South Africa
5. 2016 Provincial Economic Review and Outlook
6. Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way Of Building
7. SA SDI: South African Shack/Slum Dwellers International Alliance
8. Alfredo Brillembourg, Informal is the new normal

The Nature of Learning

Most of what goes under the name “edutainment” reminds me of George Bernard Shaw’s response to a famous beauty who speculated on the marvelous child they could have together: “With your brains and my looks…” He retorted, “But what if the child had my looks and your brains?”

Shavian reversals—offspring that keep the bad features of each parent and lose the good ones—are visible in most software products that claim to come from a mating of education and entertainment… Continue reading…

Knowledge Machines

Isaac Asimov on Information Age education, 1988:

Or Seymour Papert, 1993:

The facetious old turn of phrase that identifies schooling with the three Rs — reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic — may express the most obstinate block to change in education. The central role of these ‘basics’ is never discussed; it is considered obvious. Thus the most important consequences of new technologies are not recognized by education policy-makers. Continue reading…

The Whole

“Good,” she said, resting her hands on her knees. “It seems like you’ve considered everything, Atrus. You’ve tried to see the Whole.” Atrus had looked down, gazing at the sleeping kitten. Now he looked up again. “The Whole?” She laughed softly. “It’s something my father used to say to me. What I mean by it, is that you’ve looked Continue reading…