ch4_computer as mind by pugh

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how the metaphor breaks down by presenting a story of what a computer would be like if it Tanner, an upperclassman in college, went to the store to buy a new computer. There he Nano Extreme X-900.” perspective known as constructivism. As explained in the prior section, the computer has been used as a dominant metaphor for encountered a salesman who introduced him to the latest and greatest computer, the new “Super extremely extreme.” extreme?” 1

TRANSCRIPT

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    PART 3

    CONSTRUCTIVISM

    As explained in the prior section, the computer has been used as a dominant metaphor for

    understanding the human mind. But is the mind really like a computer? All metaphors break

    down at some point and the mind as computer metaphor is no exception. In chapter 4, I illustrate

    how the metaphor breaks down by presenting a story of what a computer would be like if it

    really was like the human mind. The results are not pretty. In chapter 5, I present an alternative

    to the computer and network metaphors: the mind as ecosystem. Together, the computer as

    human mind and mind as ecosystem metaphors illuminate key principles of a learning

    perspective known as constructivism.

    Chapter 4

    The Computer as Human Mind

    Tanner, an upperclassman in college, went to the store to buy a new computer. There he

    encountered a salesman who introduced him to the latest and greatest computer, the new Super

    Nano Extreme X-900.

    Super Nano Extreme, mused Tanner. Does that mean its only a microscopic bit

    extreme?

    Of course not! exclaimed the salesman with raised eyebrows. Its why its

    extremely extreme.

    But doesnt nano mean very, very small? asked Tanner.

    Well, I dontI mean, nano is just a cool word, responded the salesman while

    twitching his glasses. Nano this and nano that. Its just a hot word right now. And so is

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    extreme. Everything that is cool is extreme. Extreme sports, extreme drinks. The salesman

    was building up steam. And X is the hottest letter going. You got the X-games, the X-files,

    the X-men, the Xbox. Put those all together, Super Nano Extreme X-900, and you got a

    great product. Its guaranteed. They dont give a name like that to an inferior product. If you

    want the best, this is it.

    Tanner looked skeptically at the salesman. Where do they get guys like this? But he

    decided to play along. OKNorbert, he replied glancing at the nametag. What makes the

    Super Nano Extreme X-900 so extreme?

    The GHMLP, answered Norbert confidently.

    The GHMP, the GHLM, the what?

    The GHMLP. Stands for Genuine Human Mind-Like Processor.

    Tanner raised an eyebrow, suddenly intrigued. Like a processor based on the actual

    human mind?

    You got it.

    That does sound extreme. Ill take it.

    A month later, Tanner returned to the computer store. I want to return this computer, he

    told Norbert.

    Norbert frowned, Wasnt it extreme enough?

    Oh, it was extreme alright, nodded Tanner, extremely annoying.

    Norbert began fidgeting with his glasses. Could you like, explain what the problem was

    sir?

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    More like what wasnt the problem, Tanner muttered to himself. Then he took a deep

    breath and explained, OK. What I type on the keyboard should be the same as what shows up

    on the screen, right? Thats the way a normal computer works: I type some words, the same

    words show up on the screen, life is good, Im happy. Tanner spread his arms wide and gave a

    mock smile. Then he glared at Norbert, But thats not the way this computer works! Tanner

    gestured dramatically to the computer sitting on the return counter. Oh no. This computer has to

    make things difficult. This computer likes to change, distort, alter, modify, and otherwise wreak

    havoc with what I type in!

    Norbert reflected back on his training. Let the customer know you understand his plight.

    And this frustrates you? he replied.

    You think?! exclaimed Tanner, a vein pulsing above his left temple.

    Norbert glanced nervously around for his manager. He was nowhere to be seen. Norbert

    looked back at Tanner and asked, So, did, um, did the computer always do this?

    No. Actually it worked just fine out of the box. Tanner calmed down it bit. But then it

    started to mess around with what I was trying to type in. Just minor things at first. But it got

    worse over time and now, I never know what is going to happen. Tanner paused, At least not

    exactly.

    Not exactly?

    Well, I discovered a pattern.

    Norbert perked up. Ive always liked patterns, he commented. Patterns in numbers.

    Patterns in stars. Patterns in Missy Jorgensons plaid skits. She had this blue and green one with

    thin pink lines and Norbert cut off. So tell me about this pattern.

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    Tanner stared straight ahead for a good 30 seconds. Then he took another deep breath and

    explained, Alright. At first I thought the computer just made random changes to what I typed in.

    But then I had to do this assignment for school in which I argued both sides of an issue. I choose

    to write about the environment and first I wrote all about why we need to protect the

    environmenthow its necessary for sustaining quality of life and all that. Tanner paused to rub

    his forehead. Then I tried to write about the other side of the issue, but it wouldnt let me.

    Who?

    The computer!

    Norbert looked confused. Tanner shook his head and continued, It changed everything I

    wrote to a pro-environment argument. Norbert looked more confused. I would write something

    like, We need to put the needs of people ahead of the needs of Spotted Owls and Humpback

    Chubs and the computer would display something like, We need to put the needs of humans

    first and preserving diverse species like the Spotted Owl and Humpback Chub is necessary to

    improving the quality of human life.

    Dude, I like that computer, commented a man who was passed by in a tie-dye shirt with

    a symbol of the earth and the words Respect Your Mother on it. Tanner glared and the man

    and he scurried off to find a Grateful Dead CD.

    Norbert scrunched his face in a pensive look. So, he contemplated, the pattern is the

    computer likes what you type in the first time.

    Sort of, replied Tanner. The pattern is the computer always reinterprets what I type

    based on what Ive already typedeven stuff I typed and saved weeks earlier.

    Whoa.

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    Watch. If I typed The sky is blue then The sky is blue shows up on the screen. So far

    so good. But now look what happens when I type The sky is yellow.

    Norbert looked at the screen and read, The sky is greenish-blue. Cool!

    No it is not cool! exclaimed Tanner getting agitated again. I once tried sending my

    girlfriend an email telling her that she is pure and pristine like the sparkling waters of an alpine

    lake. Only because I had written my issue paper about how our sparkling blue desert reservoirs

    are really just giant mud pits in the making, the computer reinterpreted my typing to say that my

    girlfriend was like a sparkling lake that looks good on the surface but is a festering mud pit

    underneath! Shes still mad at me.

    Norbert chuckled, then caught himself and muttered an embarrassed, Sorry. Tanner just

    stared at Norbert. You didnt proofread before hitting send? Tanner continued to stare. Um,

    no, of course not, or she wont have gotten that message. Tanner stared. Not knowing what else

    say, Norbert thought back again to his training. Repeat back to the customer his or her concerns.

    So your problem is the computer, um, embellishes what you write and, um, you find this to be

    frustrating. Tanner placed his head in his hand. Norbert adjusted his glasses again. Is that all?

    he finally asked. Any other problems?

    Actually, yes, stated Tanner emphatically. Not only does the computer embellish what

    I type in, Tanner rolled his eyes, it changes what Ive already saved on the computer. He

    looked over at the computer like it was an evil beast. When I open an old file, I never know

    what Im going to get. Its always changing.

    Is there a pattern to the changes? asked Norbert tentatively.

    Same pattern, but in reverse, responded Tanner. What I try to type in changes what

    Ive already typed in. Its a two way street. I spent hours and hours trying to write things like

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    why we should open up more land to logging and finally I got the computer to accept what I was

    typing in. Then I opened the previous file and found that the pro-environment argument had been

    changed to a pro-logging and oil exploration argument! I nearly pulled my hair out! Tanner

    noticed he was pulling his hair to the sides and dropped his hands.

    Norbert nearly asked if Tanner was pulling his hair out of frustration, but thought better

    of it. He looked around again for the manager and spied a worker wheeling a box onto the shop

    floor. Norberts eyes lit up. Ive got just the solution for you. What you need is to do is

    exchange this here Super Nano Extreme X-900 for that. Norbert pointed to the box being

    wheeled in. That, that, is the new Super Nano Extreme Triple X-1000! Not only does it have a

    Genuine Human Mind-Like Processor, it has a Genuine Human Emotions Chip!

    Oh great, muttered Tanner.

    Making Sense of the Metaphor

    This story illustrates a fundamental difference between the human mind and a computer,

    at least a normal computer. In the constructivist perspective, the human mind is, well,

    constructive. It interprets, transforms, and imposes meaning on incoming information based on

    prior knowledge. At the same time, stored information is constantly being transformed and

    reconstructed based on new knowledge. It works like the Super Nano Extreme X-900. Here are

    some humorous examples of such construction in act