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Ed Webb

Alan Kay, Systems, and Textbooks « Theatrical Smoke - 3 views

  • I discuss his key idea: that systemic thinking is a liberal art, and I explain a corollary idea, that textbooks suck
  • if you don’t have a category for an idea, it’s very difficult to receive that idea
  • the story of the last few hundred years is that we’ve quickly developed important ideas, which society needs to have to improve and perhaps even to continue to exist, and for which there are no pre-existing, genetically created categories. So there’s an idea-receiving capacity gap.
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  • Education’s job should be, says Kay, to bridge this gap. To help, that is, people form these necessary new idea-receiving categories–teaching them the capacity for ideas–early on in their lives, so that as they grow they are ready to embrace the things we need them to know. Let me say that in a better way: so that as they grow they are ready to know in the ways we need them to know.
  • cultivate the ability to conceive of, work with, create, understand, manipulate, tinker with, disrupt, and, generally, appreciate the beauty of systems
  • The point is to be able to see connections between the silos. Says Kay, the liberal arts have done a bad job at “adding in epistemology” among the “smokestacks” (i.e. disciplines)
  • a game, or a simulation, thought of as a thing we might create (rather than a thing we only act within), is a visceral example of systems thinking
  • It’s the Flatland story–that we need to train our 2D minds to see in a kind of 3D–and Kay’s genius is that he recognizes we have to bake this ability into the species, through education, as close to birth as possible.
  • Systems thinking is to be conceived of as a platform skill or an increased capacity on top of which we will be able to construct new sorts of ideas and ways of knowing, of more complex natures still. The step beyond seeing a single system is of course the ability to see interacting systems – a kind of meta-systemic thinking – and this is what I think Kay is really interested in, because it’s what he does. At one point he showed a slide of multiple systems–the human body, the environment, the internet, and he said in a kind of aside, “they’re all one system . . .”
  • Seeing systems is an epistemology, a way of knowing, a mindset
  • What happens when you’re stuck in a system? You don’t understand the world and yourself and others as existing in constant development, as being in process; you think you are a fixed essence or part within a system (instead of a system influencing systems) and you inadvertently trap yourself in a kind of tautological loop where you can only think about things you’re thinking about and do the things you do and you thus limit yourself to a kind of non-nutritive regurgitation of factoids, or the robotic meaningless actions of an automaton, or what Kay calls living in a pop culture
  • A downside of being epistemologically limited to thinking within a system is that you overemphasize the importance of the content and facts as that system orders them
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    Seems like, among other things, a call for learning with games.
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