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Rob during our years at MIT Logo Project

Exploring Natural Learning

What is really profound in this work?
A little more detail…
the analyses and interpretations concluding LC1, undertaken and written before The Intimate Study of LC2, introduced new ideas and new goals into the MIT Artificial Intelligence community:

  • I argued (first, to Papert) there was a sigificant metaphor, superior to “planning,” for understanding the processes by which a mind constructed itself; I called this “bricolage,” the term used by anthropologist Levi-Strauss for his articulation of the model in “The Savage Mind.”
  • I argued (later, with Minsky) that as much as “AI” represented an important engineering and scientific goal, the only behavior one could see as manifestly intelligent at that time was human, and that it was a good idea to look closely at how children learned in their circumstances to see how they actually learned “everyday knowledge,” as the ground of common sense. I proposed “AI inspired psychology” research to extend and replace pre-computational studies of behavior and learning.
  • Minsky accepted that argument, joined my doctoral thesis committee, and we agreed (as we did beforehand) that we were seeking a general theory of intelligence.
  • A clever critic will notice that if intelligence depends on evolution, then it is intrinsically rooted in particular embodiments, thus unlikely to be universal in nature. (Well, then maybe this is a research issue, more than one of ideology.)

The conclusions of this study were revised and extended for inclusion in “Computer Experience and Cognitive Development.”

Below are first, the short argument I gave Papert, followed by the interpretation based on the study growing out of that point of view (as published in “Computer Experience and Cognitive Development.”)
On Not Planning (1976)
The Development of Objectives, (1977, rev.1984)
A cluster of four ideas suggested a new approach to understanding learning.
A.bricolage as a metaphor for the mind under self-construction.
B. understanding Peircean abduction as “competing cognitive computational processses” is a way of fitting self-construction into logical processes.
C. the unified generalization proposal, a scheme through which an active procedure is either incrementally extended (on success) or generates a deferred objective (on failure) for later activation and “symbolic realization” in a different context.
D. learning (seen as a side effect of other activity) can occasionally produce saltations in knowledge and behavior, exemplified in the invention of writing and an explanation of the genesis of reptilian flight.
LC1 showed a way forward by which the analysis of case studies could pass from being the seed-bed of theories to a more dependable method for understanding in detail the development of minds (potential for which we inherit through our genes, as those were shaped by evolution) such as we construct for ourselves through the course of our personal histories. LC2 and LC3 are attempts to make that insight concrete and useful in answering important questions. When I asked him about the future of Psychology, in the late 1970’s, Papert predicted that there would be a division of the discipline into “bio-psychology” and “epistemology.” If “Neuro-psychology” marks a move towards the former by many in the field, case study will remain the data gathering method most suitable for the later, as will interpretation of particular cases remain its forte and source of power.
A sidelight: reviewers of Cognition and Computers noted its usefulness for educators. Though gratified by that reception, what is more useful is to see in LC1 progress in analysis from:
the student’s focus on ideas
the engineer’s focus on what we can build
the observer’s exploration in other contexts
the analyst’s construction of a sensible story
the scientist’s integration of observation, explanation, and ideas.

The path of these analyses show a progressive decentration with a move from ideas to observation, analysis, and back again.
As in: Emerging Forms in Turtle Geometry
As in: Three Encounters with Number
As in: Sketches of Natural Learning
As in: Extending a Powerful Idea
As in: The Development of Objectives
Papers published in Cognition And Computers LC1b-NLS with other chapters by B. DuBoulay, M. Hughes & H. MacLeod. (John Wiley, 1986)
LC1bA0 Natural Learning: People, Computers, and Everyday Number Knowledge
a slightly different view
LC1bA1 Emerging Forms in Turtle Geometry Reflective Thinking
multiple polyspiral design

Multiple Polyspiral Designs
LC1bA2 Three Encounters with number: Looking at Learning
   I         II        III         IV  
  20         23         24         24  
 +20        +26        +26        +26  
----       ----        ----       ----  
  40         49        410         50
LC1bA3 Sketches of Natural Learning: Natural Learning Dimensioned number subtraction: 9 feet minus 4 inches (in relation to place value):

      9'   -->      8' 12"  
     -4"   -->     -0'  4" 
    ----         --------  
     ??    -->      8'  8"
LC1bA4 Extending a Powerful Idea: Exploratory Thinking
the “paper-rings” puzzle
Relationship to Another Study. As a study of one child’s learning in a computer rich milieu, the material presented in this collection goes beyond the studies of Cognition and Computers and the companion piece, Computer Experience and CognitiveDevelopment, the more intensive study and analysis of my daughter’s learning in her sixth year. 

LC1 began earlier. Both studies took place in the same laboratory, and overlapped in time. They both are, in fact, different aspects of the same effort to explore the processes underlying the development of learned, every-day knowledge.

two peas in a pod
Rob and Miriam, two peas in a pod.
VN42.01: Working and Playing Together
LC1bA5 The Development of Objectives: Expressive Thinking
Chapter 1 in Computer Experience and Cognitive Development


An initial objective becomes active

— when its procedure appears achievable in a domain.


The initial objective succeeds:

— this leads to a new objective through elaboration.

— the procedure becomes a more generalized tool.

The initial objective fails:

— this leads to a new objective through demon formation.

— the objective of the failed procedure becomes variablizied, that is, symbolically realizable; as its furthest extreme, this permits detachment from the local context and procedure which created it.


Any new objective can become an initial objective.

The range of a procedure’s efficacy is determined.

LC1cO1 Corpus Robby: The Intimate Study and Earlier Starting with Robby
Advice to a Teacher
ZOOM a Logo language interface
ADDvisor a Logo language Addition Aid
Designing Computer Based Microworlds: introduction with After Thoughts
LC1c-text Index of TIS Vignettes focused on Rob
LC1c-video Index of TIS Videos focused on Rob.


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