Case study has long been recognized as a primary tool for exploration and
theory development in the behavioral and social sciences. Given that case
studies — in all their particularity and complexity — can not be replicated,
their most productive scientific use requires that case study materials be
maximally available for secondary analysis. The enhancement of recording
technologies during recent decades has made significant strides in permitting
such secondary analysis. Comparable advances in the area of interpretation are
required; such appear within our reach, if not within our immediate grasp,
through the well directed exploitation of computer technologies.
Exploiting Computing Technology for Secondary Analysis
The classic example of case studies used for the illumination of
differently based interpretations is Robert White’s “Lives in Progress”. White
provided interpretations of three of his case studies based on the biological,
the psychodynamic, and the social and cultural views of man. That work is a
classic for psychological education, primarily because it so well illustrates
the theories. What is less well known is that White’s remaining studies exist
in archives at Radcliffe’s Murray Research Center. It is possible at this
time, with sufficient knowledge, access, and support, to construct a new thing,
a database of cases (call it a DataCase) organized around White’s
interpretations in his classic text but more thoroughly undergirding (and
perhaps contradicting, even disconfirming) the notions published in his text.
The first notion of a datacase then is that it represents a textual layer,
interpretive in character and theoretically rich, supported by case detail both
as exemplifications of notions and as existence proofs for phenomena. White’s
work can be made more available for secondary analysis through its embodiment
in a DataCase. His work is important and exemplary in its commitment to
The on-line textual layer of the White Datacase could be created by scanning
and re-structuring the text of White’s book. The construction of the
supporting layer, based on more extensive case study materials, would depend
upon access to the archive of those cases 
The best candidate software concept for organizing such ill-formed records and
relations into an information processing system is hypertext. A hypertext
datacase will unify the database and text processing functions of information
processing systems into a medium for supporting scholarly investigation of
data-rich fields, such as the behavioral and social sciences epitomize.
If DataCases also include the construction of epistemological models based on
behavioral observation, they will exploit more fully the interpretive potential
of computing. That is, simulation of processes comprise a third layer in a
datacase. It is not possible to say, beforehand, that historically based
studies are suitable for use as a foundation for the construction of
epistemological models. White’ studies were not collected with such an end in
mind. Lawler’s studies of his children’s development were designed with such
an intention, and their analysis has already led to some modelling studies .
One primary focus of this project will be the
complete exploitation of Lawler’s case studies for the construction of a
The Three-Layer DataCase
Lawler’s case corpora currently include studies of three children,
ranging in age from 18 weeks through 8 years. Other work is underway. The
preliminary, partial textual layer of a datacase for Lawler’s studies exists as
the text of two books, in machine readable form, covering the early
development of two children. The supporting layer exists as three corpora,
much of which can be brought on-line with existing technology and considerable
effort. The modelling layer exists in kernel form as a series of interactive
machine learning programs, coded in a list processing langauge. The coverage
of the text by the models is not complete; such should be considered the
normal case — as it also should be considered the normal case that complete
corpora are not covered by the text that purports to interpret their detail. A
primary effort of this project will be the extension of this DataCase to cover
the existing case corpora, including the study of the third child’s developing
knowledge of language and space and the functional modelling of existing and
new interpretations where possible.
Special advantages of dealing with this material are at least two: first, the
preferred position with respect to copyright (the principal investigator owns
the material); second, as the designer and builder of this DataCase, the
principal investigator will be in an ideal position to show other scholars how
to exploit the material (both on-line and in the extended corpora) for their
development of alternative interprepations.
Exploiting Scholars’ Work for the Future
A second view of a datacase is that it comprises an encyclopedic summum
of a scholar’s life and work, organized for its optimal exploitation by future
scholars. Piaget’s extended corpus of writing and experimental work represents
a major challenge to the future for its thorough absorption and assimilation by
scholars of today and tomorrow. Approaching the lifework of a such productive
genius could be done different ways. One might, for example, focus on Piaget’s
creativity as an experimenter and form a catalog of his empirical work .
Alternately, one might think of Piaget primarily as a theorist of mind and
focus on theory development, beginning a datacase around that theme .
As with the studies by White and Lawler, special arrangements with respect to
available materials and copyrights are very important. The Principal
Investigator will seek advice and guidance members of the Archives Piaget
and colleagues and collaborators of Piaget.
The intention behind constructing the Piaget DataCase is to bring his work into
a form most suitable for future exploitation by students of mind. Since the
future is still unclear however, this implies a need for maintaining the
current structure and organization of the Piagetian corpus while admitting the
need for later free-form linking, indexing, component extraction, and the
development of tools for re-structuring based on ideas of future scholars.
Various future reorganizations will be possible because there need be no single
Piagetian DataCase. Much as commercial systems are “backed up” by making
copies that are kept over time, the Piagetian DataCase will be backed up — but
differently because it will be copied and modified many times for various
future purposes. The tree of possible reorganizations of the Piagetian corpus
will blossom broadly. Time will tell which are the primary branches and what
limbs will die and be lopped off. It is important that there be a well
established root and bole lest future variations generate more chaos than
Articulating the Knowledge of a Developing Science
At the end of his productive years, Norbert Weiner was approached by a
younger mathematician who urged him to bring his knowledge to bear in
organizing his own work for its best use by future students. Weiner preferred
to spend his time working on harder, more personally interesting problems.
Minsky, once that younger mathematician, has agreed to join in
this effort because the agenda is not so egocentric as construction of
a monument to a man, it is rather for exploiting today’s technology to create a
new tool for our scientific community. The DataCase Minsky will begin simply
— it has already begun in a modest way. Minsky’s Society of Mind 
comprises a textual layer of accessible introduction
to themes in the nature of knowledge and its embodiment in mind,
such as we know it now. Some essays point to the past, to what we know
already. Other essays point towards to the future, suggesting new ideas for
further development and evaluation. The 300 published essays in Minsky’s book
— a portion of the original essays available — can be extended, both with
essays originally omitted from the printed version and with new work. The
organization of material, sequential and chunked into chapters in the book, can
be supplemented in the machine readable form by dynamically compiled,
user-modifiable indices. The notions represented by the essays of Minsky’s
text can be supported or undermined by additional materials — from various
sources — constructed as the underlying layer of a DataCase. Computational
models of ideas, some already constructed by Minsky’s students, can serve today
as exemplifications of ideas. Minsky now holds copyright and editorial control
over the content of his hypertext Society of Mind. He can offer his students
the opportunity to extend his original text; he can offer them the opportunity
to improve his original text. They can offer him aid in developing a shared,
publicly articulated view of intelligence. Some day Minsky will yield control
over editing the Minsky DataCase to others. It will become community property
explicitly, as it is now implicitly. Then, perhaps even before then,
variations of the Minsky DataCase should be expected to occur and develop in
their own ways. Multiple variations will be the norm, not the exception; those
variations, because occurring in machine readable form, will be more easily
specifiable through machine embodied comparison of the DataCase variants
Where does the datacase go beyond commentary and extension ? Down, to
the detail of supporting materials; here is where the datacase earns its name
as materials are linked into the structure of ideas to either support or
disconfirm those ideas. Up, to simulations and alternate
representations of the ideas and the evidence bearing on those ideas; models
first will appear as demonstrations of notions appearing in the textual layer.
Later, as more work is done on the themes of extending modelling to cover the
notions of the textual layer, there will emerge a computational layer amounting
to a functional redescription of the view of mind advanced by Minsky and his
colleagues. Ultimately, the modelling layer will become a computational
epistemology, one growing out of the human experience but open to more general
characterizations of what mind is and might become.
The Interrelation of Multiple DataCases
These particular cases have not been advanced merely because they are
convenient and thus possible to construct. The ideas and research have long
been intimately related. Lawler’s case studies were inspired by Minsky’s
observations on challenges facing the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in
the mid-seventies. Neither the studies not the results are trivially
derivitive. One problem with mid-seventies theories of mind is that they were
underdetermined — this is still true, in that one can represent functioning in
many ways. Lawler’s studies did not constrain theorizing in AI, nor was such
their intention. They have however, suggested some non-obvious starting points
for knowledge development and some mechanisms as effective which were not
prominent in theory at the time.
Piaget and McCulloch, in an earlier generation, sensed the distant
compatibility of biological and computational epistemologies. Minsky’s Society
of Mind began as a collaboration with Papert, for five years Piaget’s
mathematician. Symbol-oriented machine learning studies began in the sixties
with the notion of procedural composition. Piagetian structuralism, requiring
more complex structures to embody knowledge than the procedures and
combined-primitives of the sixties, offered a richer vision of mind, in
psychological terms, and thus appeared as an addressible, compatible challenge
to early machine learning research: compatible because structural; addressible
because computation offers a wealth of mechanisms for embodying structural
development beyond simple composition. The challenge is profound; it has not
yet been adequately met.
Piaget’s case studies are an obvious inspiration for Lawler’s studies. In
contrast, however, note that Piaget’s studies were based on the unified
interpretation of case material based on three infant studies. Lawler’s most
thoroughly developed study was based on his second subject. (The work with the
first subject could be taken as an extended, exploratory pilot study for the
more detailed later study — thus influential in shaping the work but not
integral.) Lawler’s further studies involve interpretive work still underway
and going beyond the initial study significantly in the range of themes and
issues addressed — relating themes of language development with the Piagetian
focus on knowledge about objects and space.
The intention of this project is to construct three primary DataCases, with the
White DataCase as an important prototype. In this effort, the participation of
Minsky and Lawler, scientists owning their own material, will be a significant
advantage. Further, participating as designers and developers of the
implemented DataCases, they will be the best situated persons to guide others
in use of the facilities for secondary analysis, a primary focus of the effort.
Their collaboration over the long term and into the future will undergird the
attempt to interrelate their different DataCases and that of Piaget as well; it
will be a major advantage in this effort to enjoy the participation of
Cellerier, whose professional commitment has long been the adaptation of
notions of Piagetian structuralism to the novelties of function-oriented
psychologies. To the extent that other primary collaborators of Piaget,
Minsky, and Lawler (such as Gruber, Inhelder, Papert, and Sinclair) are willing
to invest their time and energy in the effort, that will also support the
effort to deal with these issues and information in the most profound way
- Written as a sketch for a proposal in March 1991. The work went unfunded. Text unpublished.
- Subsumed in Chapter 2 of Case Study and Computing, Lawler and Carley, Ablex, 1996.
- The principal Investigator has requested an appointment as a visiting scholar at the Murray Research Center for the summer of
1991 to begin this work.
- Lawler’s studies are respected in a community of scholars who take developmental case studies seriously. Sheldon White has described Lawler’s study of his daughter’s cognitive development as “…the finest single study of children’s learning we have, in care, in detail, in breadth, and sensitivity of perspective…The work of The Intimate Study stands as a model of the way a child’s thinking should be examined.” Barbel Inhelder has noted that it is also “… The first highly convincing synthesis of cognition science and genetic psychology. An innovative study which highlights the computational approach to new understandings of the growth of mind.”
- This approach has been followed by the Center for Educational Research and Innovation of OECD, Paris, which commissioned development of an experimental catalog based on Piaget’s work by Professors Pauli, Nathan, and Grize. The Principal Investigator has begun a joint project with OECD to bring their catalog of experiments on-line as a Macintosh hypercard stack.
- This focus is preferred by Piaget’s close colleagues. H. Gruber, for example, who followed Inhelder in Piaget’s chair at Geneva, focuses on Piaget’s intellectual development in his book (with Vonèche), “The Essential Piaget”, subtitled “An Interpretive Reference and Guide”. The Principal Investigator has begun exploring with Gruber construction of a prototype hypertext version of The Essential Piaget.
- Published as a paper book by Simon and Schuster, New York, 1986.
Note (1997): The work projects mentioned in notes three and four have been carried on by other people, centered in the Archives Piaget and the University of Geneva. Clearly they are better positioned and in fact more deeply knowledgable about Piaget’s work. I am pleased if my enthusiasm for this sort of project has urged others into completing tasks beyond my capability.