At the Start of The Intimate Study
Miriam has always been much more than a “skills and knowledge acquisition machine.”
Her life and activities were more complex than a sharp focus on a single topic, such as learning to add, or other themes would capture. The Intimate Study videos and vignettes enrich the picture. One simple but significant fact was that Miriam suffered from chronic allergic asthma. This was somewhat controlled, but it had an impact on what she could do (see vignettes 20.1, In the Gymnasium) and on what we three did together.
Miriam kept a stiff upper lip, and she tried to bend it into a smile, as this polaroid photo recalls:
And in the spring of 1977, she played in full participation with her friends in kindergarten. (For a sense of that participation, see the vignette The HouseKeeping Corner.)
Because the children’s mother was carrying our third child, it was clear early on that Miriam and Rob were to be my responsibility over the summer. The availability of air conditioning for the computers of the AI laboratory, and the predictable good this did Miriam, was a strong argument that we three should an embark on an adventure in learning about learning, together, going deeper into some of the questions raised by my earlier studies with Rob. My mentors, Minsky and Papert, both saw research about learning as a central issue for understanding knowledge and the mind. So they agreed that we three could use the resources of the AI lab to document our experiences with “natural learning,” as described in the research proposal for The Intimate Study. And so we did. Although my interpretations of these experience were published previously in “Computer Experience and Cognitive Development,” much of the materials on which the interpretations were based is public here, for the first time.