Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bruner and Einstein

Jerome Bruner: "...how the mind works is itself dependent on the tools at its disposal. How the hand works for example, cannot be fully appreciated unless one also takes into account whether it is equipped with a screwdriver, a pair of scissors..."

Albert Einstein: "My pencil and I are more clever than I."

Each tool in the human arsenal can be used with skill and attention or mindlessly in the abuse and destruction of material and form. In that way, the tools of the scholar and craftsman are just alike. This same applies to a chisel, a saw, or the most powerful computers currently in operation. The assumption, of course, has been that tools of the hand are less mindful, requiring less attention, less intelligence, than those tools of ever increasing capacity, and thus impart less status, less prestige to the skilled user and are thus less deserving of reward.

The fact of the matter in the long term is reversed. Growth in complexity and power of tools is intended to eliminate the need for skill and attention. When new tools with greater power are introduced, there is a temporary need for specialized skills in the workplace until such time as the human-to-tool interface is refined to bring the technology to ease of use and thus eliminate the need for skill that the new technology had introduced in the first place. And so the simple tools of the craftsman tell the story of civilization, growth of character and purpose, with greater sincerity than the wondrous mechanism that spews entertainment into the mass media. The difference is one of scale. It is hard to replicate in mindless manner the attentions of hand and chisel to wood. On the other hand, things made by a simple craftsman can last centuries.

So what is the engaging narrative of our civilization, or rather, what stories are those that should be told, from generation to generation? Would we rather be described as an incessant march toward mindlessness? The human care and attention required for the growth of skilled craftsmanship is a step in the other direction.

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