Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bruner, Beyond the Information Given

Bruner, Jerome. Beyond the Information Given: Studies in the Psychology of Knowing. New York: Norton, 1973.

Beyond the Information Given is an edited collection of Bruner's work. It compiles selected essays and addresses. For the purposes of the tools-in-use exam, I'm focusing on four chapters. Bruner sought to study childhood development through what he called three modes of representation: enactive representation (action), iconic representation (imagery), and symbolic representation (language). The first two selections concern the enactive representation in infants. The second two essays discuss the representative modes.

"The Growth and Structure of Skill" (245) - 1971
During the first eighteen months of life, how do visually guided hand movements evolve into more advanced tool use? Skill, or "skilled action," typically begins with the "hand or hands under visual guidance." (246). Infants develop "functionally adequate serial orders" that allow them to accomplish basic goals. Eventually, they are able to substitute the rules for particular orders with other means-ends sequences, even internalizing processes of analysis, anticipation, and feedback (rel. to Norman, 249). Furthermore, "modularization" of sub-processes enables greater range in the combinations of serial orders (252). Bruner's research studies involve, in one case, infants attempting to open a lid and grasp a toy relying on "complementary two-handedness," and, in another case, the use of a screen and a toy to test "detour reaching" (visually guided reaching behind the screen, with barriers, in effect). Eventually, task activation involves the merger of known and unknown: "Experience also serves to shape them; but it does not create them. Indeed, the anomaly is this; it is at the point where the old system begins to work smoothly and achieve goals sought that it is most likely to be superseded by a new, initially more clumsy one" (266).

"All writers on skill would agree that the secret of such smoothly flowing action is not only anticipation of what is coming next, but a sense of how what one is doing now and what one anticipates next fit into the objective of the serial program in operation" (248). Too teleological?
"Vygotsky (18) was fond of an epigram from Bacon, "Nec manus, nisi inellectus, sibi permissus, multum valent" (Neither hand nor intellect left each to itself is worth much)" (247).
"Skilled activity is a program specifying an objective or terminal state to be achieved, and requiring the serial ordering of a set of constituent, modular subroutines" (247).

"Eye, Hand, and Mind" (270) - 1969
Tools and language converge as "instruments of thought" (270), and this suggests that we can account for the "growth of mind." Bruner wants to establish an experiment that can deal with the following: self-initiated learning, failure and awkwardness, the organization of perception and attention, and the "orchestration" of "previously separate enterprises synergically" (271). During early infancy, many goals are guided-to-mouth (mouthing), but infants move beyond the small, isolated efforts-toward-goal, and "[l]earning during this stage leads to better anticipation, a more integrated act, and finer differentiation" (278).

"What is interesting, once visually guided reaching achieves some rough competence, is that attention enters a new phase in its development" (275).
"The burden of all this is to suggest that there develops first, before visually guided reaching, an orientative visual matrix in which the seen movement of the hand can be appreciated" (273).

"The Growth of Representational Processes in Childhood" (313) - 1966
Bruner explains and reiterates the three representative modes--enactive, iconic, and symbolic (316)--while introducing a study concerned with symbolic representation as "the most mysterious of the three" (317). Basically, while controlling for imagery (iconic), enactive and symbolic variables were introduced (specifically manipulation and labeling (321)). When manipulation (enactive) and labeling (symbolic) modes were incorporated with a basic test (clay objects), "conservation" was much higher. When modes combine, "growth" is more probable: "It is not the whole story of growth and increased competence, but it is, I believe, very close to the center of what is involved when a human being equipped with gifts of action, imagery, and symbolism, comes to know and to master his world" (323)

"Growth involves not a series of stages, but rather a successive mastering of three forms of representation along with their partial translation each into the others" (317).
"Perhaps the psychology of conservation, indeed, all forms of invariance, involve a recognition that the same thing can take many guises and still be the same thing" (323).

"The Course of Cognitive Growth" (325) - 1964
This is a longer piece, and there are several important ideas here that mobilize a vocabulary specific to cognitive psychology. Here, too, Bruner makes a case for the integration of the three representative modes, suggesting that as they come together, the mind become more adept at problem solving. Rather than being hard-wired for responses, we develop techniques that are infused with the technological and cultural surrounds: "In short, the capacities that have been shaped by our evolution as tool users are the ones we rely upon in the primary task of representation" (327). The three modes are developed here; between them, Bruner finds "translation difficulty" to lead to error (in moving from mode to mode) (340). Ultimately, Bruner is interested in the sequencing of the three modes (their interplay, shifting preferences, etc.) and the eventuality of the language/symbolic mode as it is internalized and becomes a "program for ordering experience" (350).

"Once the child has succeeded in internalizing language as a cognitive instrument, it becomes possible for him to represent and systematically transform the regularities of experience with far greater flexibility and power than before" (330).
"There are, first, what Vygotsky (29) has called 'heaps,' collections put together in an arbitrary way simply because the child has decided to put them together that way" (342). Heaps. Nice.
"As language becomes more internalized, more guiding as a set of rules for organizing events, there is a shift from the associative principles that operate in classical perceptual organization to the increasingly abstract rules for grouping events by the principles of inclusion, exclusion, and overlap, the most basic characteristics of any hierarchical system" (344).

Key terms: visually guided reaching (242), modules of action (241), visual scanning (246), serial order (247), substitution rules (247), chaining (251), modularization (252), embedded action (257), activation (263), instruments of thought (271), representation (311), enactive-iconic-symbolic (316), conservation (322), integration (325), "evolution-by-prosthesis" (326), translation difficulty (340), Vygotsky's "heaps" (342).

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