Archive for November 3rd, 2010

Cognitive Extension, part 2   no comments

Posted at 5:39 pm in Uncategorized

I’m currently reading Donald Gillies‘ “Artificial Intelligence and Scientific Method” as a introduction to AI.  The author has outlined inductivism and falsificationism as scientific methodologies relevant to the development and research of AI.

Issues concerning the topic are philosophical, psychological, logical and practical, and Gillies refers to the Turing machine as an example of the latter two, and to the program BACON.1 as psychological and logical.

Gillies has identified the development of expert systems as the first major break-through in the field of AI, although he notes the need for rule-based systems to solve the knowledge representation problem. The first expert system DENDRAL was essentially a chemist; the first expert system to (arguably) pass the Turing test (in a matter of speaking) was MYCIN, which had a knowledge base of some 400 rules.  The main stumbling block here is known as the “Feigenbaum bottleneck”.

Expert system

I do have a question. Sir Francis Bacon wrote about scientific research which could/would/ought to be carried out “mechanically”. His examples include a mention of  a (circle-drawing) compass, which allows anyone to draw a perfect circle – something which by free-hand is near impossible, at least to most people. I find myself asking the question  – is using a compass to draw a circle a form of cognitive extension, even if it is, say, purely for fun, i.e. with no desire or intention to study the circle, use it to solve any problem, create a piece of art, etc. Does drawing a perfect circle with a compass = using a calculator to solve an equation?

Written by Terhi on November 3rd, 2010

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An introduction to classical economics, Doomed to antiquity?   no comments

Posted at 3:54 pm in Economics,Sociology

This week, I have begun to investigate the economic component of the independent disciplinary review; the main text I used for this was “Economics” by Parkin, Powell and Matthews. The authors describe economics as the social science of choice, and they differentiate between two main types, microeconomics, the economics of individuals and small businesses; and macroeconomics, the economics which concentrate on nations and large multinational companies.

The next large theme handled was production, including 4 main factors of production, land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship. Land refers to the raw materials used in the production of goods, labour the work that individuals must complete in order to produce the good, capital the assets that a company must have to produce the goods and entrepreneurship, the organisation and goals the business possesses.  Simply by looking at these factors it is clear that the digital revolution would fundamentally change what, and by whom goods are produced. The increase in digital media means that companies, and increasingly individuals do not require large amounts of natural resources, for example, a mash up artist just requires a copy of the intended parent files. Additionally many digital users do not require vast assets to produce goods, many of which can be created using a PC, potentially with a key piece of required software, this is far smaller than the large production facilities which many companies are required to possess. It is clear therefore that just from a basic level that the web has altered or has the potential to alter the fundamentals of economics. The authors contend that the information revolution in the 1990s and the subsequent growth of the web has altered the lives individuals in much the same way as the industrial revolution of the 1700s and 1800s.

Economics does take a negative view of individuals, arguing that all individuals are fundamentally self centred and individualistic, who always act according to self interest.(As an aside, economics  seems to view individuals as being governed by the id, and pleasure principle in Freudian psychology) This action is taken as a given by economists, who argue that the role of the state is to manage the wants of the citizens, as no individual can ever be truly satisfied. Scarcity is a common to all, as individuals inherently want for more, they can never be satisfied, due to limit of resources, making every decision a trade-off. This is easy to see in everyday transactions, as individual only has a finite set of resources, as such we must make decisions on how best to use our limited source. Based on the notion of limited resources, economics also focuses on opportunity costs, that is the cost of not doing something else with the resources an individual possesses. Interestingly economists only look at this in terms of profit and loss rather than simply opportunities for other activities, for example an individual may invest a significant amount of time developing social bonds by spending time with a large group of friends, the individual has not gained a direct use of their capital, and as such they may have been better investing their time into completing required work. Sociologists could argue that spending time with others fosters the gain of social capital, a potentially valuable resource. The investment of resources is always a trade off between activities, as such actively investing in the future reduces the resources available now, in exchange for increasing the potential for resources in the future.

As Individuals only have a finite set of resources, it is obvious that individuals benefit from specialisation, individuals cannot be the best at everything, but by specialising and gaining expert skill levels in one subset, they can produce the best goods they can. If multiple specialists from different skill sets combine, they can then trade, allowing all parties to gain a benefit, and access to goods otherwise denied to them. Interestingly this is where the growth of the web contradicts with classical economic theory, many of the youtube sensations, or web mash up artists are not experts in these fields, and in the vast majority of cases are not trading their ideas for a form of capital gain, but simply to be a member of a community, or to express creativity, of course it is possible to argue that these could count as investments into the future but it seems very unlikely that this is the motivating factor behind such actions.

The next large economic theory I focused on was demand and supply, a key tenet in economics, central to demand is the law of demand, which states that if all other factors are equal, the lower the cost of an item the higher the demand. It is possible that this is where the web has fundamentally revolutionised consumer behaviour, the web has allowed individuals to access information, at a relatively low cost, that would have potentially remained inaccessible, Wikipedia has allowed everyone with an internet connection to learn about a variety of topics, e-commerce has allowed individuals to access goods otherwise denied to them at a lower cost. The web is used in rural areas of developing countries to check the global price of goods to ensure that the farmers are getting a fair price for the goods that they produce. People generally want greater value for money, demand more, and value innovation more. Of course it could be argued that these social trends started long before the explosion of the massed web, but the web has fundamentally changed the perceptions of value and the way the global game is played.     

The coming week I will be returning to sociology to see how sociologists can help explain these trends, and consider whether we are simply in the start of a snow ball, and whether this trend could continue indefinitely in its current state, or whether these trends are somehow doomed. The web has allowed the Djinn out of the lamp, and people don’t want him to go back in. If classical economics is based on the “Wealth of Nations”, written in 1776, is the coming age characterised by the wealth of the individual, with classical economics being resigned to antiquity?

Written by ca306 on November 3rd, 2010

Nicole – post no.2 – Sociology: the first two books…   no comments

Posted at 3:09 pm in Sociology

Blog Post two – Sociology.

I have been reading about Sociology and Gender from two main texts, Marsh et al. (2009) Sociology. Making Sense of Society and Haralambos & Holborn (2004) Sociology Themes and Perspectives.  Both have given me a really good broad overview into general sociological approaches, as well as more in-depth details of sociology’s approach to understanding gender.

I am particularly interested in the key issues as outlined by Marsh et al. of sociological perspectives in practice and how sociological knowledge is produced.

Sociological perspectives – key issues:

It seems from the readings that I have carried out so far that there is no unified body of approaches to/theories in sociology.  Sociologists seem to struggle to agree on concepts, I am particularly interested by Gouldner’s criticism describing social surveillance as ‘cow sociology’ (1975).

Sociology seems to claim to follow a scientific method to collect data with which it can make statements about behavioural patterns, but these tendency statements do presumably invest quite a high percentage of their accuracy on the dependency of regularity.  People are not necessarily always going to behave in a predictable manner, even if sociology has studied other individuals/groups in a similar situation in the past.   I like the idea of considering in every situation these factors: biological, psychological and social.  But, as my first book on sociology tells me, it is often difficult to distinguish between these factors.

Production of Sociological knowledge

Marsh et al. outline the cyclical trends in sociological research (2009:119), as highlighted by McNeill (1990), and also discuss the importance, as put by Pawson, in the differences between positivist and interpretivist approaches to understanding social research: “both qualitiative and quantitative approaches face identical problems and need to adopt common solutions.” (Pawson, 1989:31-2).

According to Marsh et al., sociologists like Karl Marx, Durkheim and Weber base their work on analysing second-hand evidence, such as historical sources and not on first-hand research.  Whereas Charles Booth and Seebohn Rowntree were all about the survey and qualitative research (Marsh et al.,2009:119).  So there seems to be a dichotomy with the forms of research most appropriate for generalising societal behaviours, or for making statements on a much smaller scale of individuals’ actual behaviours.

I wonder how this will all tie in with looking at gender from a sociological perspective. ..

Different approaches to sociology

Haralambos and Holborn’s publication has a good introduction to the differences between structural and social action theories (2004:855-856).  I found the outlines of functionalist (Durkheim, Merton and Parsons), social capital (Putnam), conflict perspectives, including Marxism (Marx), neo-Marxism (Gramsci), post-capitalism conflict theory (Dahrendorf), and social action and interpretive perspectives (Weber, Ritzer) really useful.  I struggled to understand symbolic interaction (Mead and Dewey) with its notion of the self (2004:881), although the argument put forward by Ropers that “the activities he [Mead] sees men engaged in are not historically determined relationships of social and historical continuity; they are merely episodes, interactions, encounters, and situations” (quoted in Meltzer et al., 1975) that Haralambos and Holborn include in this section (2004: 883) does make the approach of the symbolic interactionists a little easier to understand.  I loved the section on phenomenology (2004:885) (Schutz) with its wonderfully sensory approaches to understanding how people come into contact with the world.  As an Archaeologist, this is an approach that I have come across many times and feel quite comfortable with as a useful way to try to think about the way that knowledge is constructed and shared.  Humans creating their own idea that there is a society is something that I love the idea of, I wonder how far this approach could be used to think about the way that we understand our own gender and other individuals’ projections of their own gender (or notion of it)…

Ethnomethodology (Garfinkel) seems a bit off the wall (it was developed in the 1960s, so…).  It looks at social order as fiction, which I like, and which could be great when looking at gender constructs (can I say that it’s a ‘construct’ this early on; maybe not).  But I do not feel comfortable with the idea of social life as Garfinkel’s words here: “essentiall reflexive” (1967).  So an account of the social world actually constitutes that world (Haralambos & Holborn, 2004:885-7).  So that would mean that our attempts to define the world are what creates the world, and this really doesn’t sit well with me.  Haralambos and Holborn tell us that Gouldner was “scorn[ful]” of Garfinkel (1970) (I am liking Gouldner more and more), and Giddens apparently said that Garfinkel had little reference to “the pursuance of practical goals or interests” (1977).  I like to think that sociology will always look to try to understand why people behave in certain ways and look at the effects of external factors on individuals’ behaviours, and Garfinkel doesn’t seem to think that this is important.   Modernity, postmodernity and postmodernism (I had no idea that there was any difference between these two) are also outlined in this section of the book.

Postmodernism (Lyotard, Baudrillard, Philo and Miller) is discussed in terms of Lyotard’s work with language, knowledge and narrative (1984).  There is also a small paragraph tackling Lyotard’s  approach to computers and how they were the principal “force of production” (1984), and where knowledge has become commodified and will cause wars in the future.   Haralambos and Holborn comment that Postmodernism allows for the “possibility of tolerance and creative diversity, in which humans are not corrupted by some doctrinaire metanarrative” (2004: 893).  ‘High modernity and beyond’ is the subtitle of the next section, and this provided much opportunity for further reading.  The section looks at Giddens, with the heightened possibility for greater reflexivity, with sociology as “the most generalised type of reflection upon modern social life” (Giddens, 1991), the opportunities for globalization, and the transformations that were possible where capitalism becomes a ‘post-scarcity system’ – Are we there now with the web? I think I need to read a bit (lot!) more about this as it could be really relevant to the approaches to gender thinking about the ways that participation online is affected by ideas of who we are and what we want (of which I am sure gender is an inextricable factor).

Methods for looking at social life

Participant observation, Quantitative research in the form of surveys, questionnaires and interviews, and qualitative research in the form of interviews and observations are all outlined by Marsh et al. (2009:120-125).  Interestingly, there is also some time given in the book to the other methods of research, such as the use of secondary data, content analysis and discourse analysis, and case studies and life histories (2009:130-139), and these could be potentially very useful in looking towards understanding gender on the web.  I will look into these different methods in more detail as the weeks go on, but for now they have made me think about the tools that sociologists have available to them as being more than a survey, a questionnaire and an interview.  Even here, there has been a revelation, in the types of interviews possible: discussed by Marsh et al. as being: 1) in-depth, 2) interactive, and 3) the most fascinating for me, generative.  This comes from Gubrium and Holstein who say that both the interviewee and the interviewer are participants in a social process so the respondents are: “constructors of knowledge in collaboration with the interviewers” (1997:114).


Haralambos, M. & M. Holborn, 2004.  Sociology Themes and Perspectives, Collins: London

Marsh, I., M. Keating, S. Punch, J. Harden, 2009. Sociology. Making Sense of Society, Pearson Longman: London

Please note, I have not read the following books, but I have Googled the references that I have mentioned above from two books that I have read, so that if you are interested in looking up the various bits that I have mentioned in the whistle-stop tour of my reading this week, you can do so easily.

Garfinkel, H., 1970. Studies in Ethnomethodology, Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Giddens, A., 1977. Studies in Social and Political Theory, Hutchinson: London

Giddens, A., 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in Late Modern Age, Polity Press: Cambridge

Gouldner, A. W., 1975. For Sociology: Renewal and Critique in Sociology Today, Harmondsworth: Penguin

Gubrium, J. F., & J. A. Holstein, 1997. The New Language of Qualitative Method, Oxford University Press: Oxford

Lyotard, J.F., 1984. The Postmodern Condition, Manchester University Press: Manchester

Meltzer, B.N., J.W. Petras, L.T. Reynolds, 1975. Symbolic Interactionism, Routledge & Kegan Paul: London

Pawson, R., 1989. A Measure for Measures: A Manifesto for Empirical Sociology, Routledge: London

Next week…

My plan is now to look a little more in detail at some of the sociological ideas that I have come across and to read some sections of general sociology books about Gender.  I’ll stick with Haralambos & Holborn and Marsh et al., but will also look at some more specifically gender related texts, including Abbott et al. (2005) An Introduction to Sociology. Feminist Perspectives, Backett-Milburn & McKie (2001) Constructing Gendered Bodies, and the one that I am most excited about: Case (1990) Performing Feminisms. Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre. That last one may seem a little off the wall, but I am thinking that the idea of feminist theory and theatre may translate quite nicely across to the web as at the moment I don’t see why actions within virtual communities can not be seen as being performative, and there are some good links to identity and gender online within these communities. I think.

Written by Nicole on November 3rd, 2010

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