QofR: Ways of thinking and knowing

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

Mike started the lecture by asking us to offer up a solution to a problem, as a way to discuss three different reasoning methods.

  • Deductive reasoning: This method is tautological, it provides a certain answer using the available information. By starting with the assertion of a general rule, deductive reasoning proceeds from there to a guaranteed specific conclusion.

  • Inductive reasoning: Begins with observations that are specific and limited in scope and proceeds to a generalised conclusion that is likely, but not certain, in light of accumulated evidence. Inductive reason tries to make the best solution, guided by the limited information available.

  • Abductive reasoning: involves logical inference and is how a lot of creative people work. Typically, it begins with an incomplete set of observations and proceeds to the likeliest possible explanation for the set.

In order to problem solve, we must engage in all three types of reasoning depending on the information at hand - at times deductive, at others taking a creative guess in order to lead to a more fruitful opportunity for research. Abductive reasoning allows us to take on difficulties and move beyond our failures in order to develop.

Tacit knowledge

Mike showed us a video of a sign-painter, painting a bus stop sign, who, rather than use a stencil, was so well-practiced he could perform with speed, accuracy and absolute skill. This was meant to illustrate the power tacit knowledge. Formed on experience, this type of knowing amounts almost to muscle memory.

We all have some tacit knowledge, but we are also able to develop this further, through reflection. As Donald Schon writers:

"The practitioner allows themselves to experience surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation which they find uncertain or unique. He reflects on the phenomenon before him, and on the prior understanding which have been implicit in his behaviour. He carries out an experiment which serves to generate both a new understanding of the phenomenon and a change in the situation." (Schon, 1983)

Iterative process

The method described above is an iterative process, the key tool of the reflective practitioner.

Mike began showing us a video of a skateboarder who obsessively repeats the same trick until he lands it correctly. The practice involves an apparently conscious awareness, and infinitesimal adjustment, of balance and speed. The skateboarder is engaged in a process of noticing, analysing and continual practice. This iterative process enables him to address the frustrations felt when things go wrong, and to know why things are going well.

Donald Schon defines two separate methods of reflection: Reflection-In-Action (the skateboarder) and Reflection-On-Action. RIA 'works on getting to the bottom of what is happening in the experiencer's processes, decision-making and feelings at the time of the event.' It encourages the capacity to think on your feet to solve an immediate problem. ROA 'works on sifting over a previous event to take into account new information or theoretical perspectives available in conjunction with the experiencer's processes, feelings and actions.' In other words, retrospectively thinking about what you've done as opposed to while you're doing it.

These processes are key to the progress we make as MA students. As opposed to the more linear approach of an undergraduate degree, which follows one step after another, the MA requires us to approach our work cyclically. Mike created the following diagrams to explore this idea further:

A simple explanation of the learning process.

The cycle involved in each stage of the learning process.

A realistic example of how the learning process develops.

The main thing I took away from this was the importance of using my own practice to explore the question I am attempting to answer: Can materiality enhance the end user/audience experience? as well as in my Proposal for Illustration module. So rather than just research, practice and write, in that order, I should mix up these stages and get my hands dirty, in order to develop my research or explore another avenue.

Knowledge and Memory

Mike concluded the session by looking at various types of knowledge and memory, which are interwoven with the various terms he had previous discussed. We were shown a rendering of a door and asked to describe it. There were two rough approaches: firstly, a literal one - uhhh it's a door - secondly, an interpretive one - it's an opening, a new beginning, a threshold I can't pass... These two approaches involved employing two respective types of knowledge:

  • Declarative knowledge: literally stating what we see in the world, basic Empiricism.

  • Procedural knowledge: takes empirical evidence and uses adductive reasoning to move beyond the evidence.

Mike concluded by describing two types of memory, as defined in Endel Tulving's book Modes of Memory:

  • Declarative memory: is recall of factual information such as dates, words, faces, events, and concepts. Like theoretical physics, or who won the Cricket World Cup. Declarative memory is usually considered to be explicit because it involves conscious, intentional remembering.

  • Procedural memory is recall of how to do things such as playing the piano or riding a bike. Procedural memory is usually considered implicit because people don’t have to consciously remember how to perform actions or skills.

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