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Time as an example of the dialectic relationship between concepts and artefacts Jonte Bernhard Engineering Education Research Group, ITN, Linköping University,

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Presentation on theme: "Time as an example of the dialectic relationship between concepts and artefacts Jonte Bernhard Engineering Education Research Group, ITN, Linköping University,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Time as an example of the dialectic relationship between concepts and artefacts Jonte Bernhard Engineering Education Research Group, ITN, Linköping University, Campus Norrköping, SE-60174 Norrköping, Sweden Time goes, you say? Ah no! Alas, Time stays, we go … Dobson, A. (1905) Collected Poems Nord-HPS&ST 2, Helsingfors 2012-10-25

2 “We find metaphysics in machines, and machines in metaphysics” is the last sentence in Peter Galison’s (2003) book Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps – Empires of Time.

3 Absolute conception of time Newton: ”Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external and by another name is called duration…” Clockwork universe

4 Rationale Physics have long ago abandoned Newton's absolute time. However essentialist views of time and other concepts are still present. Most textbooks in science have an essentialist view of concepts such as time. The problematic nature of the concept of concepts (sic!) is seldom discussed. Conceptual change literature often treat concepts as stable entities and the embodiment of physical concepts in physical artefacts are neglected. Opposition to the “[traditional belief] that … instruments and experimental devices … per se … has no cognitive value” (Lelas, 1993)

5 Cherryholmes (1988) criticism of structuralism: 2. Word and utterance meaning is determined by stable and fixed structures of knowledge and procedures. 3. Meanings are treated as ahistorical; they are neither set in social, political, cultural, economic, or linguistic context nor treated as products of those settings. 4. Utterances are treated as passive and descriptive, not as actions. /…/ 7. A false sense of stability and certainty of meaning and meanings is given.

6 Mediated perception Human  Tools  World Technology actively shape the relation between humans and their environment Certain aspects in the foreground (and other in the background) Making certain aspects of reality visible that otherwise will be invisible

7 Mediated learning/perception (e.g., Vygotsky, 1978; Cole, 1996; Kozulin, 1998; Wertsch, 1998; Säljö, 2005; Engeström, 1987; Leontiev, 1978)


9 “— What is time? — It is something measured by a clock. — What is a clock? — It is something you measure time with. Such a circular reasoning is actually not worse than other answers to the meaningless question ‘What is time?’”. (Lundmark, 1993, my translation)

10 To ask what time is separated from how we use the concept of time is meaningless in my view. (cf. For example, Peirce, 1878; Wells, 2008)

11 The meaning of a concept is given by its’ use in praxis. The concept of time (especially in science) is related to the measuring of time. For the measuring of time a clock is needed, i.e. a physical artefacts. Artefacts and praxis evolve over time.

12 Accuracy of time measurements over time

13 Temporal hours The bright part of the day was divided in 12 equal parts, so called temporal hours. When mechanical clocks began to appear the temporal hours become problematic!

14 Clock hours During the 14th century the introduction of mechanical clocks leads to the introduction of hours of equal length Timing is adapted to a physical artefact! First step to separate time from “nature”! For a long time timing started at sunrise

15 True solar time

16 Mean solar time The time a mechanical clock and the time the sun gives differs during the year The sun governed the time, conversion tables Difficult => Mean solar time Genève 1780, Sweden 1841 Protest, it was to depart from (God’s) natural order!

17 Time zones Synchronisation of activities forced further departures from “natural time” Railway time (In Sweden Gothenburg time) Sweden was first in the world with a common national time January 1, 1879. USA, 1918 Further protest because of departure from the “natural”

18 Synchronisation Railway time First World War: The wristwatch Tele communication, GPS, internet => further demands

19 Non absolute conceptions of time Aristoteles: Time is related to the motion of physical bodies Platon: Time is related to the ideal eternity Augustinus: Time is related to human perception Moses Maimonides (1135-1204): ”Hence God’s bringing the world into existence does not have a temporal beginning, for time is one of the created things ….” Leibniz Modern physics: Without matter neither space nor time will exist

20 Whitehead (1963, my emphasizes): “The reason we are on a higher imaginative level [in modern science] is not because we have a finer imagination, but because we have better instruments. In science, the most important thing that has happened in the last forty years is the advance in instrumental design…a fresh instrument serves the same purpose as foreign travel; it shows things in unusual combinations. The gain is more than a mere addition; it is a transformation”.

21 “Perceptual artifacts [are] means [by] which we perceive real objects (or processes)” “modes of perception … are historically variant … related to historical changes in … modes of human action (or praxis)” “I take the artifacts (tools and languages) to be objectifications of human needs and intentions … already invested with cognitive and affective content.” Historical epistemology (Wartofsky, 1979)

22 Niels Bohr (1958): The word “phenomenon [should] exclusively to refer to the observations obtained under specified circumstances, including an account of the whole experimental arrangement”. “it is … impossible to distinguish sharply between the phenomena themselves and their conscious perception”. “tools of observation play [a role] in defining … physical concepts”.

23 “Perception is seen as discernment (and not construction, for instance), and our concern is primarily the differences between different ‘ways of seeing’ Above all, our answer to the question ‘What changes in conceptual change?’ is different from the answers suggested by other theorists. In our view it is the world experienced, the world seen, the world lived that changes”. (Marton and Pang, 2008, p. 542) Phenomeno-graphy/-logy, mediated perception and conceptual change

24 Conclusion Materiality matters (sic!) in science and praxis need to be investigated as a material-discursive practice (cf. Barad, 2007) Concepts are embodied in physical artefacts and are historical and contextual entities that evolve over time. The initial sentence from Galison (2003) could be rephrased as “we find concepts in artefacts, and artefacts in concepts”.

25 Thank You! Jonte Bernhard Support from the Swedish Research Council gratefully acknowledged

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