Gerry's Home Page Preliminary Materials Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Bibliography Appendix

Sec 6.3

6.3.      A Model of Computer Support

The goal is to support the situated, perspectival, linguistic character of interpretation in cooperative design. This requires plasticity (flexibility, malleability, or adaptability) of representation. For each of the many individual designers involved, their situation is somewhat unique. They have different trainings, traditions, formative experiences, areas of expertise, skills, priorities, interests, motivations, and so on. For each of them to represent what they take the design situation to be requires a toolbox of representation elements and techniques that can be customized to their individual needs. Their different perspectives also have crucial commonalities, without which collaboration would be impossible. These interrelationships can usefully be modeled in a network of perspectives for organizing knowledge representations by individual and group owners. Group perspectives need to combine knowledge from multiple other perspectives, selectively deleting, modifying, or adding to particular items. The hierarchical structure of perspectives must be able to evolve fluidly over time. The language, too, must be flexibly expressive so that it can generate innovative locutions. Like natural language, it must be capable of spawning infinite variations and arbitrarily complex structures from a manageably finite syntax.

In Figure 6-1, the schematic of computer support from Figure 1-1 in Chapter 1 has been expanded to depict the dimensions of interpretation as (a) situated, (b) perspectival, and (c) linguistic. The upper-left-hand rectangle, which stands for tacit preunderstanding, includes these three dimensions. The figure has also been expanded to depict the need for (1) reuse and (2) plasticity of representation in its lower portion.


Figure 6-1. Computer support for interpretation in design.


The process of interpretation is depicted across the top of this figure. The movement of the hermeneutic circle from preunderstanding via interpretation to explicit understanding and from there via communication to shared knowledge has been detailed: (a) The disclosure of the situation leads to discovery. (b) Perspectival anticipations move to an appropriate fit of the understanding to what has been discovered. (c) The linguistic preconceptions express themselves in explicit conceptualizations. In the realm of shared knowledge, the discoveries can take the propositional form of facts, perspectives can become paradigms or worldviews, and conceptualizations can be elaborated as theories.

In addition to following the communication path to interpersonal knowledge, the externalized expressions of assertion and predication can be captured in a computer system. In this case, the representations that capture the codified knowledge can provide (a) representations of the interpretive situation, (b) filters for selecting knowledge belonging to specific interpretive perspectives, and (c) associations among related conceptions in a personal sub-language.[1] Once captured, this knowledge can be stored for future use in the computer knowledge base as models of the situation, perspective, and language of a specific instance of understanding.

Future use is not confined to simply retrieving and displaying frozen knowledge. This knowledge is intended to support new and innovative design work. While even frozen knowledge has an important role to play in reminding designers of past solutions, the ability to reuse and modify the past solutions by applying them to new tasks is desirable as well. For this, the representations of the situations must be malleable, the perspectives should be capable of evolving, and the language must be generative. Knowledge can be applied to support interpretive tasks, in the sense discussed in Chapter 5, only when the representations of knowledge have the plasticity to allow them to be adapted flexibly enough to represent innovative interpretations.

The computer process in the bottom part of Figure 6-1 mirrors the upper loop of interpretation. That is, the computer system constitutes a model of the human interpretive process. The three-fold structure of interpretation as situated, perspectival, and linguistic is modeled in the ability of the computer system to represent these with, for instance, hypermedia, perspectives, and a language as in Hermes. The possibility of creating such a model is based in the fact that the understanding in the interpretive process can be explicated to the point where it can be captured on a computer. This possibility of knowledge capture is added to the sequence of successive transformations of information in Figure 5-5 from Section 5.2 to produce an expanded model in Figure 6-2, below. In addition, the computer support process in the bottom loop of Figure 6-1 is added as well. (An expanded view of the hermeneutic circle from the top of Figure 6-1 had already been incorporated.)


Figure 6-2. A model of cooperative interpretation and its computer support.

The rectangles represent classes of information. The arrows represent transformations from one class to another.


Now Figure 6-2 presents a complete model of the theory of computer support for interpretation in cooperative design. The information in tacit preunderstanding is successively transformed through disclosure, creative discovery, surprise, discourse, assertion, predication, capture, plasticity, and evolution. Then it is available to support new acts of interpretation by providing candidates for the interpreted meaning that is needed to repair situational breakdowns of understanding. The many transformations are necessary to produce representations that may be truly helpful, given the nature of human interpretation. Of course, the final judgment of which representations are relevant and how to apply them requires human judgment, based on intentional grounding in the world. Such grounding cannot be captured symbolically. The computer can only supply tools for the ultimately human project of constructing a meaningful understanding of reality.

This model shows the interplay of tacit and explicit understanding in the process of interpretation. The path of assertion and predication opens up the possibility of knowledge capture in a computer system. A properly designed computer system oriented toward evolution of knowledge and plasticity of representation can provide support for human interpretation in the form of an external medium for representing the situation, displaying alternative perspectives, and articulating linguistic expressions.

[1] Wittgenstein (1953) would term these personal sub-languages “language games” corresponding to the individual’s “form of life”.


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