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Interdisciplinary Colloquium

William James, Michael Faraday and Seymour Papert

Radical Empiricism, Construal Making and Computer Modelling

Meurig Beynon, Steve Russ, Hans-Joachim Petsche

Saturday November 25th 2017, 9.15 to15.00, Haus 8, Raum 0.56, University of Potsdam


This Colloquium ranges over several disciplines, tracing a common thread between the work of Faraday on experimental science, Papert on computers in education, and James on the philosophy of radical empiricism. The unifying notion that connects these diverse topics is 'making construals', a computing practice that has played a pivotal role in the work of the Empirical Modelling (EM) group at the University of Warwick.

There will be three sessions, broadly structured as:

  1. Introducing the notion of making construals, as characterised by David Gooding in his account of Faraday's experimental work, as applied to natural language understanding, and as further developed in the EM research programme.
  2. Examining the status and role of construal making as 'a new digital skill' with applications to learning, computer-based modelling and software development. This will entail looking at how making construals is related to computational thinking and computer programming, with particular reference to Papert's aspirations for using the computer to develop objects-to-think-with and objects-to-converse-with to support constructionist learning.
  3. Reflecting on the philosophical challenges faced in accounting for making construals as a digital practice distinct from classical computing and the foundations that James's radical empiricism can supply for making-connections-in-experience.

Two problematic gaps provide a central focus for the Colloquium: the gap that Gooding is addressing between the world of the laboratory (practice, observation, manipulation, interpretation) and the world of 'literary' science (theory, idealised, abstract etc); and the gap to which comparing 'writing programs' and 'making construals' draws attention between making an idealised functional relation on the computer and interacting experientially within a computing environment. These gaps and their connections are apparent, and may be studied and negotiated, from many viewpoints: the everyday, the scientific and computational, the psychological, the educational and the philosophical.

The Colloquium will be modelled on a short online course on making construals [2] that is one of the principal o puts of the EU Erasmus+ CONSTRUIT! project which ran from September 2014 to August 2017. There will be many practical activities by way of demonstrations and exercises using the Construit environment for making construals [1] that was also developed in the course of the project.

References to be based on resources such as

  1. The Construit environment at the url: jseden.dcs.warwick.ac.uk/construit
  2. The short online course on making construals at the url:
    jseden.dcs.warwick.ac.uk/construit/?load=344 (work in progress)
  3. The website for a previous colloquium (Dec 12th 2008)
    https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/dcs/research/em/wj_re_em/
  4. Quotes from William James: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/dcs/research/em/wj_re_em/wjquotes/
  5. The 'Picasso' demo from CONSTRUIT 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxj25IrN044
Click here for a draft timetable