Thematic Space: How to Record a Spark?
If you can remember it, you don’t have to record it.
This article is part of the Slow Cognition project and its focus is Thematic Space and Developing Tacit Knowledge. I have introduced the concept of Thematic Space and discussed related ideas in the following articles:
- The Notion of Thematic Spaces
- Mapping Thematic Spaces #1: OS Card and Mapping Clues
- Mapping Thematic Spaces #2: The “Activity” Thematic Space
- Thematic Space: Flow, Film, and Floor Plan
- Thematic Space: Project as Story
- Thematic Space: Place as Container
- Thematic Space: Sparks In, Statue Out
- Thematic Space: The Art of Continuous Discovery
- Thematic Space: The Project Engagement Toolkit for Creators
From the perspective of Knowledge Curation, a single Tacit Knowing Activity can be understood as the following metaphor:
- Attach with many Sparks (Pieces)
- Detach with one Statue (Whole)
Yesterday I used the Project Engagement Toolkit as an example of “Toolkit as Knowledge Statue” and possible connections between two thematic spaces.
Today I will share an example of “Knowledge Spark” and its possible connections with two thematic spaces. This morning I sent the kids to the bus stop to wait for the school bus as usual. One neighbor is replacing their roof.
I took several pictures of the roofing activity. From the perspective of Activity Theory, the above picture shows the Object of the roofing activity: Roof.
The above two pictures are about Mediated Instruments for the the roofing activity.
Then, I sent an email with these pictures to myself with a subject line: Activity — Replacement.
What did I do?
I was recording a “Knowledge Spark”.
The real roofing activity inspired me to think about a special type of activity: the Replacement Activity. I roughly defined it with the following aspect:
- An old Object is replace by a new Object
I used the subject line and these pictures to record this Knowledge Spark.
What’s the value of this Knowledge Spark? Once we discover a special type of activity, we can work on developing a new framework for understanding it. We can change the Object from Roof to other things. Then, we could make new knowledge.
For me, this is a new piece for my “Activity” thematic space.
However, the above narrative is only the half of the story.
The above diagram shows two thematic spaces:
- The “Attachance” thematic space
- The “Activity” thematic space
The roofing activity also inspired the other one Knowledge Spark: Material Attachance. This one belongs to the “Attachance” thematic space.
I did not write “Material Attachance” in the subject line of my email. However, I thought about it.
The Concept of Attachance
I coined the term Attachance by combining Attach and Chance in 2018 in order to discuss some ideas related to the concept of Affordance which is a core idea of Ecological Psychology.
Affordance means potential action opportunities offered by environments. I want to highlight the meaning and value of actual action itself, however the term Affordance only refers to potential actions. Thus, I coined the term Attachance to emphasize the potential opportunities offered by actual actions, especially the attaching act and the detaching act.
In 2019, I started working on my own theoretical account of the Ecological Practice approach after finishing a book titled Curativity. The 2019 version of the approach is a curated toolkit version. The concept of Attachance is part of the toolkit. In May 2020, I wrote a book titled After Affordance: The Ecological Approach to Human Action in which I proposed several new theoretical ideas for expanding ecological psychology to the modern digital environment. The primary theme of After Affordance is the concept of Attachance.
The concept of Attachance is planned to develop as 1) an ecological practice concept for practice studies such as interaction design and startup innovation, 2) a philosophical concept for developing a social theory.
The book After Affordance only achieves the first goal and it focuses on the following acts:
- Attaching to an environment
- Detaching from an environment
- Attaching to an object
- Detaching from an object
I use the Attachance Perspective to refer to its philosophical meaning. The following sections will provide more details about the perspective.
The term Attachance was inspired by Gibson’s writing about the relationship between people and environment, “When in use, a tool is a sort of extension of the hand, almost an attachment to it or a part of the user’s own body, and thus is no longer a part of the environment, graspable and portable, to be sure, but nevertheless external to the observer. This capacity to attach something to the body suggests that the boundary between the animal and the environment is not fixed at the surface of the skin but can shift. More generally it suggests that the absolute duality of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ is false. When we consider the affordances of things, we escape this philosophical dichotomy (1979, p.35)”
Gibson’s idea is not alone. The classic example of the blind man’s stick (Merleau-Ponty 1962; Polanyi 1962; Bateson 1973) described the same viewpoint. Gregory Bateson asked the below question in 1973: “Consider a blind man with a stick. Where does the blind man’s self begin? At the tip of the stick? At the handle of the stick? Or at some point halfway up the stick?” Merleau-Ponty, Bateson, Gibson, seeded a great tree about the human mind. Today we see their ideas are driving the emergent embodied cognitive science.
Gibson didn’t develop a theory about “attach” and “detach.” He used terms such as “attached object” and “detach object.” For Gibson, an attached object refers to a layout of surfaces less than completely surrounded by the medium and a detached object refers to a layout of surfaces completely surrounded by the medium. This piece is complex because Gibson used his own terms such as Medium, Substance and Surfaces to describe the meaningful environment.
Gibson focused on the human body and environment, he considered objects and tools as environments too. His theory is body scale analysis. The Attachance concept I am working on goes beyond the body, I want to expand it to multi-level scales.
Attach and Detach
A Germ Cell of a theoretical approach is its smallest entity which can represent the whole of thinking in different levels of analysis. The diagram below shows the germ cell of the Ecological Practice approach.
The above diagram combines three core concepts of the Ecological Practice approach together: Affordance, Attachance, and Containance. The term “Offers” is an affordance-inspired concept, it refers to opportunities afforded by the Container. The group of “Offer — Act” forms “Event” which changes the status of the Container. The new status of the Container affords new opportunities which guide the new acts and events.
The above diagram also represents the concept Attachance at the level of Container. We can consider Entering the Container as an Attaching act and Exiting the Container as a Detaching act. However, the diagram doesn’t represent the second attachance which is inside the Container. In fact, the Ecological Practice approach considers the “Form of Act” as “Attach” or “Detach”. Any act is either an attaching act or a detaching act.
The above picture is another way of representation of the germ cell of the Ecological Practice approach. The two forms of act are represented by binary numbers. The 0 represents detaching act and the 1 represents attaching act. The parenthesis represents the Container. The right diagram shows an example of complex status which brings out other two concepts: Curativity and Themes of Practice. I also add the concept Emergence from complexity theory to the above diagram.
You can find more details here.
The “Attachance” Thematic Space
Though the concept of “Attachance” is a new term, I have been working on it for several years. I even wrote a book in Chinese about it.
While my “Activity” Thematic Space is about learning Activity Theory and other social practice theories, my “Attachance” Thematic Space is about making a new theory.
One real life experience could lead to two Knowledge Sparks for two thematic Spaces.
From the Attachance perspective, The Roof replacement activity could be understood as detaching an old roof and attaching a new roof.
While a book is a knowledge Statue, a thematic space is a dynamic space. Everyday life experience always brings us relevant Knowledge Sparks. If we have relevant thematic spaces, we can turn pieces into a meaningful whole.
If you have several thematic spaces, you have several perspectives for turning life experience into knowledge sparks.
Four Types of Knowledge Sparks
I have introduced four types of knowledge sparks in Thematic Space: Sparks In, Statue Out.
- Imagery: Sparks inspired by literary works (or other sources) that evokes a mental image or other kinds of sense impressions.
- Semantics: Sparks inspired by the meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or text.
- Narrative: Sparks inspired by storytelling, performance, conversation, in a situational activity.
- Affordance: Sparks inspired by real interactions between human, object, and environment.
Here I use “Imagery”, “Semantics”, “Narrative” and “Affordance” as labels for four types of Sparks. We should just see these terms as placeholders. So far, I can’t find other terms for names of these four types of Sparks. Anyway, the point is the differences and similarities between these four types.
- Imagery/Semantics is located at the “Fiction” zone because they directly link to imagination and language.
- Narrative/Affordance refers to real situational embodied experience which is located at the “Fact” zone.
- Imagery v.s. Semantics: Imagery refers to visual mental image while Semantics refers to understanding and appropriate use of meaning in single words, phrases, sentences and even longer units.
- Narrative v.s. Affordance: Narrative is about human-to-human communicative activities. Affordance is about human-to-environment embodied activities.
This is not an ideal typology of Sparks, I think these four types of Sparks are important types.
The above two knowledge sparks belong to the “Affordance” category because I saw the Roofing activity in a situational embodied environment. For readers of this article, you see several pictures and two words: “the replacement activity” and “material attachance”. If this article inspire some knowledge sparks for you, then these sparks belong to Imagery (pictures) and Semantics (words).
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