Response to Chapters by Spiro et al. and Steier
Karl Tomm University of Calgary
The chapters in this section--one on information processing by Spiro and his colleagues (chap. 6) and one on second-order cybernetics by Steier (chap. 5)--demonstrate strikingly different assumptions and approaches to learning, knowledge, and research. Theoretically, Spiro's work reflects what Steier refers to as naive constructivism, whereas Steier tries to offer examples of ecological constructionism. Spiro addresses teaching situations, whereas Steier addresses research situations. The style of writing also differs sharply. Spiro is quite rigorous and narrow in focus, whereas Steier is conversational and broad in scope. With such contrasting differences, I found that I was "stretching it" to make many direct comparisons. I eventually decided to discuss each chapter separately, with occasional references to the other as I proceed. Because Steier attends to a much larger context, within which the more differentiated Spiro chapter may be located, I discuss the Steier chapter first.
Steier begins by citing the delightful story of Funes the Memorius. He points out that what initially seems a blessing (i.e., perfect perception and photographic memory) turns out to be a major tragedy. Funes' attention to minute detail makes it impossible for him to abstract and generalize. Funes is presented as an extreme case of one who sticks close to his data and