Googled by Google

2007 January 7

I'm so accustomed to asking Google questions, that it was sort of odd to experience being asked a question by Google instead. I was invited to give a talk there by my former student Hilary Karls, now of Google, to a nice crowd of Googlers or Googlans (not sure what to officially call these people). As public lectures go, unless you're doing something entirely controversial it is rare for people to be lining up asking questions during the Q&A. By the power of the Internet, the group never went away because within a few hours I received a message from a Huyen Nguyen with the following difficult questions:

Do you think the idea of simplicity in design is a reflection of human interaction with nature? For example, our physical body, its functions, and interaction with nature needs no user manual and we do just fine.
I would turn to the trusty 4th Law of law4 to try to answer this question.

Anyone with an infant knows that they've got a lot of mental distance to travel from being a helpless baby, that just poops and screams, to a fiery teenager, that has "places to go" and gets there on their own. Also there's a big scoop of law3 implicit in the task of growing up that makes the process of law4-ing a bit easier. Implicit to all of this, our environment does a great deal in helping to accelerate or accentuate the kind of knowledge we naturally acquire.

I used to hang around with Kevin McGee who is a former student of the now recovering Seymour Papert, a protege of the famed learning guru Jean Piaget. Kevin knows all kinds of stuff about learning (that's how he got his doctorate), and once told me the story of how Seymour did a simple experiment on Japanese children's drawings.

As the story goes, Seymour collected illustrations of flowers by children in urban Tokyo and from the countryside. The kids from the countryside would draw the ground as a base line, and then flowers would spring upward from the ground with an open blue sky and so forth. On the other hand, the kids from Tokyo would draw a porcelain pot with a few flowers sticking out of the pot, and then a grid of vertical lines in the background. Greatly intrigued, I asked Kevin what the vertical lines signified. He knowingly smiled and said, "It's the fenced off veranda that is common to living in a high-rise." The story made me think about law6 and how it governs our constantly subjective interpretation of the world.

So going back to Huyen's Googling of my own mind, these are the few hits that comes back. Happy new year to everyone, and if you also get a few hits in your own mind please feel free to contribute.