In a very important sense, then, from the perspective of material engagement, cognition has no location. The active mind cannot be contained. Cognition is not a “within” property; it is a “between” property.
Malafouris How Things Shape the Mind MIT Press 2013 p85
The implications of that quote in what is a brilliant book are many and various, but they support Juarraro’s contention that meaning exists in the gaps between things, not within the things themselves. This idea that between properties are important also has implications for the use of narrative and many other areas of work. For the moment I want to look at some of the implications for design thinking, reinterpreted through a complexity lens; shifting from a linear process to a non-linear dynamic. Mind-Body cartesian dualism, Newtonian Physics and many other assumptions underpin the dominant ways of thinking in western society (and elsewhere) and as commonly understood design thinking does not avoid the trap; namely asking the wrong questions.
Malafouris uses linear B tablets (my opening illustration) to show how material objects change human cognition in a non-linear (although he does not use that phrase manner). Anyone who uses apps should recognise this phenomena. It’s not just material objects, it’s also material culture which has a biological impact. The developing field of epigenetics is giving huge insights here.
So what does this mean for design? That question brings me to the first line of the table of differences I published yesterday. One of the claims of the sources if referenced is that design thinking focuses on solution rather than hypothesis and it is a useful distinction. The problem I have with the word solution is that it implies a prior known problem, and if you look at every example I have seen in design thinking presentations they make claims about providing imaginative solutions to defined problems.
A complexity informed theory of design, on the other hand, wants to prevent the premature convergence on a defined problem that the linear model of Research-Ideate-Prototype implies. We want to hold experiences at a more finely grained level and then replicate the sort of interaction between people and artefacts (as well as ideas in service) that Malafouris talks about in which the use of counting aids co-creates the capacity of abstract mathematical thinking. Co-evolution is a fragmented dynamic, shifting process. It happens naturally, the question now is how to manage that process. That will be the subject of tomorrow’s post where I talk about managed exaptation; the second line of my table.
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