Design Conceptualisation: Instrumentalists and the Oracle
November 20, 2005 at 2:48 pm #708251
One of the principal purposes of such tools is to facilitate non-professional understanding of, say, the impacts of a development. [Break] I think there’s a danger with each [CAD and Photomontages] of seductive images obfuscating content. [Break] For either photomontages or 3D mock-ups to have any worth in the planning system, they should be carried out by a third party not attached to the developer. [Break] I fear people would be seduced by them without thinking of the real-world context in which developments actually take place. [Break] The point I was making was that the involvement of a third party would hopefully add a measure of objectivity to the process, rather than the devil citing scripture for his own purpose, so to speak. [Break] ….removing the task from the developer’s advocates (architects or planning consultants), in the interest of objectivity. [Break] The developer pays, but doesn’t get to choose. And doesn’t get to manipulate the results. Or the state pays- this would be a way of increasing the chances of objectivity, and would be justifiable as large scale projects will always have an impact on the public at large.
These quotes represent a very consistent argument, from one member of the planning community. I feel it is important to deal with the implications of this. I want to explain something called ‘Instrumentalism’, and how it has coloured the planning communities perception of how to use digital technology. I took some time to interact with members of the planning community. I felt it was important to try to see it from a different perspective. I wanted to be absolutely sure I understood where the planning community are coming from. Whether they view the rise of computer aided visual design, as an asset to our understanding, or a liability. I thought my own perspective about the subject of design, visualisation and computer aided design was coloured by my own experience, background and the folks I interact with in general. I try to stay positive as much as I can about the digital future. To look forward to how new technology will enable us to amplify our intelligence.
The Planning profession’s adoption of an ‘instrumentalist’ point of view betrays their lack of ‘hands on’ working experience with visual media, the generation of prototypes and modelling of ideas. I have included an explanation about the instrumentalist philosophy, given by David Deutsch in a book he wrote, ‘The Fabric of Reality’. I will observe with some interest, in the coming years, how the planning community attempt to develop this particular line of thinking on ‘how to use’ digital tools. I know that architects are striving to come up with explanations. The search for explanation is a life long quest for the architect, and a productive way to spend ones time in my opinion. But the planning community are not interested in the ‘search for explanation’. The planning community have become involved in a quest to gain the ultimate ‘predictive’ insight, that money, time and technological resources can buy. This point of view, becoming ever more popular, as government funding for all sorts of public projects is available. Theoretical Physicist, David Deutsch points out, even if you do reach this Nirvana of predictive capability, you are still no closer to solving the most basic design problems.
Yet some philosophers – and even some scientists – disparage the role of explanation is science. To them, the basic purpose of a scientific theory is not to explain anything, but to predict the outcomes of experiments: its entire content lies in it predictive formulae. They consider that any consistent explanation that a theory may give for its predictions is as good as any other – or as good as no explanation at all – so long as the predictions are true. This view is called instrumentalism (because it says that a theory is no more than an ‘instrument’ for making predictions). To instumentalists, the idea that science can enable us to understand the underlying reality that accounts for our observations is a fallacy and a conceit. They do not see how anything a scientific theory may say beyond predicting the outcomes of experiments can be more than empty words. Explanations, in particular, they regard as mere psychological props: a sort of fiction which we incorporate in theories to make them more easily remembered and entertaining. The Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg was in instrumentalist mood when he made the following extraordinary comment about Einstein’s explanation of gravity:
The important thing is to be able to make predictions about images on the astronomers’ photographic plates, frequencies of spectral lines, and so on, and it simply doesn’t matter whether we ascribe these predictions to the physical effects of gravitational fields on the motion of planets and photons [as in pre-Einsteinian physics] or to a curvature of space and time. (Gravitation and Cosmology, p.147)
Imagine that an extraterrestrial scientist has visited the Earth and given us an ultra-high-technology ‘oracle’ which can predict the outcome of any possible experiment, but provides no explanations. According to instrumentalists, once we had that oracle we should have no further use for scientific theories, except as a means of entertaining ourselves. But is that true? How would the oracle be used in practice? In some sense it would contain the knowledge necessary to build, say, an interstellar spaceship. But how exactly would that help us to build one, or to build another oracle of the same kind – or even a better mousetrap? The oracle only predicts the outcomes of experiments. Therefore in order to use it all we must first know what experiments to ask it about. It we gave it the design of a spaceship, and the details of a proposed test flight, it could tell us how the spaceship would perform on such a flight. But it could not design the spaceship for us in the first place. And even if it predicted that the spaceship we had designed would explode on take-off, it could not tell us how to prevent such an explosion. That would still be for us to work out. And before we could work it out, before we could even begin to improve design in any way, we should have to understand, among other things, how the spaceship was supposed to work. Only then would we have any chance of discovering what might cause an explosion on take-off. Prediction – even perfect, universal prediction – is simply no substitute for explanation.
Similarly, in scientific research the oracle would not provide us with any new theory. Not until we already had a theory, and had thought of an experiment that would test it, could we possibly ask the oracle what would happen if the theory were subjected to that test. Thus, the oracle would not be replacing theories at all: it would be replacing experiments. It would spare us the expense of running laboratories and particle accelerators. Instead of building prototype spaceships, and risking the lives of test pilots, we could do all the testing on the ground with pilots sitting in flight simulators whose behaviour was controlled by the predictions of the oracle.
Chapter One, The Theory of Everything.
The Fabric of Reality.
By David Deutsch.
I will also tack on part of an essay, published at the Urban Design Group Website. http://www.udg.org.uk. It was suggested to me on the other discussion thread, that I have some ajenda here. To prove, that I am not the only one concerned with the fragmentation of the professions, traditions and disiplines, read through the following. I think that Archiseek discussion forum can end up living in its own little fish bowel. Where it cannot interact properly with discussions happening, in parallel around the world. That is a pity and a limitation with the Archiseek Discussion forum concept I am sure.
Brian O’ Hanlon
Cities are victims of specialisms. Good urbanism needs urbanists with cities in their blood. Too many young people have their instinctive understanding of what makes cities tick drained out of them in the process of training in built environment specialisms. The processes, institutions and agencies of urban professionals must be reviewed and fundamentally restructured. Put an architect, a planner, an engineer, a surveyor and an landscape architect around a table. Do they now provide a rounded view? No, usually they provide five specialist views. Each specialism is sustained by its own language, its value system and its institute.
Architects learn the increasingly specialised business of designing buildings. Highway engineers learn how to make the traffic flow. Planners may profess to be the generalists in the team, uniquely skilled in forging collaborations, but too often they are merely specialists in operating the planning system. Landscape architects resent being limited by their specialised role, but they rarely get the chance to think more widely. Surveyors engage in whatever specialism suits their particular niche. Despite the fact that all of these people are shaping our towns and cities, few will receive any training in how complex urban places work.
Urban design, with few exceptions, is a postgraduate course for the committed few. The starting point of urban design training is flawed. Professionals trained in a particular narrow viewpoint, some over a period of six years, are expected fundamentally to change their view of the world. Urban design training tries to retrofit architects and planners, drilled in antiurban traditions, as good urbanists. The hard disk has been corrupted even before the programme can be loaded. Post-graduate urban design courses operate as little more than extensions to planning or architecture courses. Where both professions are being taught in one institution, the various departments squabble about whether urban design is a planning issue or an architectural one. The boundaries of the built environment professions have their origins in history. They were always at least to some extent accidental and arbitrary. It is difficult to move those boundaries once they have been set, however much changes in professional practice and social, economic and technical conditions may seem to demand it. So the professions compete with each other for territory: for any areas of work that more than one profession sees as part of its own specialism.
November 21, 2005 at 1:17 am #763308ctesiphonParticipant
For the record, the ‘quote’ above is a compilation of segments of various posts of mine cobbled together by garethace. (Although it still reads better than many posts on this forum.)
Other than that, I don’t think I’ve anything to say on this one. Anyone else? Any of the ‘instrumentalist’ contingent? Come on, you know who you are…
March 18, 2006 at 12:00 am #763309
Augmented Round Table for Architecture and Urban Planning.
The people in the photos below aren’t what you would call ‘at one’ with the technology yet. But what we are looking at is the beginning of something. The kiddies using entertainment appliances such as the playstation and xbox consoles today, will get very familiar with this world. The kiddies who are growing up with Java mobile phones and all kinds of gadgets. They will not see anything strange as members of the public in the future, playing a more augmented role in the design of our environment. To go into Wood Quay or other Planning desk, and jack themselves into the interactive model of a new development to understand how it will affect them and their lives. This will include projects as large as infrastructure like tunnels and bypasses.
Architectural education will be different, collaboration between disiplines will be different and processes of building and urban planning will not be like they are today,
with a few ‘big wigs’ hogging all of the limelight for major urban developments. My best suggestion of the ‘big whigs’ I guess, is enjoy it while it lasts.
Brian O’ Hanlon.
March 18, 2006 at 12:11 am #763310
Architecture as a stage set?
Brian O’ Hanlon.
March 18, 2006 at 12:36 am #763311
One of the things about the above pictures I think you will all notice, is it puts something very unambiguous in front of a table of experts, people maybe with different points of view, different specialisations. It basically gives them all something to aim the discussion at. I listened with great interest lately, when Thom Mayne, the Los Angeles Architect spoke here in Dublin. Here is some of my thoughts about Thom Mayne and his process of designing architecture in collaboration with his clients. Thom is a very avid user of high technology too, his sketches being reproduced into scale models via digital means overnight, so that Thom has a new model to work with almost everyday.
Brian O’ Hanlon.
Karl Popper said our perceptual and mental capacities are restricted by evolution to a particular, limited understanding of the world around us. We are not gods. Popper was concerned with the limits of knowledge and the sorts of structures needed to promote the growth of knowledge despite those limits. Popper tried to show what sort of political structure would best allow for social improvement once we accept the limits of knowledge. Karl Popper suggested something called ‘an open society’. “I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth.” Progress requires a critical structure within which competing theories can be tested. Only when a theory could be wrong is it impressive that it survives testing and criticism.
An open society has to be pluralistic and multicultural, in order to benefit from the maximum number of viewpoints possible to the given problems. Liberal democracies tend to be characterized by tolerance and pluralism; widely differing social and political views, even those viewed as extreme or fringe, are permitted to co-exist and compete for political power on a democratic basis. At the moment the widest of all speculations in physics is superstring theory. It conjectures that all basic particles are different vibrations of extremely tiny loops of great tensile strength. No superstring has yet been observed, but the theory has great explanatory power. What matters in rational debate, is that different positions are open to criticism, which becomes the engine of progress by removing from consideration false theories, leaving only the provisionally best theories behind. The “best” theories could still not be verified or justified, but since they had not been falsified either, they would be preferable to falsified theories. This ought to humble us and cause us to understand our limitations.
Architects too are hindered by limitations of knowledge. In the twentieth century, architects clung to modernism like it was the only solution. They assumed they had a certain knowledge in their hands, and they became arrogant. Theories, when found to be false, are still upheld by their admirers, by reinterpreting the theory ad hoc in such a way that it escapes refutation. Architects continued to defend modernism when it was found to be flawed. Nowadays, when Thom Mayne is commissioned to do a large public project, he describes the process as negotiation. The most important value being that of mutual respect and tolerance. So that different ideas can coexist and interact. Thom Mayne does not know what a supreme court building should be in 2006. He seems to know better, what a courthouse should not be.
As an architect Mayne is willing to engage in negotiation with his clients. In his design process, Thom Mayne embraces the plurality of different points of view. In the pluralistic framework, the common good is not given a priori. Instead, the scope and content of the common good can only be found out in and after the process of negotiation (a posteriori). Thom Mayne’s design process leads to a definition and subsequent realization of the common good that is best for all members of society. Thom Mayne talks about an ‘Autogenic’ architecture. Like a body that heals itself from within. You create collisions of different systems. You accept different rules and behaviours. You study junctions and cater for diversity.
March 21, 2006 at 8:50 pm #763312
March 24, 2006 at 5:02 pm #763313
March 29, 2006 at 6:35 pm #763314hopperParticipant
I don’t know if that is a plug for the company or not but we used these guys on a recent project in North Cork and to give them credit the quality of the visualsation and timeframe in which they completed the job was exceptional.
April 6, 2006 at 9:37 am #763315George SchraderParticipant
I have been for decades privately considering the design and visional accomplishment of a sustainable community. That interest has led to the discovery of a little known transportation design called integrated transport. A unique concept of accomplishing transport using a system of elevated guideways, while employing electric motors, which on individually demand, will automatedly transport anything one would care to attach to them.
The conceptual design derived in the mid 70’s appears to be firmly grounded in the practical application of known structural and technological applications. The capability of accomplishment is known and its costs and benefits can be reasonably figured. In my own attempt to establish the values which may be at work in investment and revenues. Surprisingly suggest, that an implementation can be readily recognized by investors as being lucratively profitable. And it is this promise of being lucratively profitable which leaves me to believe that an implementation can then be accomplished.
Yet there seems to be no awareness that such an opportunity for a great and positive change even exists.
In a long and studied survey. An implementation suggest the ability to incrementally revolutionize our human abilities in our pursuits of social, economic, environmental and ecological well-beings. Producing a prolonged and extended period of unprecedented increased wellbeing.
I personally have absolutely no doubt about our long past ability to construct elevated beams and to reliably move “individual” items with electric motors. What I do doubt is our societies understanding of what it would mean to accomplish “automated transport” in such an unprecedented efficiency, speed, economy, safety, ease of use and convenience. Although it is useless, I do possess a lengthy technological report which shows this precise ability in 1950’s applications. I can only reason that an implementation has not be accomplished out of the political objections who are concerned with maintaining the reliability of investments and markets which are currently in place. All things of course who will be eventually impacted by such a large change. Though I believe a misconception exists. As an implementation period would be incremental and terribly lengthy lasting at least several decades. Long beyond the investment lifespans of today’s processes. There seem to be not one but a large number of numerous exponentially increased abilities.
And then. Its not just a new transport system whose near lack of energy and resource consumptions will leave transports cost only relative to that profitable provision of a network of permanent 100 year structure. But we will also have achieved a interconnected network of structure whose controlled environment can be made available for the new use of those remaining distribution infrastructures. 😀 I am intrigued to think of what other technological applications can be applied to these other infrastructures when integrated into this closed structured environment.
Would we still lose a percentage to electric transmission losses?
I think humanity is and has been standing at the edge of taking a evolutionary step in the management of its infrstructural processes. That there is a long awaited infrstructural revolution that only needed tro be recognized and acted on for all the neormous well-being it will bring.
I am reasonably certain that public funding is a impossibility. However considering the lucrative profit. I would like to believe that a private implementation is possible.
It would seem that a community could be designed around an implementation. Such a community would possess unprecedented social and economic freedoms and increased abilities. The cost of the systems implementation is lucrative being very comparable to normal infrastructure cost. The concept merley reorganizes the material into a vastly more efficient form which takes the fullest advantage of current technological abilities.. The creation of a new community on rural property could easily be supported by the exponentially increased land values.
Is this kind of development a practical thought. Or am I just deluding myself into believing there is hope for the great change needed. :confused:
June 5, 2006 at 8:21 pm #763316
In the last year or two the trend has been to remove the scent of people, so as to come as close as possible to simulating the appearance of content emerging out of the Web as if it were speaking to us as a supernatural oracle. This is where the use of the Internet crosses the line into delusion.
good essay by virtual reality pioneer jaron lanier, at edge.org.
Lanier has this to say about collective authorship movements such as wikipedia.
These movements are at their most efficient while building hidden information plumbing layers, such as Web servers. They are hopeless when it comes to producing fine user interfaces or user experiences. If the code that ran the Wikipedia user interface were as open as the contents of the entries, it would churn itself into impenetrable muck almost immediately. The collective is good at solving problems which demand results that can be evaluated by uncontroversial performance parameters, but bad when taste and judgment matter.
This point, could be made about the interaction of the planning process, the hive mind, and the architect, the individual.
The pre-Internet world provides some great examples of how personality-based quality control can improve collective intelligence. For instance, an independent press provides tasty news about politicians by reporters with strong voices and reputations, like the Watergate reporting of Woodward and Bernstein. Other writers provide product reviews, such as Walt Mossberg in The Wall Street Journal and David Pogue in The New York Times. Such journalists inform the collective’s determination of election results and pricing. Without an independent press, composed of heroic voices, the collective becomes stupid and unreliable, as has been demonstrated in many historical instances. (Recent events in America have reflected the weakening of the press, in my opinion.)
Brian O’ Hanlon.
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