Access to tacit embodied knowledge: Force sensations and conceptualization

Miriam Reiner, Department of Education In Science and Technology, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University December 4, 1998


Bodily acts are often tacit, implicit, and are hard or impossible to capture in propositional form. Yet some highly sophisticated knowledge is evidenced in the dynamics of the body. For instance in learning how to play tennis, even a novice tennis player is capable of raising a hand accurately to meet the approaching ball without necessarily being familiar with the rules of trajectile motion. Asking players how they know what acts are needed to accomplish this task, is unlikely to elicit a good propositional description. What then, is the mechanism by which the player knows how to act? How is this knowledge related to conceptual learning?

This talk deals with the interaction between tacit, non-propositional knowledge, evidenced in the dynamics of the body, and symbolic knowledge. Basically it will describe how cognitive knowledge arises from bodily accumulated experience, such as force sensations that are involved in problem solving in surgery, in learning physics at the lab and in many other domains. In particular, it will describe how tacit knowledge, of which learners are normally not aware, and which is triggered unconsciously by sensations of force patterns, can be accessed and exploited to improve learning and training and to design force-feedback interfaces for virtual environments and for the Web.

Three studies will be reported.

  1. Using force sensations for pattern recognition of force-fields and invisible objects; Recognition of objects as a process of mental construction of naive force-fields. The study was carried out with the Phillips tactile interface
  2. Basic 'force-sensation-elements' that evoke conceptual meaning; Carried out on the SRI Int. tele-presence system.
  3. Features of force-sensation-patterns that are necessary for them to carry meaning ( or: why some force-sensation-patterns carry meaning and some do not?)

The results of the studies show that force feedback interfaces are a gate to tacit embodied knowledge, otherwise unavailable for symbolic learning. Results also show that particular force sensations constitute a primitive type of communication system, non-propositional in its nature, that allows meaning construction. Learners construct meaning of motor experience on the basis of structures of embodied schemata of a figurative, dynamic, non-propositional character. Furthermore, learners used such types of knowledge to construct patterns and solve problems based on a non-propositional knowledge. Implications to design of interfaces, virtual learning environments and training in manual-conceptual domains such as surgery will be discussed.

Miriam Reiner is a senior lecturer in the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Director of, "Tomorrow 98" in the Upper Galilee - A Model for Improving learning in science and technology. Works with "Logitech" on a cognitive design of force interfaces. Head of group: Cognitive issues in haptic interface design.

She is interested in the interaction between tacit, non-propositional knowledge and symbolic knowledge. Her recent research is focused on how tacit knowledge, of which learners are normally not aware, can be accessed and exploited to improve learning and training. The basic assumption is that particular force patterns trigger a particular meaning. Identifying the elements of such force patterns, the inter-relations of visual-haptic sensations, and implications for interface design are the current studies in her group.


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