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Saturday, April 16, 2005


Ray Girvan

Ew. Why does "Jaws" spring to mind?

Quint: You've got city boy hands, Hooper. You been countin' money all your life.
Hooper: I don't need this working-class-hero crap.

While I agree with Grandin about the value of practical classes in schools, I think the subtext is a prejudice: that dirty-hands work and contact with nature is somehow more worthy, and gives you a more accurate knowledge of the world. I don't think it's remotely true; for instance, horse breeders, for all their hands-on experience, had (and perhaps still have) bizarre beliefs about horse genetics. See


Ray's point is a good one -- although it isn't what Grandin is saying.

I don't mean -- and Grandin doesn't mean -- to exault the physical over the analytical.

What she is saying in the full article (and more fully argued in her book) is that abstract definitions and rules for physical processes need to be evaluated against reality.

It is somewhat akin to our American problem with "zero tolerance" in schools. It sounds great to have "zero tolerance for drugs" on campus, or "zero tolerance for weapons" -- and then the rules are applied mechanistically, without common sense. A first grader makes a "play cake" out of lawn clippings and dirt, and gives it to a friend. The child is expelled, because the "play cake" merely has the appearance of drugs.

What Grandin is saying is the feedback loops have been lost. The interplay between intellect and nature is gone, because the value of nature is ignored.

Ray Girvan

I should be working, but... It still smacks of nature-mysticism to me. Temple Grandin's ideas look to be heavily influenced by those of Erich Fromm ( who coined the term "abstractification" and who viewed one of the central problems of the human condition as departure from the instinctive natural state. As to General Semantics, these days few people outside its fanbase take seriously Korzybski's views that language is the root of social, economic and political messups. A better case could be argued for factors that are nothing to with language: cognitive biases (see and collective phenomena such as the "tragedy of the commons" ( However much (apparent) grounding in reality they have, people still can think they're perceiving a situation realistically and acting rationally, yet be utterly wrong. Interesting take on this and its relationship to nature by Jared Diamond: "Why do some societies make disastrous decisions?" (

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