Monday, February 19, 2007

Actions, concepts, activities and conceptions

In Southern Finland, it is the winter holiday week at schools. This week also brings in mind the concept of activity. Activity theory is a framework within social sciences that focuses on cultural and technical mediation of human activity. There is a long history of activity theory in Finland thanks to Prof. Yrjö Engeström and his colleagues. A related theme, social aspect of learning has been emphasized by Dr. Kai Hakkarainen and his research group and Prof. Kirsti Lonka.

I was inspired last Thursday by a lecture given by Timo Rauhala who is, for instance, the trainer of the golfer Mikko Ilonen. Ilonen became last weekend the first Finn to win on the European Tour. In cognitive science, one interesting research theme is the role of action. In this blog, there was earlier discussion on the relationship between the level of raw visual perceptions and the linguistic level. It appears that symbols, like words in language, need to be grounded before they can be effectively used. Concepts may not only be based on grounding in the visual domain but many of them stem from the world of actions or activities. Our actions also influence the perceptions of the world. Often the action is deliberately meant to change the perception, like in the case of attention mechanisms. One of the similarities between visual and kinesthetic realms is that they both tend to be much more detailed than the linguistic domain. Referring again to the earlier discussion, an image contains typically many more details than are truly described at linguistic level. In the same way, for instance our movements are very refined when they are compared with the expressions that are used to describe them.

Another interesting theme is the relationship between activity theory and practice theory. Let's consider this issue later.

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