Gears of thought; how computers can change the way we think.

Seymour Papert opens his Mindstorms book with a foreward on how, aged two, his love of vehicles shaped the way he learned. Specifically he uses the example of gears and their differentials to show that this radically affected the way he interpreted the structure of maths, i.e. in terms of how his mind literally saw gears when he was presented with a maths problem, such as learning the times table and algebra. He believes computers can act as ‘gears’ for our children.

This was a bit of a light bulb moment for me, as someone that’s been immersed in programming (and that pretty much means recursion, iteration and boolean logic) for the last 20 years, as I tend to view almost all problems I’m presented with as iterative, they can be decomposed and solved with functions with ever increasing accuracy and conditional logic. I know, that description is not as elegant as the image of a gear but bear with me!

The light bulb bit was I know everyone is like this to some degree and a better understanding of computers and their logic could make us better problem solvers.

A good example would be if you asked me to divide two numbers in my head, I’d give you a pretty quick and deliberately approximate answer because of the following things working with computers and solving probles by writing software have taught my brain.

1. Scoping: Determine up front if precision or speed is required of the problem because…

2. Iteration: Often an approximate answer is good enough and rather than waste time, pass back the approximation ask if more precision is required and give an idea of how much time is needed.

The question I have now is did this logical approach exist before and is what pulled me toward computing or vice versa? Think I’ll call my parents…