The burning hand, and Frost

In last night’s discussion about assessment, I said this:

We know that the burned hand teaches that the stove is hot. (Actually, it teaches us that a very unpleasant feeling is experienced by touching the stove in a way that we later learn is inappropriate, the same way that unpleasant experience is called “burning.”) The experience of the burnt hand can be observed and measured according to it’s severity and the quickness of the individual’s response. But can learning be measured?

If the “student” can articulate what happened and also articulate that she does not want to experience this unpleasant feeling again, then it seems there is pretty clear evidence of learning. That seems like some kind of proxy measure to me, but a very good one.

The real test of learning, it seems to me, is to observe over time whether or not the experience is repeated.

If not, it seems safe that the lesson is learned.

Of course, all this assumes a physically and mentally normal subject. Someone with nerve damage or Hansen’s disease, may not be able to detect the heat and burning.

All of this occurred to me while driving into work this morning. It also led me, again, to consider measurement. I think about measurement a lot, I really do.

Last night I also said this:

My two years spent running the frame shop at the university museum at SIUE, a number of Habitat for Humanity builds, and years of Scouting, have left me pretty cynical about people’s ability to measure even simple things consistently. Even given that criticism, I was reminded of Roger Zelazny’s novella, “For a Breath I Tarry.” It is the story of a computer named “Frost” in a far-distant future, where mankind has become extinct, that develops a quest, first to understand Man and then ultimately to become Man.

   “Regard this piece of ice, mighty Frost. You can tell me its composition, dimensions, weight, temperature. A Man could not look at it and do that. A Man could make tools which would tell Him these things, but He still would not know measurement as you know it. What He would know of it, though, is a thing that you cannot know.”
   “What is that?”
   “That it is cold.”

I think this is the heart of issue. We can know learning, or we can know measurement. We may not be able to know both.

Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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