This essay is the foreword to Seymour Papert’s book Mindstorms (1980). There are a few copies kicking around the internet, some mangled, some inaccessible. I’m putting it up here so I have a consistent place to point people when I want to recommend it.
Before I was two years old I had developed an intense involvement with automobiles. The names of car parts made up a very substantial portion of my vocabulary: I was particularly proud of knowing about the parts of the transmission system, the gearbox, and most especially the differential.
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“How do you know when you’ve learned something?", my senior colleague asks me.
After a year in my job of helping people learn, I still haven’t thought enough about this question — and I know it. But I hate hate hate letting on about this fact, so I think for a minute or two (a feature of our company is that we always take as much thinking time as we need) and then I say:
Imagine your job is to find out what code does and how it does it. How do you go about it? You will undoubtedly draw on vast reserves of knowledge, experience, strategies and rules of thumb. Eventually, by an awe-inspiringly complex orchestration of activities, you will come to an explanation.