Craft and playwork (“Science tells you that your opinion is worthless”)

Worth reading despite the presence of the sweetly-grinning fey keyboard-bothering popster, Mr. Cox.

here’s my edited highlights of the piece, designed to give you my choice of the most relevant points, while not quoting too much of the article and infringing the NS’ copyright:

—–my precis starts——-

”BC: That’s the point of exploration: you don’t know what you’re going to find.

“What do you make of neutrinos apparently being measured moving faster than the speed of light – which would overturn Einstein?
”BC: Science should be really honest – the experimenters don’t believe the result, I don’t think, because it does require a big revision of our understanding of physics. But they check it, they can’t find anything wrong, so the correct thing to do is publish.
JF: The false alarms get weeded out.
BC: You can think of areas where that’s problematic: medical research, for example, where the behaviour of people depends on the research – I’m thinking of disasters like the MMR scare. But in general science should be really naive; there shouldn’t be PR spin or politics.

“What motivates climate sceptics and the rest?
”BC: Carl Sagan pointed out that “Science challenges”. And the natural human response from people who are educated, who have a title or position, is to assume their opinion is worth something. And science tells you that your opinion is worthless when confronted with the evidence. That’s a difficult thing to learn.
“JF: As a theoretical physicist, most of my time is spent doing calculations that are wrong. It’s a humbling exercise, a massive dose of humility.

”How can we teach that process?
BC: Quantum mechanics is interesting, because it’s a theory that is absolutely shocking in its implications and yet not technically difficult. I think it should be taught in schools for that reason. Measurements of the world suggested something very odd – that particles can be in multiple places at once – so we developed a theory and it works. It’s that process of saying: “Your preconceptions about reality are not right, because the evidence says so.”

“One of the book’s messages is not to trust your intuition. So how do you distinguish between a bonkers idea – and a bonkers idea that’s right?
BC: Experiment! Make predictions.

”Are we all doomed?
BC: On the human timescale, the adoption of the scientific method – making rational decisions based on evidence – that’s the important thing. Look at public policy, health policy, economics: there’s a reluctance to be humble.

—–my precis ends——-

I’m referring to the bit in my title: how do you feel when I say that  most of what we think we know about children and play is, well, let’s just say ‘unscientific’?

I’ll unpack this a bit, then link it to my assertion that playwork is a craft, a bit (because I’m lazy).

Science is based on disproof. That’s why it’s Einstein’s or Darwin’s  theory, not because we don’t accept them,  but because they might be wrong. Lots of people in white coats are plotting to do them down by disproving them with the full approval of their biggest fans in the ‘scientific community’, as we have to call it.

I suppose at some point they might make the leap and become laws, like Newton’s, but notice this: Newton’s laws HAVE been supplanted by Einstein’s, but that doesn’t mean that Newton’s laws don’t apply 99% if the time. (They called them laws back then; science is less confident these days.) You don’t need to worry about time dilation until your Ford Focus is capable of near-light speed, but if you are sending a probe to Mars, Einstein can really ruin your day.

The lovely Dr Jack Cohen is fond of these phrases:

‘false to fact’


‘that turns out not to be the case’

Just two of the ways that scientists try to politely say – ‘you are wrong, what you said is not true’.

Now, (as I’m fond of saying):

Are we putting enough energy into disproving the cherished theories of playwork?

Can were even call them theories? Theories have to be disprovable.

And… does playwork even need ‘theory’ (as we call it) ?

Personally, I’ve tried to be careful not to claim theory status for my ideas.

Those ideas including, but by no means restricted to (let’s attempt a comprehensive description) ‘on the application of the edge of chaos concept to various aspects of the play of children’.

I have become increasingly concerned about the application, by others, of my thinking to the range of playworker responses; an application which can easily slide into prescription.

If all art aspires to the condition of music, then all science aspires to the condition of mathematics; and if all all science aspires to the form of mathematics, then Bach’s fugues are the highest form of mathematics. Bethe’s formulas for stellar formation, when encoded, give us ‘Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star’ when played on a Fourier synth (ask me).

If playwork is aspiring to be scientific, it needs to abandon it’s flirtings with post-modern theory.

And equally if science has no place in playwork practice, then attempting to delouse playwork of it’s pseudo-science fleas by asserting a post-modern perspective on science is a pretty roundabout way to go about it.


which I want to get round to writing about sometime,



A craft is not a profession, nor is it merely an occupation, or a mere hobby. A craft CAN be a hobby or an occupation, and can exist within an occupation.

Last year we had double glazing (I know – finally!) to the remaining single (undouble?) windows in our lovely but 130 year old end-terraced house. The main guy that did the work was a craftsman. His attention to detail, his pleasure in the job well done was almost immediately apparent. I say almost, I had to get over the mess (minimal as it happened) , the noise and the disruption first. I finally gave in, did a bit of daytime telly, caught up on last weekends dead tree news and basically became their butler for the day, applying my theory that the best quality tea and coffee, and good biscuits are the best way to get good work out of yer stout British yeoman. That and honest appreciation. That last part was easy, as I say, this guy was class, he was skill, to use two archaiac working-class men’s expressions of appreciation.)

His story is interesting, though typical: now working for a double glazing firm, he was once a proper craftsman – carpenter or joiner, I forget which, sorry. Might have been cabinet maker – I think he trained as that, then went on .the building’. You can’t  really say he was ‘proud’ of his skills, because that word, along with ‘passionate’ has been hugely debased by the meejah to the extent that we are encouraged to be ‘proud’ if we bake a cake on Masterbake or get a yodelling audition on X-factor. I blame Heather Smalls – we were brought up to believe that pride was a sin.

So here we have this guy, and all he’s doing is bashing out our old windyframes and slotting in the new ones – made in some factory, cut to size on a computerised controlled CNC cutting machine, designed by some bloke on a CAD system sat in front of a big monitor, assembled by some lads in overalls- that he picked up from the depot this morning; nothing to it just slot ’em in. Think of all the money that little window-making companies used to waste employing craftsmen to make window frames by hand; think of all the employment created for painters repainting the bloody things every 5 years, now that money goes instead into the pockets of the IT guys and the factory owners, and the craftsman have to scrape a living basically installing Lego.


But if you’ve ever watched proper old fashioned physical work being done, you’ll know that there is a suprising amount of craft knowledge in use, no matter how routine and menial the task is. A good example is watching those 2 bonkers cleaning women on the telly, I forget their names: loads of intelligence, skill, knowledge and know-how being casually imparted to the nation’s slovens. (Is ‘sloven’ a real word? I was trying to avoid slattern or slut because of their sexist and sexual overtones. The gene for keeping a filthy house is not sex-linked. hope you didn’t think I meant Slovenians.)

Yes, Craft.

You might also notice that the technocrats of double-glazing have exported the risk (Ulrich Beck) of problems with fitting to the installer. The lowest paid worker is now shouldering the risk. We could suggest that while the task of making double-glazing has simplified, the task of installing it has complexified. The sleight of hand of the market. I wave my hand and the profit has left the warehouse and flown via the regional factory to the owners.


And the only playworkers I respect, and there are many, are those who stubbornly practice their craft, despite the best efforts of their managerialist bosses, the technocratic frameworks of monitoring, the viccissitudes of funding, the indifference of local authorities, the increasing stupidity of parents (I blame society) the vast ‘professional’ timidity and arse-covering of other agencies and the actions of the kids themselves.

Recalcitrants* all, stubbornly doing the best that they can.


So let me finish by saying this:




*Note to fans of my ‘Edge of Recalcitrance’  – the above is my best shot at why I call playworkers recalcitrant.

Further reading:

Richard Sennett : ‘The Craftsman’, ‘Together’, ‘Bowling Alone.

Matthew Crawford: ‘The case for working with your hands’.

In praise of “crap” technology – Boing Boing

Lot of sense talked here: I’m known as an Apple fanboy; if that were true this would be written on an iSteve and I wouldn’t be keeping 3 old Macs alive. The test is longevity and utility – my previous phone was a 5-year old Palm, cos it did stuff I wanted it to do, simply.

This is a lovely techno koan ”I was…

This is a lovely techno-koan:

”I was struck last week when I saw a colleague pecking away, very quickly, with two fingers on his computer keyboard.  I asked him about it and he told me that he had recently taken a course where he had learned to touch type.  The course had been very good and he had learned to type at 30 words pre minute.  But with his two finger pecking he typed at 60 words per minute. His plan was to continue to practice his touch typing, until it was fast enough to switch over.  Of course if he switched over now, he would be touch typing even faster, sooner, but at the cost of the learning curve frustration.”

And if my blogging chum had left it there it would’ve been great. But he wouldn’t let it lie, and so the next sentence is of the dreaded ‘And you know, that’s a little bit like Jesus isn’t? ’variety. You can read the whole thing if you follow the link below.

Now, I’m aiming his koan squarely at a Mancunian author of my acquaintance who hasn’t moved on from the ‘smartphone-stabby-stabby-grunt’ stage. Typical. Young people, eh. Perhaps there’s a kind of Pareto thing going on, where if you invest only 20% of the 20% you need to get to the 80% of the lovely usability of the device–because you can’t be bothered and you’re in a rush and you need to just use it and you’re not a geek–then you remain stuck in the stabby grunt frustration, irritation, ‘bloody stupid thing’ phase. No discipline, no gumption, no stick at it no deferred reward, More importantly perhaps, I say pretentiously and portentously, we can observe another rule of what Neil Postman calls ‘Technopoly’:

Battram’s 6th Law of Technology: the smarter the phone, the dumber the user can be until something bad happens.

I read somewhere recently of the incredulous response of a young woman, asked what she would do if she had an emergency and her mobile wouldn’t work. What do you mean if my mobile won’t work? She could no more comprehend that possibility than she could the idea that the sun might not rise. Powerful ju-ju.

Apple’s Siri personal assistant technology, nearly working and available now, though officially still ‘in beta’, promises Jeeves in your phone. But what happens when Jeeves isn’t there?

Bertie is in trouble when Jeeves goes on holiday. 
On a trip to Brinkley Court, Bertie finds himself 
surrounded by former fiancees and old adversaries. 
Bertie looks set for a troublesome time…

Siri being ‘in beta’ is unusual for Apple, unlike Google who keep most of their applications in beta long after they have been released and sorted out. What does this portend? My guess is that the betaness of Siri is more than just a Google-style early unfinished release. I think Apple are acknowledging that this sort of application can only be developed in a co-evolutionary loop with its users. So now we have an application that assumes another characteristic of all living systems – a ‘structural coupling’ as Maturana might term it, an autopoietic relationship.

And you know, isn’t ‘in beta’ a little bit like life? (Do not say the ‘J’ word, Ed) Living systems, living things, life -always unfinished, always learning, changing, striving and such…



Now I need to fix this problem…

When someone clicks a link on Facebook, it doesn’t come to this ‘home’ page (aka front page), it goes just to that particular entry.


Now, those in the know are aware that it is usually the case that you can get to the front page of a blog, and therefore to the latest entry, simply by clicking on the masthead.

I just tried it and it works. Woo hoo.

So, I hope you will, dear reader (s?), remember that trick – click the masthead to get back to the ‘front page’.

My apologies if you knew this already. I will assume you know what the masthead is – its the thingy at the top – the title.


Ok so after a few hours work I…

Ok, so after a few hours work I now have a not-too-bad heading, and an ‘about this blog’ bit and a ‘subscribe’ button and other stuff. The background colour isn’t quite right, but at least I now have my trademark bluey-greeny blue and my orange going on at the top, and a cool photo of some kid doing something risky on wet rocks next to a deep pool and my new logo, the one with the wave and the flock on it.

So, to adopt software versioning terminology for this work in progress, this is about version 0.3.

When it gets to 1.0 that means I think it is finished. Good luck with that.