I meant to ask this a while ago, after Erik’s lecture…
What is the difference between a tool and a material?
I think that the Square One definition is that a material is the “substrate” that an intelligent animal works to get at or create sometihng, while a tool is an implement that said intelligent animal uses in aid of that process.
Where things get fuzzy is when you open the door and let Erik (and other, similarly intelligent designers) in the room and they point out that the distinctions between the two can blur. For one, because tools are themselves made of materials. For two, tools are created by a design process. And for three, tools necessarily have many pre-decisions about the design process encased in them. And the discourse goes on …
I still go back to material just being ‘information’. Information that we try to organize, manipulate and form to our desired ends. As noted above, tools also contain information, but in the form of a predefined structure. The tools we use can vary , but I think the material has to be just information. Of course information itself contains information…. Hmmm.. It sounds like a circular argument. Plus how do we really define ‘information’?????
Phenomenological vs. Structuralism
I think that a phenomenologicalist might base their interpretation of the ‘material’ on their own personal conscious act of assigning meaning to the ‘material’. In essence, the material has no qualities without the user’s conscious act of assigning it qualities.
I think that the structuralists might say that they would need to know the system making up the material and how the material operates. They would also need to know what relationships the material has with other entities in the immediate surroundings. The structuralist would only look at the material for THIS given time, ignoring any history or influence of other variables to define the material.
I’m too deep here, I’m over my head.
BTW: if anyone is interested in phenomenological vs. structuralist thoughts… try the article below. it’s available full text from IU Lib and it’s only 12 pages.
STRUCTURALISM VS. PHENOMENOLOGY: IMPLICATIONS FOR RHETORICAL CRITICISM. By: Warnick, Barbara. Quarterly Journal of Speech, Oct79, Vol. 65 Issue 3, p250, 12p; (AN 9376946)
This is probably more useful in a different context, but one definition of information that I’ve found useful in the past is that “information” is “data” with “meaning” added.
For instance, the following series of numbers is just data. It’s just accumulated, statistical quantities about some unknown thing:
But when we add “meaning” to that data, we give it signifiance and purpose:
January: 31 days
February: 28 days
March: 31 days
April: 30 days
May: 31 days
June: 30 days
July: 31 days
August: 31 days
September: 30 days
October: 31 days
November: 30 days
December: 31 days
@Marty – You said: “One definition is that a material is the “substrate” that an intelligent animal works to get at or create sometihng, while a tool is an implement that said intelligent animal uses in aid of that process.”
Yeah..that sounds about right, as far as how people use the world. Before, I was thinking that one of the defining characteristics of a tool it is perceived to have intentions, while a material is more neutral. For example, we often wood a material, because it was not designed with any purpose in mind, while we consider a hammer to be a tool since it was designed with pounding nails in mind. And, if I use the hammer in a totally unintended way, say in some art project, then I’d probably consider the hammer a material. So, this sounds like a phenomenological interpretation of tools and materials.
@Tim – you said “They would also need to know what relationships the material has with other entities in the immediate surroundings. The structuralist would only look at the material for THIS given time, ignoring any history or influence of other variables to define the material.”
Both of these comments made me think that perhaps a similar notion of tool and material might have to do with a tool being more “ordered” than a material – that a tool contains more information. i suppose this would be more of a structuralist interpetation of tools and materials.
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