How the Philosopher and the Wolf inspired new self-reliance

5 September 2018
Alumna, Stephanie Fynn (MIDEA '14), creates sensory worlds for people with disabilities. Here she explains how Mark Rolands' The Philosopher and the Wolf made her think differently about her approach to what she does.
Illustration of Stephanie Fynn

Stephanie Fynn, illustrated by Harry Slaghekke.

I began reading The Philosopher and the Wolf while planning my semester break trip to the steppes of Mongolia, where the wolves run wild. The book traces the lessons learned by a philosophy lecturer from a wolf he adopted. The lesson on the importance of mechanical learning is the one that stood out to me the most.

Mechanical learning has a lot to do with embodied and embedded cognition theories, where intelligent behaviour emerges from the interplay between brain, body and world.

Rowlands discusses how the dog has been embedded in a very different environment to the wolf. As a result, both animals’ psychological processes and abilities have developed in very different ways. Specifically, the dog has been forced to rely on us. If a dog encounters a mechanical problem it finds difficult to solve, it enlists human help. The wolf, on the other hand, has evolved to become more mechanically intelligent. When the wolf is faced with a problem in the wild, it has to use its body and mind to solve the problem creatively.

The book made me reflect that my reliance on computers was making me forget how to use an embodied approach to problem-solving.
Stephanie Fynn
Book cover of the Philosopher and the Wolf

Mark Rowlands' The Philosopher and the Wolf.

As I was succumbing to the digital age, the book made me reflect that my reliance on computers was making me forget how to use an embodied approach to problem-solving.

I realised I was enlisting the help of the computer and losing my mechanical problem-solving skills.

While I was travelling in Mongolia, I discovered that the nomads still employed mechanical problem-solving in their day-to-day living. Mechanical intelligence holds so much weight that a woman is not allowed to get married unless she completes a series of hands-on puzzles prior to the wedding day to prove her mechanical intelligence.

Since reading this book, I have tried to develop a more hands-on, tactile and embodied approach to my design process. I have been focusing on creating interactive projections so people have the opportunity to use their whole body, rather than just a keyboard and mouse. I am looking to nature to find my way forward.

Stephanie Fynn is a Sydney based Interactive and User Experience Designer.

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