Writing and Representation

Unknown author (1988-09)

Working Paper

This paper collects several notes I've written over the last year in an attempt to work through my dissatisfactions with the ideas about representation I was taught in school. Among these ideas are the notion of a 'world model'; the notion of representations having 'content' independent of the identity, location, attitudes, or activities of any agent; and the notion that a representation is the sort of thing you might implement with datastructures and pointers. Here I begin developing an alternative view of representation whose prototype is a set of instructions written in English on a sheet of paper you're holding in your hand while pursuing some ordinarily complicated concrete project in the everyday world. Figuring out what the markings on this paper are talking about is a fresh problem in every next setting, and solving this problem takes work. Several detailed stories about representation use in everyday activities—such as assembling a sofa from a kit, being taught to fold origami cranes, following stories across pages of a newspaper, filling a photocopier with toner, and keeping count when running laps—illustrate this view. Finally, I address the seeming tension between necessity of interpreting one's representations in every next setting and the idea that everyday life is fundamentally routine.