Welcome to a new blog dedicated to Nicholai A. Bernstein.

Due to a couple of interesting events; Chapters stores clearing their back rooms, and the work of two men who diligently brought the 50 year-unpublished work of a Russian who sought to bring insight into dexterity to the scientific community, I found myself with the good fortune of having in my hands one of the most influential books I've ever held.

In the posts that follow, I hope to be able to aid in propagating an understanding of what it is to be a skilled craft or trades worker.

Dave Armishaw

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Here we are on the 7th of April, 15,2015. I am here to comment on my absence from my blogs and to comment on the broad extension of Bernsteins' influence in recent years.

I have now been an electricIan for over 40 yearsme still very busy as a electrical contractor. 8 years ago,  at about the time I was busy with publishing and posting to there blogs I left employment in building maintenance for contracting, simply too tired at the end of the day to blog,

Greatly appreciate those who have dropped by to view the posts and I sincerely hope we can get a discussion going on this very important neuro physiologist.

Nicolai Bernstein's writings and research were left in Obscurity until this book was published an event for which we should be truly grateful.

At that same point, 8 years ago I abruptly  stopped eeading, but have gotten back extensively a month ago and discovered that the world of motor physiology and related neurology are fully aware of the relevance and significance of Bernstein's work. For those who are not familiar I will update shirt

Monday, January 11, 2010

Comrade Pavlov & Handwork

One of the key issues of the book is of Bernstein as a young, well educated scientist working for the Soviet government to improve worker efficiency finding out something very much different; that Pavlov's ideas, which brought great fame to Russia were in fact very much oversimplified and plain wrong. It's important because many decades of thought and labour relations practice are based on a condescending, overly simplistic concept of human action.

We do know now that even dogs don't act purely on conditioned reflexes as Pavlov described. Much more, humans act purposefully in making and creating, engaging higher thought as much as intellectual activity.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Journeyman’s Way

I thought it might be interesting to put myself back in the place of a new apprentice for a moment. It doesn’t hurt, once in a while, to remember what it’s like on the first day. I well remember mine.
There was more serendipity involved than careful career choice for me. My father was a carpenter as well as a minister, had been an air force mechanic; and I spent six years filling shelves in grocery stores and desperately wanted a more challenging career, but although I knew carpentry I questioned the job security of a non-restricted trade. A friend of a friend knew a contractor who needed a new electrical apprentice, and I hired on at a substantial pay cut. Mid July, 1974, I showed up for work with next to no tools and found I needed more than just a hammer. Over the next few weeks I bought a new pair of steel-toed boots, hacksaw, brace and bit, assorted screwdrivers and pliers, and set about learning some new-to-me tricks of the trade.
Although I wasn’t a stranger to tools, as most young people are today, it seemed as though I’d stumbled upon a completely new subculture. Even the laughter and anecdotes shared around a sandwich at lunchtime was laced with a lingo I’d never heard before. Romex? (wire used in houses); banjo (round mouthed shovel; red driver (screwdriver for #8 screws) 14/2, panel box, fuse block. So many terms, tools, material. Every trade has its’ own conventions. For example, “back on black” is used when running a “switch line” from a light where there is power. You use a two conductor cable, the white wire connects to the power in the ceiling, down to the switch and “back on black” to the light. By following conventions like this, another electrician following immediately knows what to expect when removing a fixture and checking out the wiring.
All of these conventions are important. Some are enforced by code; since almost all jurisdictions enforce electrical safety inspections. Others are good practice. For instance, in our area it’s approved to join two or three solid wires together just by holding the wires with the ends even and twisting a wire nut onto them securely. However, a joint is more secure if the wires are twisted first with a pair of pliers and trimmed before twisting on the wirenut, and also they will stay together if the wirenut is removed for testing. In some cases, this is a significant point when troubleshooting. Commonly, wires come apart while moving them in the box after removing the cover. It’s also always been true that good practice exceeds code requirements. Codes are a minimum.
The new apprentice learns to do these tasks a certain way, because the journeyman he works with wants him to work well within limits of safety. Safety issues are emphasized; neatness and workmanship are drilled in, as is language and demeanour and courtesy when working in a customer’s home or office. He learns what parts are called, where they are in the truck, and to sort out tools and stock at the end of the day. He learns how to set a ladder firmly on soil or a floor, and sharpen a drill bit after it has cut off a few nails. Once he’s learned what common parts are for, he’ll be sent for parts and coffee on a regular basis. And he’ll be the butt of some shop humour for his mistakes and blunders. And some anger and frustration as the journeyman tires of correcting, answering the same questions again, or checking on progress and finding none, because the apprentice didn’t want to admit he didn’t understand what was requested.
So the first month feels a lot like a bad dream; one in which you find yourself attending someone else’s family reunion. Everyone knows each other, but you; you’d really like to know what’s going on, but struggle as you may, the frustration is continuing. After a few weeks, you, the journeyman and the boss will want to know if you “are working out”. Not everyone is cut out to be a tradesman, and even if you are, you and the journeyman may not be as good fit. All trades are highly demanding, mentally and physically, and place high levels of responsibility on the shoulders of workers. Before long you’ll be expected to work with a minimum of supervision and often little in the way of briefing about what a particular job may entail. Other times, such as when you are working on a large building project, you will need to follow direction from a variety of people, adjust your work to not conflict with others, and be conscious of the safety of others at all times while working.
In time, the struggles and hard work will ease, and productivity and quality of output will improve. Fellow worker’s, and other trades will make positive comments, and once in a while you’ll get as good felling of everything working together and making sense. The mistakes won’t end, but there will be fewer, and you will be able to find ways of dealing with unexpected errors on your part and others.
The journeyman’s way, one that is not visible to the novice setting out the first week, is a long one, and one that by no means ends with “getting one’s ticket”, “C of Q” as the certificate of qualification is called that is granted when an apprentice has completed all three stages of trade school and the required 4 to 5 years, and then finally passed a state or province wide test. While formal schooling is over and the journeyperson is able to work independently and with live power, proficiency will continue to improve and work will become easier, over the next 10, 15, and 20 years. And that’s how a master is made. Well on in the journey; when the worker doesn’t do, as much as being, a trademan.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Craft Knowledge: Undercurrents

The results of craftwork have been admired since antiquity; but not always the doing. The ancient Greeks openly disdained hand work. A Chinese Emperor from around the Eleventh Century made a point of trying to learn some of the trade secrets of the artisans within his realm, whose work attracted his admiration and fascination; to little avail. Visitors to pioneer villages, where demonstrations are given of various pioneer crafts that once were common to farm communities, also draw curiosity; but perhaps not to the degree that would lead to genuine appreciation.

Nicholai A. Bernstein, the Russian neurophysiologist whose work I've discussed before, put it right when he said that watching a master at work fools us into feeling that we could easily replicate what we are seeing. However, without having the advantage of schooling or self-learning, and 10,000 hours of meaningful practice, we would make as big fools of ourselves as we would by going into a tournament foursome which included Tiger Woods with the media following behind (as one Toronto executive learned the hard way some years ago).

It's not likely that a casual chat with a guest craftworker would make you any wiser than the emperor of a millenia ago, and for a very good reason. The craftworker's wisdom, like an iceberg, lies predominently below the surface. What the intelligentia know is largely 'an open book', and someone with enough time (as did Karl Marx and others)could spend a decade in good libraries and emerge well educated, as long as we were reasonably selective and productive. And we could I would assume be able to articulate what we had learned and write about it. But craft knowledge is in contrast predominantly tacit knowledge, meaning that even craftworkers don't always know what they know, unless they are exceptionally self-aware, self-monitoring, about their skills and the reasons for their selections and methods.

As a brain function, intellectual activity centers in the area behind the forehead, the frontal lobes. That is where conscious, deliberate thought takes place. If I intend to do something, my frontal lobes are active, making decisions and choices; but when I awake in the morning, get ready for work, mercifully getting out of bed and performing morning rituals does not require my deciding what to do. (Age helps too!) I'll have checked the clock a few times, then find myself doing one of the several things needful to be ready to go out the door.

Few craftworkers or artisans write about the experience of "watching themselves working"; thereby seeing what others watching them see. I've had other tradesmen say to me, "That's not the first time you've done that!", meaning, the work I (like any experienced worker) was doing flowed, without undue hesitation, whereas they themselves wouldn't have known even what material to buy for the job, without planning. Therefore, planning a small electrical installation would have been taxing on the frontal cortex ("That gave me a headache!") whereas 35 years experience means it presents no challenge. Occasionally bosses, even highly educated ones, can't ask you to do something they can plan themselves. Sometimes, humourous, sometimes frustrating.

(in progress)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Self-Awareness of Mastery

I don't know how wide spread self-awareness is, of individuals being aware of what they are doing; but I do feel acheiving mastery is very much universally experienced to some degree.

One of the things that separates craftworkers from others, apart from seeing visible results at the end of the day, is owning one's own skills, ability and competence. A factory or office worker, and also a great number of professional people toe the line every day to someone else's beck and call and are very conscious of other's expectations. This is true regardless of how good they are at what they do.

The experience of mastery came vividly to me one Saturday morning when I was doing maintenance at a Burger King restaurant. I did all building maintenance and repairs for a group of four family-owned restaurants on a part time basis for several years. On this particular morning, I'd gone to this store and been given the list of things needing fixing. The biggest concern was a broken section of wall behind a large kitchen sink, where the drywall had rotted, and there were a number of loose tile. To do repairs like this I'd learned to find methods to get the job done in one shot. I removed loose tile beyond the damaged area, cut back the drywall to a nearby stud and replace with 1/2" plywood, clean up the tile and glue them back in place with PL premium and grout and clean up. The job was 1 hr. 20 min. from home, so multiple trips was out of the question.

This was the first time I'd taken this approach, and once I'd gotten going on the task, getting ready to install the plywood oon the cutaway area, I had a jolting realization of wondering how i could "know" what to do. I do electrical work every day, had though I'd only seen the task an hour before I had arrived at a workable solution.

Being a novice is a mix of small victories, and uphill efforts to do what others around can do easily. You often have the feeling of working extremely hard; may think on some tasks you are the hardest working individual in the organisation. You may, though, be confusing effort with results. All part of the process; leading to the point at which most of the hard struggles to accomplish complex goals are behind you.

I would imagine Paul prefers to have work ahead of him, so that he usually has time to think about work, at least I do. You can start a job, unseen on Monday morning, but if I have a couple days, when I do come to take tools out of the truck I'm right ready to get at the work and it goes easier. And by 10:00 A.M. the work is going well, the customer expresses suprise at how much has been done, and you don't even feel like stopping for coffee. That's bliss.