How it feels to think

Reflecting upon the article As We May Think written by Dr. Bush in the 1940s, I was easily able to contextualize the narrative as having been written yesterday. While ideas and ideals were posited regarding a better new day, those also hold truth presently. The various restraints on man preventing him from exercising creative thought, which would move him forward, productively not destructively, are no different today. Well, they may be different in form, but in principle they are not and therefore apply equal restraint.


We are no longer stymied by a lack of access to a “memex”, or the present day vast-networking Internet. However due to our stickiness to repetition as noted by Bush, we must draw associations upon which to build new knowledge. It is those associations that restrain us today from exercising creative knowledge discovery. Witness the vast power of the Internet by which we can access information on anything one can imagine. Therein lies the problem. It is not the Internet but rather our imagination which is comfortably walled-in by associations.


We have been taught not to meander or surf the Internet as it is a waste of time, a proverbial shiny object drawing our focus away from logical associations. However, if we do not explore outside of the walls of logic, will we not simply bounce around within those very walls? Maybe we’ll find a better way to fine tune an activity, a quicker route to the office, however that is not discovering new creative knowledge – that knowledge which occurs in spouts throughout history, of such magnitude that we name time periods after them.


So what creates and maintains the association-hold over us? Why don’t we explore beyond those walls? I posit that there are highly controlled vectors, thought vectors, at work within which we cozy-up and feel safe. Within these walls we inflate our domain of thought like a swelled balloon inside of a shoe box, filling all of the space yet remaining safely inside. These constraints are not deliberately confining although they are deliberate in nature. We have seen their magnitude, learned within their scope and they are natural to us. It is how we make associations and how we learn or not-learn.


Two examples of such vectors are research grants and the mass media. The vectors of research grants – alluded to by Bush in regard to military development, present scopes of study, attached to funds. Quite simply we are being told what to study and publish. Now the research proposals may be original, however the funders are not objective, they have an area of focus which they want further explored. Significant funds are being awarded to study and deliver competency based teaching. This model touts the flexibility associated with online programs, dual degrees, freedom from credit-bearing classes and other shackles. However, the goal is to teach skills. Is this learning or training? Does this encourage Dewey’s integrative and reflective learning? Clearly it does not. Rather, it furthers the credentialism so prevalent today. However, since funds are associated with this model, otherwise potentially creative thinkers pigeon-hole themselves into research and program development directly associated with competency based learning. The same can be said about industry, other areas of education, urban development and so forth. We study and think in the realm where we find reward and inertia. Creative knowledge development is not occuring in this realm.


The other set of vectors relate to mass media, be it news delivery or entertainment. Think how many of us structure our lives around the communication platforms relating this information to us; how we associate success with those portrayed in the media; how we travel through our life along this vector.


So how does it feel to think? It feels controlled. However, there are moments when the cage door opens and I can roam the zoo grounds for a while. Those times are when I reflect. An article titled “Deeply Affecting First-Year Students’ Thinking: Deep Approaches to Learning and Three Dimensions of Cognitive Development” (Laird, Seifert, Pascarella, Mayhew & Blaich) in The Journal of Higher Education (June 2014) notes that students think more deeply, and of a higher order when they interact and reflect. Students need to be challenged more than supported, contrary to much first-year experience literature currently making the rounds. An integration of diverse and divergent perspectives (read not controlled within prevalent vectors) will help students make cognitive gains. They’ll get to know themselves as selfs not as ones positioned within the man’s vectors, and be empowered to learn.


So my thinking is sporadic, randomly executed, stimulated by things occuring outside of the usual. I hold the keys to the cage but need to use them more often.

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