Thursday, June 09, 2005
More Zen - less zest!
Hare Brain and Tortoise Mind - think less!
Guy Claxton is a thinker after my own heart. While everyone else is rushing around introducing rational thinking skills he is pushing the 'slower' idea of developing intuition, hence the title of his book 'Hare Brain Tortoise Mind - how to increase your intelligence by thinking less'.Claxton is about valuing patience and confusion which he believes are the precursors of real wisdom rather than the current emphasis on rigor and certainty. It is by digging into this ‘under mind’ of our unconscious that Claxton believes creativity resides.
We all know the story of the hare and the tortoise but perhaps we haven’t gained the full message. Claxton’s book reminds us that the mind works at different speeds. Some of its functions work at lightening speed – using our ‘wits’ – faster than thought - while others take a longer time to figure things out. This is the area of reason and logic that seems to be the focus of the many various 'higher order thinking skill' programmes thatare so common in our schools these days.
Other kind of thinking (the ‘tortoise brain’) cannot be rushed at all. This kind of thinking is ‘less purposeful and clear cut, more playful, leisurely or dreamy’. In this mode, Claxton writes, ‘we are ruminating or mulling things over; being contemplative or meditative.’ … ‘What we are thinking might not even make much sense’. This seemingly aimless way of thinking is not a luxury, Claxton writes, it is ‘a vital part of the cognitive armamentarium.’
Fast thinking, Claxton says is great when problems can be easily conceptualized. But life is not often so clear cut. When we aren’t certain of things we need to recourse to the ‘tortoise’ mind. And it is this kind of slow thinking which ‘is associated with what we call creativity or even wisdom’.
Claxton believes we have lost touch with the value of contemplative thinking and states that Eastern or indigenous cultures are better at using a more leisurely approach. He mentions that a ‘tribal meeting on a Maori marae can last for days until everyone has the time to assimilate the issues, to have their say, and form a consensus’.
In the Western mind time has become a commodity, all about data, and for efficiency such technical thinking is best done by experts; far beyond the comprehension of ordinary citizens!
So I am all for this more leisurely way of thinking. Digging into areas of ‘messy ill-defined learning’ in depth and in the process coming to know whatever emerges from this uncertainty. We need to stop rushing students though learning that we have preplanned for them in our rush to 'deliver' the curriculum. Let’s stop this rush and really start to enjoy learning again for its own sake – we are missing so much when we use our ‘hare brains’. Most of the important things, Claxton says, we can’t measure – so let's enjoy the process of being lost in our learning. Ignorance and confusion is the beginning of all learning so get your students used to it!
True learning, he says, is picked up as by osmosis. Have fun. Enjoy learning. Create stimulating environments to atract your student's curiosity. Let things 'flow'. Try things. Avoid premature articulation. Be careful with your advice. Take the time, with your students, to discover patterns. Be prepared to see what happens. Life is always next time.
Claxton's advice is if it is 'a nice logical puzzle use your ‘hare brain’; if it is complex or unfamiliar, or behaves unexpectedly, the ‘tortoise brain’ is the better bet.'