Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Brain as Composter VIII

Re Brain as Composter VII:

What follows in this post will be a (long) series of points that summarize attributes of what Claxton calls "D-mode" intelligence:

1. D-mode is much more interested in finding answers and solutions than in examining the questions. (Is the 'primary instrument of technopoly', is primarily concerned with problem-solving, treats any unwanted or inconvenient condition in life as if it were a 'fault' in need of fixing.)

2. D-mode treats perception as unproblematic. (It assumes the way it sees the situation is the way it is.)

3. D-mode sees conscious articulate understanding as the essential basis for action, and thought as the essential problem-solving tool. (Tries to gain a mental grasp, figure it out with everything from impeccable rationality with equations and flow charts to just weighing up pros and cons, taking things through, making a list, jotting down thoughts, making a pitch, etc.)

4. D-mode values explanation over observation (Is more concerned about why than what. The need to have mental grasp, to be able to offer an acceptable account of things is integral. Assumption is that it is normal to be intentional and proper to offer explanations. "..when this purposeful, justificatory, 'always-show-your-reasoning' attitude becomes part of the dominant default mode of the mind, it then tends to suppress other ways of knowing, and makes one skeptical of any activity whose 'point' you cannot immediately consciously see." My italics.)

5. D-mode likes explanations and plans that are 'reasonable' and justifiable, rather than intuitive. (Doubt in the sense of lack of conscious comprehension, becomes stultifying, a trap rather than a springboard.)

6. D-mode seeks and prefers clarity, and neither likes nor values confusion. (Likes to move along 'a well-lit path' from problem to solution, preserving.. as much mental grasp as it can...while some learning may proceed in this point-by-point fashion, much does not.)

7. D-mode operates with a sense of urgency and impatience. (Yeah, that's got to be real relaxing for patients..)

8. D-mode is purposeful and effortful rather than playful. (Always a sense of being under time pressure, being intentional, purposeful, questing, needing to have an answer to a pre-existing question, misses the fruits of 'relaxed cognition'.

9. D-mode is precise.

10. D-mode relies on language that appears to be literal and explicit Claxton:
"..tends to be suspicious of what it sees as the slippery, evocative world of metaphor and imagery. If something can be understood, it can be understood clearly and unambiguously, says the intellect. An intimation of understanding that does not quite reveal itself, that remains shrouded or indistinct, is, to d-mode, only an impoverished kind of understanding; one that should either be forced to explain itself more fully, or treated with disdain. Poetry does not capture anything that cannot ultimately be better, more clearly rendered in prose, and rhetoric is a poor cousin of reasoned explanation."

11. D-mode works with concepts and generalizations (likes to apply rules and principles, favors abstraction over particularity, works with generics or prototypicals, even individuals are treated as generalizations.)

12. D-mode must operate at the rates at which language can be received, produced, and processed. (maintains a sense of thinking as being controlled and deliberate, not spontaneous or willful.)

13. D-mode works well when tackling problems which can be treated as an assemblage of nameable parts. Claxton:
"It is in the nature of language to segment and analyse. The world seen through language is one that is perforated, capable of being gently pulled apart into concepts that seem...self-evidently 'real' or 'natural', and which can be analysed in terms of the relationships between these concepts. Much of traditional science works so well precisely because the world of which it treats is this kind of world. But when the mind turns its attention to situations that are ecological or 'systemic', too intricate to be decomposed in this way without serious misrepresentation, the limitations of d-mode's linguistic, analytical approach are quickly reached. Any situation that is organic rather than mechanical is likely to be of this sort. The new 'sciences' of chaos and complexity are in part a response to the realisation that d-mode is in principle unequal to the task of explaining systems as complicated as the weather, or the behaviour of animals in the natural world. Along with the rise of these new sciences must come a re-evaluation of the slower ways of knowing; of intuition as an essential complement to reason.

I want to say that I think there are many excellent scientific minds out there these days who can conceptually synthesize as well as they can analyze, so I think this list and its attempt to compare scientific thinking with D-mode thinking sounds a bit dated. However, an awful lot of society and its institutions/structures still use this mode reflexively - I would agree with him there.

And I am a bit torn over point 4, because I do explaining all the time, but I like to think that in me, explanation does not overrule or suppress observation/contemplation/other ways of "knowing," that in me, they go hand in hand. This whole blog series is a case in point. However, I've no way to be "certain"... so I'm likely to be wrong on that at least half the time.

I've always chafed at my own profession, PT, which strives to be as classically D-mode as possible for a supposed hands-on helping profession to be... I'd have to say, though, chiropractic with its complexification and ornate verbal embroidering of what is actually a simple set of tricks, manipulation, and which does not require any sort of brilliance to learn or to apply, takes most of the cake for being D-mode, e.g., it fabricates elaborate explanation upon very little observation, and imagines itself to be precise. As Claxton points out in #13, any insistence on using D-mode for treating a natural system (like a live, conscious human being in pain) is misplaced, probably: "when the mind turns its attention to situations that are ecological or 'systemic', too intricate to be decomposed in this way without serious misrepresentation, the limitations of d-mode's linguistic, analytical approach are quickly reached."

Next up, what Claxton thinks is involved in wisdom.

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