July 17, 2009

The pale cast of thought

Seamus McGoogle thinks too much. Such cats are dangerous.

Lately I've been thinking about not thinking.

The related sciences of psychology and behavioral economics have pointed out that most of the time, we run on automatic pilot, without really thinking about what we're doing. We seem to have two related cognitive systems, one that doesn't require a lot of thought and another that is reflective and self-conscious.

The former is pretty fast and effortless, while the latter is slower and more deliberative.

It's probably a good thing that we have the autopilot function. It would be pretty hard to get things done if we had to consciously reflect how to tie shoes, wash dishes or mow the lawn.

The automatic system seems to have evolved to help animals (including us) deal with routine events. The reflective system may have developed to help us deal with novel situations.

It strikes me as a paradox that in education we sometimes seem to value the reflective questioning part, although the automatic one delivers most of the goods most of the time.

People nowadays, especially "progressives," tend to disparage rote learning and drill. But if you think about it, we learn some of our most important skills that way. Think of multiplication tables, spelling, reading, keyboarding, riding a bicycle, or tons of other things.

When I first tried to learn how to play the guitar, it took what seemed like ages to make a chord and even longer to change one. After a while, I could play and change basic chords without thinking about it. Martial artists and other athletes basically train so they won't have to think. So do most emergency responders--and that's a good thing most of the time.

Thinking and self-consciousness have their place but sometimes they're overrated. Think about it. Or not.

HEALTH CARE RESOURCE. Here's some useful information on the current health care reform debate from West Virginians for Affordable Health Care and the WV Center on Budget and Policy.

LOOKING BACK A VIETNAM is the theme of the latest edition of the Rev. Jim Lewis' Notes from Under the Fig Tree.

NO CARDS. It looks like "moderates" in the US Senate have scrapped a key provision of the Employee Free Choice Act.

WV ITEMS. It was a surprise for me yesterday to see that there will be a change in leadership at the Department of Health and Human Resources, but no surprise to see that problems persist in the state's in-home Medicaid program for the elderly and disabled. On a different topic, Kanawha County schools dropped the words "sexual orientation" from policy intended to discourage bullying and harassment. Holy abject caving, Batman!

WHY DO DOGS BARK? Here's one possibility.


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