Monday, April 13, 2009

Wisdom Cries Out in the Streets...

Krishna displays his Vishvarupa (Universal For...Image via Wikipedia

A in the "60 Seconds Science" column in Scientific American there is an interesting note about Jest and Meeks' attempt to map "wisdom." They have looked at 10 scientific papers that have attempted to define wisdom and believe that they have found its seat in certain areas in the brain.

"Jeste and Meeks concede that some might call their conclusions reductionistic because they based their 'map' not on the idea that wisdom is a single trait, but a collection of attributes. But Jeste said that similarities between how wisdom was portrayed thousands of years ago in the Bhagavad Gita (a Hindu scripture) and in the West today — as well as the tale of Phineas Gage, a railway worker whose allegedly wise attributes such as amiability and good judgment were said to vanish after a spike penetrated his left frontal lobe — 'makes you think it's not a cultural phenomenon but biologically consistent.'"

Skull diagram of w:Phineas GageImage via Wikipedia

First off, I have to say that my amiability might suddenly vanish if I had a railroad spike through my head. What makes me a little less cranky but cranky none-the-less is the illusive definitions of "wisdom," "knowledge," "memory," "ideas," and "information." I do like that they refer it to a collection of attributes. When we talk about learning and our relationship to knowledge and information, I think we are looking at a similar problem. When we use taking notes to learn, I think it is important to remember that that action includes the movement of the hand and the feel of the pencil. In other words, thinking and cognition may not reside in a single organ. Until we understand how all of the parts work together, I am not really sure if we have a working definition of knowledge epistemologically.

One of the weaknesses of the cognitive approach to pedagogy is that there is a false correlation between how the brain functions and how we learn. This cognitive approach is found in many theories of learning whenever the researcher wishes to put the stamp of legitimacy on a project with Real Science. Thinking, memory and learning are a little messier than the fMRI's would lead us to believe. Neuroscience is going to tell us how we sense the world around us and how currently measurable systems function in the brain but that is as far away from knowing how we learn as the Hubble is from answering cosmological questions about the origin of time. We are learning valuable things but we do not know enough about all the interrelated complex systems that go into creating a single thought to make any conclusions about how we learn.

I hope we read more about an accounting of Eastern systems of epistemology and ontology as they relate to learning. The current thinking about education is decidedly Cartesian. Ironically, Leibniz read a Latin translation of the I Ching which if it did not influence his exploration and invention of binary numbers, it certainly led him to strongly consider the the archetypal significance of a numbering system (as seen in his writings) which led to the modern computer.

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