Introducing the Dynamics of Knowing

The diagram below gives us a plausible map of how you and I think. It is an arrangement of essential linguistic signs drawn from the story of Helen Keller1Journeyism 6, Journeyism 7, Journeyism 8 and the university syllabus2Journeyism 5. The diagram is called the Dynamics of Knowing and it exhibits a recurring pattern of how we desire to correctly understand sensible data and data of human meaning.

But it is only a map, and reading a map is not the same as undertaking a beginner’s journey to test its accuracy.3Please note: In this series, our illustrations and exercises will be drawn from elementary, descriptive illustrations and examples accessible to common sense. As far as it goes, these instances, while precise, empirically verifiable, and sufficient to our purpose, are incomplete. To appreciate the full control of data required for sensible and human meanings we will need to draw on further elementary illustrations and examples from the world of theory. In our upcoming series on economics, the elementary examples there will serve to help you distinguish between descriptive (commonsense) reflection and explanatory (theoretical) reflection on data. So, before we proceed further, we offer one more illustration in support of the journey ahead. In Journeyism 4, we alluded to a fundamental disorientation in teaching and learning when we distinguished two types of reading.4This disorientation underpins the dilemma identified in Journeyism 1: “Current and past conventions in education and economics are ‘lost in some no man’s land between the world of theory and the world of common sense.” (Lonergan, (CWL 6), 121). In a brief introductory sketch, we identify the symptoms, as well as their root causes, in Chapter 7, “A Dialectical Analysis of Investigation into Language Universals”, Shaping the Future of Language Studies, pp. 82-100.

Below, we highlight that fundamental disorientation by presenting two options for ‘how to read’ boxes one to four in the diagram above. At issue is when the spontaneous occurrence of insight is achieved. The two views are in clear opposition: does insight occur before concept (MAC), or from “analysis” afterwards (McA).5Introducing Critical Thinking, pp. 64-66. McA or Conceptualism came to be called ‘conceptual analysis,’ which was a name for a British tradition of philosophy in the twentieth century.

MAC  “Dynamics of Knowing”

M = Your Mind

  • (Box 1) Your mind homes in on some experience, problem, puzzle, mystery, etc.

A = Ah? (what?) and Aha! (direct insight)

  • (Boxes 2 & 3) The experience raises a what (?) to reach (perhaps with a great deal of messing) an insight (!).

C = formulation, concept, definition (Each expression means the same thing.)

  • (Box 4) The insight makes it possible for you to generate, formulate a concept, to beget a definition, to give birth to an idea

M→(?)→(!)C represents the lower part of the MAC view in the diagram: Our Mind homes in on some experience with a what (?), to reach (perhaps with a great deal of struggle) an insight (!), which makes it possible to generate or give birth to a concept.

Please note there is a gap here that can be too easily dodged. How do we get from (?) to (!)? And why is this gap so easily dodged? That’s because of the other view, represented by conceptual analysis or conceptualism, which we refer to as McA.

McA    “Conceptual Analysis”

M = Your Mind

  • We have a mind.

c = concepts

  • “Somehow” we can “get” concepts.

A = analysis

  • What is meant by ‘A’? Instead of (?) and (!) ‘A’ means Analysis. And so concepts need analysis so we can become clear on their content.

The McA view says that reading, repeating, memorizing, looking at, or describing an idea is identical to understanding it. With McA it is sufficient to be clear on, or informed by, the content of a “concept”.6By the way, it should be noted we are not canceling out the task of memorizing, especially in poetry, music, etc., but just pointing out one destructive aspect of the McA view of mind. Note also that “concept” here is in the sense defined within the McA view. Real concepts are the fruit of understanding. But that brings us back to challenge of adverting to the emergence of concepts in one’s own inquiry.

For the McA approach (in teaching or attitude) it is enough to repeat a formula, which are the words written or spoken to express a formulation. It cuts off our spontaneous and creative desire to understand, to achieve insight, to give birth to a concept. Formula is used to cover up its absence.7This attitude can permeate not only individual reflections, but also whole fields of study. Evidence of the humility and effort required of us to make the difficult (and gradual) transition from the truncated McA approach to the intelligent MAC approach reveals itself by our “being at pains not to conceal [our] tracks but to lay all [our] cards on the table…” (op. cit. Method, 193.)

Do you not suspect the McA approach dominates academic culture? Recall memorizing stuff for exams that fades within days. How about being taught the expression, “understanding a concept,” means the same thing as possessing knowledge? This is neither accurate, nor humanly possible. Without a prior, personal act of understanding, ie. the jump from (?) to (!), a concept cannot exist, let alone be tested. In other words, since no formulation has taken place, no formula can be expressed. Instead we resort to “getting” linguistic or numeric “clarity” on the content and to memorize it accurately enough to be convincing.8See footnote 7.

Sometimes the McA attitude is built into a textbook, so that a first chapter might offer ‘Basic Concepts.’ Have a look at one of your school texts that introduces a new subject. See if the chapter begins by introducing Basic Concepts or Definitions. Basic Concepts in any area of inquiry are way beyond an introductory text. Now that should give you a few interesting what-questions. Does it?

Furthermore, raising questions about ‘Basic Concepts’ go beyond the horizon of normal science. Those questions properly belong to the horizon of Philosophy. Philosophy is the domain of critical thinking and method that seeks to create and implement sustainable and progressive standards of competence and procedures for the benefit of science. Then the scientist, teacher, student, or researcher will have critical control of what s/he is doing when s/he is doing a particular science.9Is this true of doctoral programs today? What does our evidence here suggest to you? Also, see Journeyism 2 and Journeyism 3.

Nevertheless, does our description of the McA approach ring a bell in your academic experience, past and present?

As we noted earlier, old habits die hard. We need to guard against the subtle influence of conceptualism. Even though your first exposure to our diagram above has been reinforced by illustrations, along with plenty of emphasis on the need to be empirical, quite literally, a “self-defeating” McA approach to reading the Dynamics of Knowing presents a great challenge in the current ethos.10See Journeyism 24.

The exercise in Journeyism 10 aims to enable you to grow into “remembering” properly.11We respectfully urge you, please, to go back to Journeyism 5 to refresh yourself on the various strategies from which to generate valuable data to accurately describe how you think, to generate the hard evidence required to describe what is actually occurring when you are in a state of wonder. As you puzzle over various instances of what and is questions, we hope you will discover yourself engaged in formulating your own definition of YOU, the self that wonders.

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