Unboxing Our Lizard Brains: Can You At Least Think About It?

5 05 2008

“Not choice, but habit rules the unreflecting herd,”
William Wordsworth said in the 19th century.
. . .The current emphasis on standardized testing highlights analysis and procedure, meaning that few of us inherently use our innovative and collaborative modes of thought.

“This breaks the major rule in the American belief system — that anyone can do anything”. . . “That’s a lie that we have perpetuated, and it fosters mediocrity. Knowing what you’re good at and doing even more of it creates excellence.”

. . .But . . .“You cannot have innovation. . .unless you are willing and able to move through the unknown and go from curiosity to wonder.”

So there’s plenty of contempt to go around and deservedly so, especially imo for continuing to quarrel amongst themselves and plot against each other in domestic wargames, instead of working to turn things around for *us* in the real world.

Can we creatively and collegially cultivate our personal curiosity to the benefit of ourselves and human society, despite discomfort to our lizard brains? Can we embrace that stretch and move through its wider range until we reach “the freeing discipline of wonder”?

Here’s some bad news in good cognitive science: this won’t be easy even if we’re NOT hampered by conservative dominionist control freaks styled as preachers, pundits and prophets. Being liberal is no help, Thinking Parents have learned the hard way, because so-called liberals run most forms of public thought control, from schools to the media, and it seems with similar social-dominionist arrogance.

So somehow, in this intellectually rigged and regulated environment, we nevertheless need to get ourselves and our kids in the habit of asking open-ended and complex questions rather than memorizing and following the Orders of the Day. Start defining real education as productive, creative thought and ourselves as comfortably confident to think and learn independently. Somehow, enough of us must learn (by teaching ourselves against all odds, apparently) that humanity isn’t merely socialized, standardized insect life born to exist in preordained church hierarchies and/or one big biologically imperative collective called “School.”

So what we seem without better data to have here, is simply more white men demanding the power to Decide for everybody.

What difference does it make to me loving my own family at home in guaranteed freedom from all of them, just desiring to be left out of their Grand Plan for Global Domination, whether megalomaniacal men are liberal or conservative or communist or fascist, atheist or Southern Baptist or Jewish or Mormon or Muslim — if what they’re peddling drags us all down to the same place, servility to their agenda rather than freedom to set our own course and laugh in their frowning faces?

No one knows how many lizard brains can evolve and become conscious of curiosity and wonder, leaving the primordial ooze of dominionist thinking behind. The earthly and yet celestial ending remains to be discovered, if not created, and there are plenty of public school-pandering “Squelchers” we desperately need to “move through”— home education critics Rob Reich, Michael Apple and that Ladenblather guy for example — pulling us all back down into the slime, their narrow comfort zone bounded on all sides by credentialed, government-controlled mediocrity misnamed as merit and politically correct diversity:

. . .But there was some real public education (as in education of the public) in her next hour . . .(drum roll, please) . . . Howard Gardner!

(Can’t we just let him run the country, or at least public education?)

Renowned Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner explains the five ‘minds’ everyone will need to succeed in the years ahead.

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5 responses

5 05 2008
JJ

Good explanation of the bullet Favorite Daughter dodged by not letting math make her miserable while she soared in English:
“This breaks the major rule in the American belief system — that anyone can do anything”. . . “That’s a lie that we have perpetuated, and it fosters mediocrity. Knowing what you’re good at and doing even more of it creates excellence.”

5 05 2008
JJ

And speaking of academic paternalism, see The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The New Paternalism”: An economist and a legal scholar argue that policy makers should nudge people into making good decisions, by EVAN R. GOLDSTEIN.

(Isn’t this akin to framing debates among scientists and perhaps even all curriculum debate among educators?)

Sunstein explains the appeal of libertarian paternalism: “For too long, the United States has been trapped in a debate between the laissez-faire types who believe markets will solve all our problems and the command-and-control types who believe that if there is a market failure then you need a mandate.” That debate has been exhausted, he says.

“The laissez-faire types are right that … government can blunder, so opt-outs are important,” he says. “The mandate types are right that people are fallible, and they make mistakes, and sometimes people who are specialists know better and can steer people in directions that will make their lives better.”

Sunstein argues that understanding human irrationality can improve how public and private institutions shape policy by increasing the likelihood that people will make decisions that are in their own self-interest. Most important, he and Thaler insist, such nudges can be executed while protecting freedom of choice.

Take two examples in their book. Studies show that placing fruit at eye level in school cafeterias enhances its popularity by as much as 25 percent. Or consider this stroke of creativity by an economist in Amsterdam charged with cleaning up the restrooms at the Schiphol Airport: He had a fly etched into the wells of urinals, giving male patrons something to aim at. Spillage was reduced by 80 percent.

The problems of childhood obesity and foul restrooms are remedied with very little inconvenience to people — or cost. Children remain free to grab that piece of chocolate cake, and there is nothing preventing visitors to Schiphol’s restrooms from ignoring the fly and aiming elsewhere. It is merely less likely that either group will do so.

“Nudges are inevitable, so they might as well be smart,” Sunstein says with a grin. . .

Of course this “benign creed of libertarian paternalism” has its academic critics, too — see “When Nudge Comes to Shove: Skeptics criticize libertarian paternalism” also by Evan Goldstein, with these subheads sounding for all the world just like what’s wrong with paternalistic arguments for SCHOOL, which is after all bureaucratic mind manipulation writ large :

The Slippery Slope
The Dangers of Subliminal Manipulation
The Human Flaws of Bureaucrats

. . .Sunstein and Thaler concede that incompetent or corrupt government nudgers can do a great deal of harm by directing people toward bad choices. But they emphasize that in many areas — from personal finance to health — people are ill informed, inexperienced, and therefore ill equipped to make the choices that are in their own self-interest, and government has the resources to hire experts who can help demystify an increasingly complex world.

Glaeser counters that even well-meaning government employees are less likely to make good decisions than private citizens, lacking the same incentive to look out for their own welfare. Simply put, a bureaucrat does not care as much about another individual’s well-being as that individual does.

Private decision makers are therefore more likely to put in the necessary effort to make the choice that is right for them. Unless, of course, they’re inadvertently nudged in the wrong direction.

5 05 2008
JJ

Honest-to-goodness, unmanipulated “collective wisdom” for social problem-solving is sounding better and better! 😉

5 05 2008
JJ

What an economist-trained dad on our parent-directed education list just said about libertarian paternalism, LOL:

It’s all garbage anyway – decisions are made by policymaker prejudices, nudged by lobbies.
The policymaker’s true agenda is typically concealed
during the electoral process.

2 08 2010
This Would Explain Greg LadenBlather and his LadenHosen « Cocking A Snook!

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