Welcome to Emerging Futures -- Volume 7! Thinking is not in your Head...
This week we have been reconsidering what thinking is and where it happens.
Why does this matter for innovation?
If we believe creativity is a human phenomenon that happens in the head because that is where we believe thinking happens -- and these two assumptions turn out to be false then this whole paradigm of creativity is a dead-end…
That creativity is a worldly phenomenon is patently obvious -- the emergence of life, or flight -- are clearly radical creative events. Creativity is a fundamental feature of reality.
The second assumption is harder to dislodge. It is part of a three thousand year habit: thinking is mental -- it is “in” the brain and thoughts come from thinking. This approach is now termed “Cognitivism”.
Last week we looked into how we came to equate ideas with creativity and how problematic that is.
But, if you look at almost all methods of creativity -- especially the psychological models -- they place creativity in the head and focus their techniques of helping you limber your mental activity. What if this is all a huge mistake?
To say “thinking is not in the head” is still shocking for people to hear -- more likely you might get dismissed as simply absurd. But nonetheless the field of cognitive studies has moved significantly in that direction, especially the approach of Enactive Cognition (this week we wrote an article that went into this, you can find it here).
Micheal Anderson summarizes this approach quite well:
“We are [embodied] social environment-altering tool users. Tools give us new abilities, leading us to perceive new affordances, which can generate new environmental (and social) structures, which can, in turn, lead to the development of new skills and new tools, that through a process… of scaffolding greatly increases the reach and variety of our cognitive and behavioral capacities”
If we dig a little deeper, the Enactive Approach can be quickly understood with five concepts:
Want to go deeper? This week we shared a link to a great talk by Evan Thompson who is one of the founding figures in the Enactive Approach to cognition along with Francisco Varela and Eleanor Roach.
So what do we do with this?
The simplest and perhaps most useful thing is to understand that environments think and environments are creative -- of course they involve us and we have brains -- but this is not enough -- thinking and creativity are not “in” anything -- they are emergent relational properties of the whole system.
Critical to generating great ideas: Accept that your brain doesn’t think of ideas...
Don’t just invent or follow innovation processes or methods -- intentionally make the spaces, tools, embodiments for creativity to emerge. Creative processes cannot be separated from total environments.
The theorist who has really pioneered this work is Edwin Hutchinson who developed the concept of “Distributed Cognition” -- check out his book: Cognition in the Wild.
The second thing is to recognize that what we call “ideas” are highly abstract forms of thinking that rely on and emerge from highly engaged modes of doing.
Notice on the left side of the diagram the terms “know-how” and “know-what”. Know-how is all of knowledge that is in our bodies, environments, habits and practices that is non-conceptualizable. It supports and gives rise to Know-what -- our more explicit forms of knowledge. Things that we call “ideas” and “concepts.”
That’s it for this issue! Special thanks to the new collaborators and co-conspirators we met this week. We remain inspired by you!
Please reply with thoughts and feedback...