Well, I had some long gaps during my meetings, and I stayed up late writing this exceedingly lengthy reaction to your paper. I’ll attempt to post it all in one go, but I expect that the editor will choke on the size of the text and I’ll have to break it up into parts. Here goes:
I would like to echo shawnpat’s appreciation of your presence here; it’s always much more productive to discuss an idea with its primary creator. Moreover, I am intensely interested in a closely related topic and so I am eager to benefit from your expertise. I expect, of course, that you might enjoy some benefits by being grilled by this astute group; and I further expect you to depart as soon as you believe that you are no longer deriving any benefits—as would I.
Academics versus intellectualism
I’d like to begin my discussion of your paper with three broad observations. First, this is an academic paper whose ultimate purpose is to advance your academic career. This places a number of important constraints upon it. It must confine itself to those problems that are currently of interest in your field; should you stumble upon a major discovery in microbiology, say, or unearth topless photos of Michelle Bachmann, or reach a startling realization in Old Testament analysis, it would not be of any value to you to publish any of this information. Less sensationally, issues only peripherally related to your field would be of no value even though they might reveal truths that are important in some other field (such as paparazziology, for example).
This constraint can be harmful in highly cross-disciplinary fields such as yours. My own researches on the development of human cognition have wandered through evolutionary theory, evolutionary psychology, linguistics (especially the development of human language), history of science, neurophysiology, economic history, digital electronics, Cicero, the soils and climate of Greece, history of the rise of Greece, cognates of compound conjunctions in Indo-European languages, computer science, St. Thomas Aquinas… it’s a long list. Some of that material is only peripheral to your own investigations, and since you labor under such great pressure to publish, you must be quite discriminating in the material you examine. While this is indeed the most efficient way to proceed, it can rob you of the opportunity to explore some material that can ultimately have utility in this research. Few academics get the opportunity to engage in broad research of this type until they get tenure.
Second, you go to great lengths to combat Western parochialism, and I heartily applaud those efforts. I myself really don’t believe in “better” in the general sense; I instead concentrate on specifics. Yes, Western mathematics was definitely way better than Chinese mathematics throughout most of the last half-millenium. The same can be said for Western science and Western technology. But those are only a few indeces of achievement. It’s ridiculous to get parochial and declare some sort of generalized superiority. I’m surprised that you felt a need to combat such an obvious prejudice, but apparently that problem still haunts your field.
Third, you live and breathe a highly specialized argot that concentrates your thinking along one set of lines. This argot makes it easier for you to directly address the issues of interest to your peers and judges, but it can also make it more difficult for you to break out of some confining assumptions. The most obvious example of this arises in your definition of “reasoning” as that form of linguistic expression required to convince others. In Medieval Europe, that was called “rhetoric”. There’s no gain for us to quibble over the “true” meaning of any term; if you want to use “reasoning” to be synonymous with “rhetoric”, that’s fine with me. I will certainly not quibble with your notion that reasoning is that second mode of cognition (analytic as opposed to intuitive). However, I would like to offer you a different way to slice the semantic pie that provides more analytical utility.
My own thinking on this matter divided the pie into “pattern-based cognition” versus “sequential cognition”. I now think that a cleaner terminology is “parallel versus serial”. While it doesn’t quite cover the neurophysiology well, it’s close enough to serve the purpose, and it’s a very clear distinction. Thus, what your tribe calls “intuitive cognition” I call “parallel cognition”; what your tribe calls “analytical cognition”, I call “serial cognition”.
The advantage of my terminology is that it really zeroes in on the mental processes at work. Serial cognition is a neurophysiological kluge, something that neurons really don’t do well, and that’s why it’s so damned difficult. That’s also why mammalian brains are so damned big: it takes a hell of a lot of neurons (which are essentially parallel devices) to cobble together a serial-processing system. And that’s also why human brains are so much bigger than mammalian brains: we do a LOT more serial processing. Language is the primary form of high-intensity serial processing that we do, and language gobbles up neurons by the ganglion.
This line of thinking clearly shows that formal logic, the kind of rigorous serial thinking that made Western math, science, and technology possible, is the most extreme form of serial cognition. It’s also the most difficult to do; we really have to push our brains hard to carry out that processing. My cutesy way of expressing this point is that “serial logic does to the mind what yoga does to the body—you really have to twist yourself around to get it to work.”
Nope, it cut it off. On to part II.