Friday, June 30, 2006

Mario Rinvolucri's food for thought

Published: 06/23/2006 12:00 AM (UAE)

What sort of thinker are you?
By Robert L. Fielding

UAE University lecturer, Robert L. Fielding, participates in a workshop on multiple intelligences and comes away with fun tasks that tell you what your brain is good at

Clarity of thought and the ability to draw upon different facets of one's intelligence is vitally important when it comes to making decisions that affect the country, and as today's undergraduates may well become tomorrow's professionals, leaders, and captains of industry; their ability to think critically and realise their full potential is indeed vital.

UAE University General Requirements Unit (UGRU) is embarking on courses designed to develop students' critical thinking ability. In this context Mario Rinvolucri's workshop gave 30 teachers plenty to think about.

Eight intelligences
Drawing upon the work of Dr Howard Gardner, and applying it to teaching situations, Rinvolucri illustrated the eight intelligences proposed by Dr Gardner through animated, highly instructive and enjoyable activities. The eight intelligences proposed are:

1. Linguistic intelligence ("word smart")
This 'intelligence' is the one traditionally tested at schools, colleges and universities. Typically, students write essays or complete grammar exercises to indicate their ability in English or their mother tongue.

Task: 'Mexican wave' sentences
Each person has to be a word, a punctuation mark or a phoneme (like the 's' on third person singular verbs - 'She likes ice cream.') Everybody stand in a row in the order of the words in a proposed sentence. When it comes to your bit, speak, act, or do both. Now think about how you can improve your language. What happens to word order in questions?

2. Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart")
Here, a student's ability to solve mathematical problems is tested, and it is this intelligence together with linguistic intelligence that are used to determine whether, for instance, a student progresses from high school into higher education. University entrance examinations the world over test students in these two areas.

Task: 'Meet you in the middle'
With a partner, count in turns down from 100 and up from zero - in twos, then in threes, fours or whatever you can manage. Feeling your way around numbers is one way not to be intimidated by them. Now invent similar games with other lists - words in well known nursery rhymes or poems. Find out what you have a flair for, what your student is brilliant at.

Spatial intelligence ("picture smart")
If a child shows some ability to draw pictures, or manages to find his way round shopping malls without help, he might be gifted in spatial intelligence. Parents and teachers would do well to look out for students who show aptitude in this area.

Task 1: 'Let your eyes remember'

Now draw something to represent each word you hear. Do it quickly and alone. After you finish, compare your drawings with those of other people. You will be amazed to find you have a lot in common, but some drawings will be yours and yours alone.

Task 2.
After you have compared your sketches, put the piece of paper away for three days. Now try to recall the words - think of the pictures you drew to help you if you can't remember every word. This list of seven very different words will be hard to remember - remember the shapes you drew, and you will recall the words. Use your spatial intelligence in a conscious way. Everybody uses theirs unconsciously every day - if we didn't we wouldn't last out the day.

Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")
Ballet dancers, gymnasts, footballers, horse riders - all sorts of people who have the ability to be graceful in their movements may possess this sort of intelligence. We speak, for example, of being "touched," "taken," "gripped," "led," "held."

We "grapple" with difficult subjects, and have "gut wrenching" experiences. Our stomachs turn. Our hearts leap. Our breathing quickens. These responses are rooted in kinesthetic experience.

Task: Answer by demonstrating

I learn a skill by doing it.
I can't sit still long.
I like to move around when I am learning something.
I like activities that involve movement.
I like the rides at amusement parks.
I like to do things that are physically active.
I like to touch things.
I mimic other people's gestures accurately.
I am well coordinated.
I am animated and expressive when I talk.
These statements indicate kinesthetic intelligence.

Task 2: Rank the statements in order of importance to yourself. Compare your rankings with others. Who appears to be more kinesthetically intelligent? How can you tell?

Write down some of the ways this type of intelligence is demonstrated:
By yourself
By people you know well
Compare your findings - what do they tell you about yourself?

5. Musical intelligence ("music smart")
If Mozart had not been encouraged in his supreme musical ability, the world might have been deprived of a true genius. Who knows how many gifted people have been thwarted in their ambitions because either a teacher or a parent did not say the right thing at the right time?

Task: 'Take up your instruments, ladies and gentlemen!'
This activity will help cure your inhibitions - they could be preventing you from discovering who you really are. Do it with your eyes closed first. Imagine you are about to perform a piece of music you know and love.

Close your eyes and begin - beat those drums like Ringo Starr, play the violin like Yehudi Menhuin, dance like John Travolta, conduct an orchestra like Sir Simon Rattle, do anything - nobody's looking - enjoy the feel of the music guiding your movements - come alive - feel your power to enjoy music, movement and expression.

6. Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart")
The ability to communicate with others is vital, especially in a world in which communication is everywhere and in everything. This ability is one that everyone can quickly and easily use, can still improve upon and excel in.

In today's world, success is driven by this ability perhaps more than any of the others. It makes sense to encourage everyone to talk to each other, to express themselves and to realise who they truly are or are capable of becoming. And communicating well is fun too.

Task: 'You're talking - I'm talking - Hey, we're getting on so much better now!'
Send half the group out of the room - when they return, engage them in conversation and speak at their pace rather than your own. Feel their speed and speak at the same rate - feel how close you both have become.

This is largely an unconscious exercise for one of you, but even for the one who knows what is going on, it will have unexpected results. You will feel different about that person. Agree with the man who once said: 'I never met a person I didn't like.' Try it with people you are not quite as friendly as you would like to be.

7. Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
The ability to know yourself, to know who you are, what you are and what you want and are capable of is the key to unlocking the other intelligences within you. Health, both physical and psychological, is improved and maintained through self-knowledge - through the intelligence that allows us to instinctively know when things are going well and when things are otherwise with us.

Task: 'Be where you want to be!'
Stand up. Close your eyes. Imagine you are looking out over a vista. Where is it? What is it? You decide - smell the salty air of the Atlantic - the chill of the snowfields half way up Everest, the heat of the Kalahari Desert - the sounds of London's Piccadilly - your own secret garden only you have the key to. Imagine what you see, hear, feel. Who you meet - what you become - what you achieve there!

8. Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")
This type of intelligence is demonstrated by a child's ability to use the world of nature. Showing an interest in animals, for instance, would indicate that a child has this form of intelligence.

Children possessing this type of intelligence may have a strong affinity to the outside world or to animals, and this interest often begins at an early age. They may enjoy subjects, shows and stories that deal with animals or natural phenomena.

Task: Hopping and naming
For this activity, you will need plenty of space - it's best done outside where no one can get hurt. Place large circles on the ground (within hopping distance) - one person at a time hops and counts as they hop - then names an animal as they hop.

Others can cheer on the participant as they wait for their turn. Watch out for the person who completes the task easily and quickly, taking little time to think up the name of an animal before they hop to the next circle.

Those watching can count and keep a check on the time it takes each person to get through the circles. This could easily be made into a team game - spontaneity is the thing to watch out for and encourage here.

Conclusion: Many ways of teaching
In effect, Mario's main point throughout the workshop was that there are other ways of teaching any subject. In conventional schooling, people who learn in ways other than linguistically and logically are not always catered for in recognised teaching methodologies and testing tools.

To illustrate points made, Mario demonstrated teaching techniques that utilise the ability from the other six intelligences. Forms of irregular verbs, for example, were taught using body movements instead of words on the board, and it became clear that otherwise drab lessons on uninteresting subjects can be livened up to make them more.

In conclusion Mario urged teachers not to use symbols and learning devices and mnemonics that are culturally unacceptable or which fly in the face of conventional logic.

Everyone at the workshop almost certainly came away knowing something more about themselves and how they best learn, and how to use this to teach in ways that exploit the multiple intelligences that may or may not be dormant in all of us. I know I did.

Try it
The Rogers Indicator of Multiple Intelligences at:-

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Cognitive strategies: macro abilities

Cognitive strategies in critical thinking: macro abilities

• Refining generalizations and avoiding oversimplifications
It is natural to oversimplify problems – it is one of our ways of making light of them – thinking they are simpler than they are. However, we should realize this and come to view problems as not being as simple as we would like to think they are. To do so is to come up with solutions or decisions that miss the mark – that solve nothing, or worse, increase or compound our problems.

Being able to see the difference between useful simplifications and oversimplifications that are misleading is vital when thinking critically about a topic.

For example, we can sometimes build models to test a hypothesis, altering variables to see how other, connected factors vary. This is common, particularly in subjects like Economics or Urban Geography. The simplification used in building a model, however, is only a device to render the model usable, and should not be mistaken for reality.

• Comparing analogous situations: transferring insights to new contexts
We can use insights in one area to inform us about another. Comparing analogous situations occurs when we look at a phenomenon from various perspectives and viewpoints. The ability to use ideas from one subject area to look at another, or from one part of a topic to another facet of that same topic is the hallmark of a person who can think critically.

Being hidebound, which is to say, being pedantic and even puritanical where thinking is concerned will most probably lead a person away from a valuable source of insights into problems that yield solutions only when lateral thinking takes place.

• Developing one’s perspective: creating or exploring beliefs, arguments or theories
If you have an open mind – an essential quality for a person who thinks critically – you will be more amenable to the idea that one particular way of looking at the world or at a topic or problem is not the only possible way; that there are others, and that finding them and benefiting from them can only be done when your mind is open.

• Clarifying issues, conclusions or beliefs
Formulating an issue – putting it into words – is the best way of way of clarifying it prior to finding information to work on it or learn from it. Not knowing what a particular issue is about is being ignorant of it, which might lead to denying that it exists at all. Issues don’t go away because you choose to ignore them. Stating clearly and unambiguously what they are is half way to having a handle on them, as we say.

• Clarifying and analyzing the meanings or words or phrases
Using words and phrases – language – to provide a definition, for instance, indicates a mind that is equal to the task of delving into problems or issues. Points that are irrelevant to the matter at hand quickly become apparent if words are used concisely. Fluffy words indicate fluffy or confused thinking.

• Developing criteria for evaluation: clarifying values and standards
Using one’s own preferences to evaluate is to simplify at best, or to show bias at worst. Having criteria with which to evaluate that are rational and relevant is the way to avoid imagining success when none is evident. It is essential to know the value you place on evaluation criteria. If you do not, somebody else will quickly and easily point them out to you, undermining your whole scheme of evaluating anything.

• Evaluating the credibility of sources of information
Using sources that are utterly reliable and can be seen and proven to be so ensures the success of any scheme. Similarly, knowing there are obstacles to obtaining reliable information helps to confront them and to overcome them. Sidestepping perceived obstacles is dishonesty or just laziness, not being aware of obstables is ignorance or wishful thinking.

• Questioning deeply: raising or following significant questions
Recognizing underlying principles and concepts to what, on the surface, appear to be straightforward, even simple issues is to more fully comprehend their nature and, in the case of reading a novel, for example, is to more fully enjoy that experience and learn something from it.

Shakespeare wrote his plays hundreds of years ago, and yet the issues dealt with are still with us and are important to us. Reading Othello, we learn something about unreasonable jealousy, Macbeth, vaunting ambition, Hamlet, letting our fears and our prejudices get the better of us.

• Analyzing or evaluating arguments, interpretations, beliefs, or theories
Instead of blindly accepting a premise or an argument, a critical thinker will analyze preconceptions or assumptions, both in his own thinking and in the thinking of those that are putting forward arguments.

• Analyzing or evaluating actions or policies
Examining the consequences of actions and recognizing them as fundamental to the standards of assessing behaviour is what critical thinkers pay importance to. The effects of actions is the ultimate test of those actions and the logic on which they are based. Anticipated effects should be factored into thinking prior to action being taken.

• Reading critically: clarifying or critiquing texts
Texts should never be held up as gospels, but rather readers should maintain a degree of skepticism, which does not mean that readers should always doubt everything, but that they should apply thought and logic when judging claims to be worthy of their attention. Simply put, this means not believing everything you read.

• Listening critically; the art of silent dialogue
Listening, once thought to be a passive activity, is now viewed as an active one, in which a listener takes words in arguments and dissects them for their meaning, what they signify and how they are being used to construct an argument. Listening actively is something akin to note taking and reconstructing those notes to form a coherent argument; a listener must place herself in the position of the speaker, asking herself why she just said what she did. In addition, a listener must, as she is taking an argument in, be able to construct a critique of the points being made, the better to counter those points in forthcoming discussions and debates – that is what is involved in conversing with someone about a matter that demands thought to express it and contend with it.

• Making interdisciplinary connections
Knowledge, traditionally divided into subject areas, overlaps, and it is seeing these points of overlap that the critical thinker benefits. Thinking too narrow mindedly about an issue, either for political reasons or because of an inability to see that there is some overlap is to be guilty of oversimplifying issues and missing opportunities to get to the bottom of problems.

• Reasoning dialogically: comparing perspectives, interpretations, or theories
This way of reasoning involves using dialogue between two opposing points of view to synthesize an alternative one. This dialogue can be between people in opposing camps, and also between two opposing views held by one individual.

• Reasoning dialectically: evaluating perspectives, interpretations, or theories
Reasoning dialectically is to be aware of strengths and weaknesses in your argument as well as in those of others. Being aware of shortcomings in one’s own argument is vital as someone holding an opposing view to your own will surely exploit them. Being aware of their existence is to be prepared when the time comes to defend against those weaknesses.

Robert L. Fielding

Friday, June 23, 2006

Critical thought: Affective strategies

Here are some strategies to try to use when trying to think critically. Think about your own ways of thinking and try to change to these ways.

• Thinking independently
Many people hold opinions because others hold them, many hold opinions that were formed at an early age, before they were old enough to be able to rationalize or understand all the relevant issues connected to forming that opinion.

To think independently means being free to think about things without necessarily taking too much notice of what others think they should think. Standing on your own two feet, as we say, means forming your own decisions based upon the evidence you are aware of and can marshal to come up with opinions that are yours and yours alone.

• Developing insight into egocentricity and sociocentricity
Confusing what we feel and even what we see with reality is common; everybody does it at some time or other in their lives. Being aware that you are doing it is the first step to righting your thinking to come more in line with reality.

Confusing what your peer group thinks, first with what you should think and second with reality is also common. Peer groups work to help us, but their influence can be insidious, pervasive and convincing. Learning to think independently whilst not alienation friends or colleagues is both a brave thing to do and a difficult one. When studying, it is vital.

• Exercising fairmindedness
Recognizing the strengths and the weaknesses of views other than the ones we ourselves hold is also difficult. Being fair-minded is about being critical of every viewpoint, without becoming cynical about other people’s views or the people who hold them.
• Exploring thoughts and underlying feelings and feelings underlying thoughts
A common saying is ‘Think with your head, not your heart’, but in practice separating the two from your thoughts is practically impossible, if you do not want to appear stone-hearted or remote from people. However, if, when you are stating your opinion, you do so with tact and sensitivity rather than just brushing aside other people’s points of view when they are plainly at variance with your own is not the best way to proceed.

Again, standing back from a situation and taking other people’s views into account is a useful tactic when thinking about an issue about which you may have strong feelings.

• Developing intellectual humility and suspending judgement
The ability and the desire to realize that you don’t know everything, or that you might actually be wrong is a valuable one. People who think they know everything invariably come to realize that they do not. This can be painful or humiliating or both. Admitting you are wrong or at least not quite right on some issues and then waiting until you find more information before you make a decision or form an opinion is also very valuable and marks a courageous person, not a weak one.

• Developing intellectual courage
Standing up for what you believe, even in the face of opposition is a courageous and difficult thing to do. If you can do it, you are in good company; some of our greatest thinkers – politicians, theologians and the like have all, at one time or another, had to stand up and be counted.

• Developing intellectual good faith and integrity
An additional ability to the one previously mentioned is to be consistent in your views and opinions; not bend under pressure, as well as altering them only in the light of new information rather than an increase in the attacks you come under in holding the views you hold.

• Developing intellectual perseverance
The world isn’t a simple place, and discovering a point of view that is rational and consistently so is hard work, which only perseverance and determination will reach. Above all, do not get discouraged when you discover something in your argument that isn’t consistent with other parts of it or that has implications that turn out to be nonsensical or irrational.

• Developing confidence in reason
Reason and rationality have forged the world we lived in. Science and technology, and also the arts and the humanities are based upon rationality, based upon ideas that can be verbalized, listened to, and examined.

In the arts, for example, it is all too easy to think there is virtually no reasoning behind the way a painting has been created or the sound of what at first seems like a piece of discordant music, but the artist or the composer will always be able to talk about her work and discuss the reasons why it is the way it is rather than any other way, even when the audience does not always perceive the difference.

The author James Joyce said, after he had written his final novel, Finnegans Wake, that it would keep the professors busy for years, and this has proved to be the case, despite that work appearing nonsensical at first.

• The last word
This is a lot to take in and a lot to undertake to try to emulate. The first thing needed is patience, and then a desire to learn, and finally, the tenacity to see it through. The rewards are great; having the ability to think fairly and deeply, seriously and thoughtfully about the world we inhabit should ensure that we have a better world to live in.

Robert L. Fielding

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The disappearance of the 20th letter of the alphabet from our speech

The 20th letter of our alphabet is the letter ‘T’, and it is constantly under threat of extinction – from the middle of words. When it comes at the beginnings of words, it is as safe as the Houses of Parliament.

It has long been under threat in the USA where it is regularly and unconsciously changed to a ‘d’ sound or omitted altogether.

Listen to a Texan say the name Peter and you will see what I mean. I once met an American lady who introduced herself to me as “Paddy”. I discovered later that her name was Patty.

The poor letter T – its sound anyway – can disappear in words like ‘mountain’ – making it difficult to know how to spell if it’s the first time you’ve heard the word spoken by an American.

But it’s not just Americans that threaten T’s existence; Brits do it too. I recently watched a bunch of young lads playing cricket. One lad asked how many he’d scored, and got the answer, “Twehy!” -20!

The well spoken from these shores have long done away with the ‘T’ sound in words like ‘car’ and names like Carnforth, and now the not so well spoken are doing it to the T too.

Where does this come from; this propensity to discard the T, and why? The answer to the last part of the question is probably that making the T sound in the middle of a word like ‘mountain’ stops the flow of the word – it takes a deft movement of the tip of your tongue to touch the back of your teeth to form the sound – air movement has to be restricted.

The word ‘ twehy’ is more or less said openly, apart from that first T. Without the second T it becomes a combination of vowels and glides and thus easier to utter. We remove the second T for ease, as some do when they substitute ‘were’ for ‘was’ in phrases like, “I were goin’ home last night when…”

Notice too the final ‘G’ drops off the present continuous for similar reasons; we are lazy when we speak.

Why does this omission happen all over the country; why isn’t it regional? The answer probably lies with the inhabitants of Albert Square – because its heard on TV in shows like Eastenders. Children copy from TV – I did it, and youngsters are still doing it, and they copy each other in the schoolyard.
Robert L. Fielding

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Critical thinking: things to avoid doing

We can all learn how to think more effectively. Most of the time, we make mistakes more or less without thinking, which seems a strange thing to say. Nevertheless, we do make fundamental errors in thinking, and here are some of the things we do. This list is obviously too long to remember, but if you recognize some of your own faults, you would do well to make a shorter, more personal list and then remember the points on it and then take care to avoid them. Being aware of any sloppiness in your thinking is half way to avoiding them.

• Jumping to conclusions
In our rush to draw conclusions from what we find out, we often miss out vital steps; this is called jumping to conclusions. It is something we all do; sometimes we get away with it and sometimes we don’t. Jumping to conclusions in written work is usually easily spotted, though it can sometimes take another reader to see the mistakes we have made.

• Failing to think through implications
Every decision we make, every path we take in our thought processes has implications that may not always be evident. It is therefore vital to think everything through, as we say, in order to avoid surprises later.

• Losing track of our goal
Losing track of what we want to achieve is a common fault in thinking; we might get distracted by something that we find particularly interesting, or we might just forget where we are going. Writing down stated goals is one way of avoiding losing sight of a goal.

• Being unrealistic
Keeping to the plausible and the possible is vital, but using your imagination to think of alternative possibilities should not be avoided merely because it sometimes yields unrealistic notions.

• Focusing on the trivial
Ignoring what is important and concentrating on what might turn out to be trivial or unimportant can sometimes happen. It is sometimes good to step back from an issue to get some perspective.

• Failing to notice contradictions
If we invest time and effort in our thinking, it is understandable that we fail to notice things that cancel each other out.

• Accepting inaccurate information
The trouble with information is that it is sometimes wrong, but sounds right. Checking things out is one way of avoiding accepting information at face value without checking into it. Never taking things for granted is the way forward.

• Asking questions that are too vague
The wording of the questions you ask is important, both to yourself and to those you ask. If you are formulating questions to ask when reading, be careful to modify them when further information requires you to change direction.

• Giving answers that are too vague
Being vague can sometimes be used to avoid certain issues. Doing this in writing is soon noticed by others, and you should beware of doing it yourself. Rereading something you have written can help you to notice something that is too vague before another reader notices it.

• Asking loaded questions
The answers you get depend on the questions you ask. Asking loaded questions means seeking out answers you want to hear rather than truthful ones. The questions you ask can indicate your prejudices.

• Asking irrelevant questions
Similarly, asking questions that have little bearing on the things that matter is equally futile. Ask pertinent questions and you will get answers that you can work with and that push your thoughts forward.

• Confusing questions of different types
Some questions elicit Yes/No responses, while others elicit informative answers. If your questions are clearly stated, your answers will also be clear.

• Answering questions we are not competent to answer
Realising the limits of our knowledge is a useful thing to be able to do, and the willingness to admit it is also valuable. Don’t stretch the credibility of your work by using information in ways that aren’t logical or lead from the quality of information you are using.

• Coming to conclusions based upon inaccurate or irrelevant information
Another way of saying the same thing as the previous point is that you shouldn’t take up positions or stances in arguments that are not supported by accurate and relevant information. Doing so makes an argument crumble under examination.

• Ignoring information that does not support our view
Only using information that supports your views is tantamount to being biased, and while being extremely tempting, should be avoided at all costs; be truthful and have the courage to confront your own bias.

• Making inferences not supported by our experience
Similarly, inferring things that are not supported, either by experience or evidence or both is illogical and will distort other claims in your work.

• Distorting data and state it inaccurately
It goes without saying that one should never alter data or change it in any way. To do so is to risk making your whole argument, once it has been discovered that the data you used was altered. There was a very famous case recently, of a learned expert in genetics changing the data to suit his preferred outcome. He was found out and did irreparable harm to his reputation.

• Failing to notice the inferences we do make
Inferring is not the same as proving. In fact, it is using data to make suppositions, but these should be based upon logic and be entirely open and capable of being explained rationally.

• Coming to unreasonable conclusions
Reaching conclusions that are not reasonable – based upon reason – is bound to make the whole of your work insupportable and indefensible.

• Failing to notice our assumptions
Similarly, the assumptions – the things you take for granted, almost – should be able to stand up to questioning. Being unaware that you are making assumptions is a major error and should be avoided. The way to do this is to ask yourself why you think what you do. If the reasons are not based upon clear evidence, you should re-examine your thinking.

• Making unjustified assumptions
Whilst making assumptions is something that we all do, the ones we make must be entirely rational and open to observation and scrutiny. Assumptions that are not based upon rational and open factors are merely bias or worse, prejudice.

• Missing key ideas
Using all the information at your disposal, all that is relevant, is vital. Missing out key ideas means that your points are invalid and as such worthless.

• Using irrelevant ideas
Again using anything that is irrelevant is futile. The difficulty is deciding what it relevant and what is not; relevant ideas will help to further your arguments, irrelevant ideas will only confuse, distort and mask logical progression in an argument.

• Forming confused ideas
Ideas that are confused tend to be more easily detected by voicing them to others. Attentive listeners will usually pick up on ideas that are confused or unclear.

• Forming superficial concepts
Concepts that do not stand up to logical scrutiny are worse than useless; they can confound your thinking. Again, voicing ideas helps to cancel those that do not ‘hold water’, as we say.

• Misusing words
In academic writing, using the right words is vital; using words that have even only a fine difference in meaning to the ones that fit the context will mean that your writing is misinterpreted, which will mean you will not get credit for it, even though you know in your own mind what you mean. The ability to express yourself precisely and concisely is everything.

• Ignoring relevant viewpoints
In our drive to prove a point we have set out to make, we can sometimes ignore viewpoints that, while going against our own, are nevertheless valid and useful to us. Being open-minded is the way to avoid ignoring views that could help to make an argument stronger.

• Not seeing issues from points of view other than our own
Egocentric thinking leads us to come to conclusions that are insupportable, or worse, make us look foolish and self-centred.

• Being unaware of our prejudices
Confronting our prejudices can only happen when we are aware of their existence, and since some of our prejudices are fundamental to our sense of worth, who we are and how we see ourselves, becoming aware of them can be painful. Nevertheless, all prejudice is detrimental to a wholesome, balanced point of view.

Put another way, the points made above can be expressed more simply and comprehensibly in the following ways:-

We also do the following:
• Think narrowly
• Think imprecisely
• Think illogically
• Think one-sidedly
• Think simplistically
• Think hypocritically
• Think superficially
• Think egocentrically
• Think irrationally
• Do poor problem solving
• Make poor decisions
• Communicate poorly
• Have little insight into our own ignorance

Robert L. Fielding

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Finding Your True Potential

Calculating your chances of being a genius

Genius is born and not made – that may be true, but yet you may have the potential to be a genius; most people are not aware – never become aware – of their true potential. The people we call genius – Mozart, Einstein and Newton were fortunate – they were encouraged to be the best they could, and they instinctively knew they had a rare gift – and followed their talents to achieve greatness.

The question still remains; have you got what it takes to become a genius – if not a child prodigy like Mozart, then a genius in embryo, only needing the right conditions and some fortune.

Try this test. Give yourself a score on each of the following qualities. Find your strengths and your less strong points. Once you know the areas where you are not as strong, you can work at improving those facets of your character or those skills to activate the potential God gave you.

1. Vision
If you know what your ultimate goals in life are and can clearly see the path you will take to achieve that goal, score 100.

2. Desire
If you have an overriding desire to succeed – if it is a burning hunger, score 100.

3. Faith
If you have a belief in yourself and what you are doing, what you can achieve and how to get there, score 100.

4. Commitment
If you are totally committed to acting upon your vision, can state this openly and truthfully, score 100.

5. Planning
If you know your short, medium, and long term plans, focusing on your overall vision, score 100.

6. Persistence
If you can keep going, can make progress despite occasional adversity, score 100.

7. Learning from mistakes
If you look upon your mistakes as learning opportunities and learn from them, score 100.

8. Subject knowledge
If you have a grasp of your particular subject area and a thirst for knowledge of the things you don’t yet know, score 100.

9. Mental literacy
If you understand how your mind works; how you learn best, how you recall and store information, score 100.

10. Imagination
If you can create internal images (imagine) and work from them to create reality, score 100.

11. Positive attitude
If you are enthusiastic, realistic and positive about your abilities and are open to every opportunity to explore, score 100.

12. Auto-suggestion
If you can ‘talk to yourself’ in a positive way, telling yourself, “I can do it!” score 100.

13. Intuition
If you can sense or feel the possibilities and probabilities of accomplishing something, score 100.

14. Mastermind group (real)
If you have close friends around you who are talented and who encourage your talents, score 100.

15. Mastermind group (mental)
If you have internal role models who you look to emulate and you take encouragement from their example, score 100.

16. Truth/honesty
If you are true to yourself and to everyone around you, and are true to the concept of truth, score 100.

17. Facing fears/courage
If you are capable of facing your fears rather than pretending they don’t exist, and can face adversity, score 100.

18. Creativity/flexibility
If you are capable of thinking in different ways to solve problems or create, score 100.

19. Love of the task
If you love setting yourselves tasks and completing them, score 100.

20. Energy (physical/mental)
If you have boundless amounts of energy; to act and to think, score 100.

Rate yourself now, and in two months time. Look at your scores and work on bringing them up. Be honest with this. If you have no ability in one area, give yourself a zero, and then work at getting some points. If you are going to achieve your true potential, you will need honesty and determination.

Source: Tony Buzan’s Book of Genius BCA Bristol Robert L. Fielding

Monday, June 19, 2006

Reasoning: purposeful thinking

The kind of thinking that has a purpose we term ‘reasoning’ – if thinking doesn’t have a purpose, we call it ‘daydreaming’, or ‘wishful thinking’. The features of reasoning given below should apply to your own reasoning skills.

1. All reasoning has a purpose
Reasoning is defined in the dictionary as ‘the act of using one’s intellectual abilities to draw a conclusion from a premise’. A premise is a logical previous statement from which another is inferred. In other words, we deduce one thing from another. (The Pocket Oxford Dictionary)
Example: If someone comes inside and takes off their wet coat, it is reasonable to assume that it is raining outside.
Reasoning is an everyday activity.
For example, if we couldn’t reason, we would have to go outside and stand in the rain before we understood that it was raining.
This brings us to the next point:-

2. All reasoning is an attempt to work something out; to figure something out; to solve a problem
Reasoning has direction; the direction of problem solving – we don’t know something we want or need to know, and we use our intellect – our ability to reason – to work it out; to find out what we want or need to know. We do this using our knowledge of the world.
For example, we could reason that the person entering the room wearing a wet coat has walked in front of a hosepipe or, but we use our knowledge of the world to inform us; we assume it is raining – this is the simplest explanation.

3. All reasoning is based upon assumptions
Assumptions – the things we assume are out there (rain not hosepipes, from the last example) – we use what we call our common sense – we assume that the simplest, most reasonable explanation is the one that is correct.

4. All reasoning is carried out from a point of view
Because we have desires and feelings - because we are human beings rather that robots, we come to everything from our point of view.
For example, the people we call sensitive, or fair-minded, or reasonable take other people’s points of view into account as well as their own before they act upon their reasoning. Selfish people, on the other had, only take into account their own point of view.

5. All reasoning is based upon information of some kind; on data; on evidence
The raw material for reasoning is evidence – evidence can take many forms.
For example, we can see the man’s coat is wet, so we reason that he has got wet from some exposure to water – we assume from our knowledge of the world that it is raining outside. We combine what we see( evidence) with our common sense assumptions, and deduce from the man’s wet coat that it is raining outside. We do this without having to go outside to see for ourselves.

6. All reasoning is expressed by concepts and ideas
A concept is a general notion – an idea – an abstract thought. Thought processes (the things our brains do) are removed from reality – we are able to think of things without doing them. There are many ways that ideas come into our minds, and we can use language to express some of them.
For example, we say things like the following to express our thoughts.
1. “What if…”
2. “I wonder why …..?”
3. “I think that …..”
4. We ask questions, beginning with words like:-
b. Why?
c. What?
d. Where?
e. When?
f. How?
And we ask questions that include assumptions.
o Do/Does?
For example, if we ask the question, “Do you eat cornflakes for breakfast?” we are making the assumption that the person we are talking to:-
a) Understands English
b) Eats breakfast
c) Knows what cornflakes are
o Did? (think of another question using these words, then think of the assumptions you are making in asking the question)
o Is/Are?
o Was/Were?

7. All reasoning includes inferences; from these we draw conclusions and give meaning to data
It is in the inferring – using evidence to make decisions based upon that evidence that we use our judgement. It isn’t as simple as expressing an opinion, but rather it is something like weighing the evidence of some sort of mental scales to come to a decision or solve a problem.

8. All reasoning leads somewhere; has implications and consequences
Once we have used evidence and included our assumptions and points of view, and hopefully some common sense, we arrive at the point at which that decision or that solution will affect something else – in the future – concerning our actions and our thoughts, and those of others affected by what we choose to do, think or say.

Robert L. Fielding

Friday, June 16, 2006

The source of your ability to write

Where does the ability to write well come from?

Most people can write, and do regularly. We write notes to the milkman, letters to friends, and things like that, and some people write in diaries, keep journals, and even write letters and articles for newspapers to print.

Some write well, and others less so, but how do we come to be able to write well, and how do we define writing well.

I should say that writing well means writing something that can easily be understood by a reader or readers. It means being able to use a wide variety of grammatical structures, or let us say that it means having sufficient grasp of grammar to be able to express yourself in any way you wish, and in ways that are appropriate to the purpose of the writing and its readership.

Of course, a note to the milkman might well fall under this, but I think we should take our starting point something longer, consisting of sentences and paragraphs – something longer than a note.

Being able to write well also means having the ability to use punctuation in correct and appropriate ways that conform to our expectations of what that means. It also means having an adequate range of words – vocabulary – and being able to use these words in ways that are generally agreed upon by educated readers and writers, and it means being able to spell them correctly.

I have been told that I write with a certain amount of proficiency, even that I write well. Writing comes easily to me, but I often wonder how I acquired this ability – if it is acquired – if it is learnt or indeed can be learnt, much less taught, and since I teach writing for a living, these are important questions for me to find answers to.

So, I will begin with a question: How did I come to be able to write well? Of course, one question is quickly followed by another and another and so on. Does my ability to write stem from an unusual acquaintance with the rules of grammar? Does it have anything to do with the way I was taught grammar at school? Have I what is sometimes called an innate ability – something that I possess rather than something I have learned to do?

I really can’t answer that last question, for obvious reasons – I have no way of knowing, of testing to find the answer, and more than that, I wouldn’t know what to do to find out or what I would find out to let me know I had been successful in my quest to find out. I will, therefore, leave that question.

Similarly, I can’t recall how I was taught to use grammar at school; it all happened too long ago for me to remember what happened in my English classes. All I do remember is that I was invariably top of my classes, first at primary school, and later at high school. I wrote essays which successive teachers read out to the whole class, sometimes to the whole assembly of the school.

However, I should say here that as writing is an essentially man-made, synthetic ability, learned after speech has developed. This is to say that we are not born, I don’t think, with the ability to write, whereas we are born with the ability to learn to speak without specifically being taught how to utter words that are intelligible to others.

Writing is something we have to be taught – we are taught to read; to recognize letters and the sounds they represent in speech, and the way they associate with other letters to form words; what those words mean, how they are used, and the sound that represents them in speech; we are taught how to read.

Writing is a close companion to reading, and we probably learn how to write at the same time as we learn to read. Essentially, we first learn to copy shapes of letters and make the sound the letter signifies. From there, comes a series of ‘steps’ that leads us to learn how to write words, and then, whilst learning how words associate with other words to form sentences in the systematic way we call grammar, to connect thoughts and write the sentences that express them; we learn how to write.

That still doesn’t address my earlier question: How did I come to be able to write well? If my ability is not an innate one, it must be learned. But if it is a learned ability, why does my writing differ from the writing of others? Could it be that, having read a lot, I can imitate or approximate styles more easily than if I had not read as much?

Have I internalized the grammar of my language more fully than others, or is it just that I can use it more easily, which might amount to the same thing.

I am inclined to think that my ability to write reasonably well, reasonably easily and quickly does stem from the reading I did earlier in my life. That and practice, for I believe that the more I practice – the more anyone practices – the more fluent and accurate I get, and the more easily I am able to compose and write.
Robert L. Fielding

Making reasoned judgements

Reasoned judgement: the basis of academic enquiry

The complexity of any issue or problem arising from your studies can only be dealt with by formulating questions to delve into this complexity; to clarify each and every factor that bears on the issue or problem.

Only when we become fully aware of these factors and how they impinge on an issue can we, as reasoning individuals, produce judgments that are rational and that stand up to scrutiny.

Reasoned judgments based upon pertinent factors are not merely opinions; rather, they are what we term ‘considered opinions’ – that is to say they are opinions based upon reason, which is itself based upon the factors we have considered and used to formulate our judgment.

Of course, in our daily lives we are continually forced to make reasoned judgments, based upon our knowledge of the factors that are connected to what we are deciding. Most of the time, our knowledge is limited; we do not have perfect information, or the total amount of information on any given topic, and yet we still make informed decisions.

We make what we loosely term ‘informed decisions’ based upon this limited knowledge and this imperfect information. If we waited until we had every piece of information before we made decisions or formed judgments about what to do, we would never be able to make up our minds to do anything.

Sometimes, we have to force ourselves to use very limited information to make us act. Think of the thought processes and the amount and kind of information we use when we are driving. We use information from what we see and hear when making an emergency stop – if we used any more information than was absolutely necessary, we would not be able to stop quickly enough – we see a child running across the road in front of us, and we immediately apply the breaks to prevent us hitting the child and injuring her.

When we are deciding on our destination, and the best way of getting there, we use far more information – we think. Think about what kind of questions you ask yourself when deciding where to go and how to get there.
 Questions of purpose
First, we must define our task – what we want or have to do. This affects the other questions we ask.
For example, if we are visiting a friend in hospital, most of the other questions will fall into place almost without being asked. Usually though, the task is more complicated and needs the remaining questions answered.
 Questions of information
We need to look at the quality of our information and where it comes from.
 Questions of interpretation
This question forces us to think of how we are going to use the information – how we are going to organize information, how we are going to prioritize information, and how much importance and meaning we are going to give this information.
 Questions of assumption
This question forces us to think of what we are taking for granted without thinking it through or ignoring it.
 Questions of implication
These questions force us to think about the consequences of any action we take, or any information we act upon or use.
 Questions of point of view
These questions make us take into account our feelings and the feelings of others.
 Questions of relevance
Questions here make us think about whether information is important enough to be considered for our purposes.
 Questions of accuracy
Here we question the truth or accuracy of information we are about to use to fulfill our task.
 Questions of consistency
Questions here relate to any contradictions inherent in the information we are about to factor in.
 Questions of precision
These questions are required to make us specify details and be specific and focused in what we consider.
 Questions of logic
Questions of logic require us to think about how we organize and use all the information at our disposal, ensuring that we use sensible ways rather than relying merely on what are known as ‘gut feelings and reactions’. These last types of questions, if answered systematically and fully, will ensure the success or otherwise of the whole task.
Robert L. Fielding

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Pursuits that are never trivial

Pursuits that are never trivial


Robert L. Fielding

The famous board-game – ‘Trivial Pursuits’ is based on general knowledge questions about  what some call ‘trivia’.  Winning the game means knowing the answers to a lot of questions – that and luck – an essential element in any game.

The word ‘trivial’ derives from the word for a crossroads, which is where folk used to meet to discuss important matters of the day: the cost of soap-flakes, cures for warts, and life in general.

Discussion (examination by argument, debate, conversation, plus, more anciently – consuming food and drink with leisurely enjoyment) presupposes some common knowledge between those in the discussion.  

More specialized knowledge becomes the common variety through discussion and then sometimes becomes assimilated into everyday conversation, which, according to Sir Walter Scott is defined and explained like this:

     ‘Conversation is but carving;
               Give no more to every guest
               Than she is able to digest;
               Give her always of the prime
               And but little at a time;
               Carve to all, but not enough,
               Let them neither starve nor stuff.
               And that each may have its due,
               Let your neighbour carve for you.’

Discussion and debate can sometimes require more formal ways of turn-taking than casual conversation does, but talking, if it is done along the guidelines poetically suggested above, is the way friendships are made, knowledge is disseminated and consensus reached – it is the way cultures survive and continue to grow.

The writer George Orwell once famously said that a newspaper was a nation talking to itself.  I wonder what he would make of the Internet – the worldwide web.

With the advent of the ‘information super-highway’ topics for debate and discussion have opened up until it seems as if any area of knowledge can become generally known.

But is that true, and do people discuss a wider range of subjects than they did before we had the Internet?  The topics people discuss are and always will be those that are most relevant to their lives – issues surrounding the current affairs of the day, money, work, and family, as well as a panoply of others that cluster around those in similar situations, living in similar circumstances, and working in similar fields of employment.

The world has become a ‘global village’, they say.  But has it?  We can find out much more about others than was ever possible, but that still doesn’t mean we always do so in any meaningfully useful way, does it.

A surfeit of information doesn’t necessarily go hand in glove with a wish to acquire that information, at least not in any informal sense.  Of course, the adage that says that knowledge is power is still true, with the additional clause that information also equates with power.

Organizationally, there has probably always been a need for information.  The difference with the advent and advance of the Internet is that it is now possible to access much more information than previously, and from wider and wider sources, much more quickly.

The part the individual plays in this is still crucial though.  For now, instead of going to the actual crossroads to meet and discuss, to find out things as well as being a source of knowledge, we go to the global crossroads; the Internet, to exchange ideas and further our knowledge of the world around us.

Calling the Internet trivial only makes sense when referring it as a crossroads most of us come to every day of our lives to gain access to information from it.
574 words

Robert L. Fielding

Friday, June 02, 2006

All I've got is a photograph - and lots and lots of memories

Walking around Ashton market one sunny day, we happened on a stall selling old photographs – black and white, mostly, but some older, sepia toned ones too.

Flipping through them, my Mum suddenly shouted.
  “That’s my Dad,” she cried, and picked up the photograph to make sure.  It was my grandfather, and although he had died when I was about 15, I could still tell his gait, the slope of his cloth cap, and his 5 by 5 build – he’d played as a centre half for the teams that later became better known as Oldham Athletic, and the famous Manchester United, once a team of railway men and called Newton Heath.

We looked at the scene, very familiar to both of us – Shaw Hall Bank Road, Greenfield, or Grenfelt, as my grandparents called the place where they had brought up their four children – David, Beryl (my mother), Walter, and Jean.  Both uncles are long gone, but Mum’s well enough, and Jean’s as sound as a bell.

The gas lamp went long ago, replaced by an electric arc lamp high above the pavement where the two men are seen talking.  By the look of Edgar, my grandfather, he was coming home from work, taking the time to have a few words with one of his cronies from the Railway public house at the other end of the road.

Living in a place where things change almost overnight, it’s odd to see a photograph of a corner that has hardly changed at all in more than 50 years or more.

What will our world look like half a century from now, and will people have time to say a few words to anyone?  

Letting your subconscious do the thinking

Letting your sub-conscious do the thinking

Today, June 2, 2006, The Gulf News carried an article entitled, ‘Seeking a solution?  Sleep over it!’
Quoting various sources, (the journal, ‘Science’/’Trust Your Gut’ by Lynn Robinson/’Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’ by Malcolm Gladwell), the article makes the point that in the decision making process, it is always useful to take a little more time to reach that decision; to ‘sleep on it’.

As the clinical psychologist, Michael Horowitz says, “We need that quieter, non-conscious process that lets us integrate different sources of content.”

It is in sleep that we let go; Shakespeare referred to sleep as, ‘balm of hurt minds, great Nature’s second course, chief nourisher in life’s feast, that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care’ (Macbeth Act 2, Scene 2)  It is in sleep when ideas that may have been thought irrelevant in daylight hours, achieve a prominence that becomes significant.

Dreams weave a fabric of notions that swiftly dissolve upon waking.  Acting upon problems and predicaments that have engaged the conscious mind though, this fabric, not normally accessible to our conscious mind, soon makes itself known in the furthering of steps in the decision making process.

In the act of creating, thinking through ideas for stories, for example, the sub-conscious can and will create links that were not seen or divined, even when concentration was at its peak.

That is the whole point in letting the sub-conscious do the work; relieved of the day to day routines to work on, the mind becomes free to coalesce, which allows thoughts to gel in ways that were impossible at times of heavier load, as it were.

Speaking personally, I delay action in my writing to allow myself the chance to draw upon this most imperceptible of resources; the sub-conscious mind, and it works.  Sometimes, I will wake up with the ‘problem’ more clearly delineated, at others, it will dawn (a good word) upon me that the path I had been taking was not the optimum one; that factors other than the ones I had considered previously were more pertinent to my finding a solution.

Assistant clinical professor at UCLA, Dr. Judith Orloff, claims in her books, that ‘because what she terms the linear mind is shut off during sleep, pure intuition takes over,’ which is a more scientific way of stating my former points about the advantages of sleeping on a problem to arrive at more creative, and for that matter, more lasting solutions to the many problems that beset each and every one of us in the course of a normal day.
Robert L. Fielding