Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Critical Thinking and Blind Intelligence

I have real concerns about the ability of traditional, Western critical thinking heuristics to be sufficient for negotiating the rhizome, any rhizome.

My primary issue is that all of the CT heuristics that I've found in my research are limited to one mind: mine or yours, but not to both. Critical thinking seems to be a function of the solitary mind as it contemplates and analyzes the separate universe. Most of the scholars I've read so far tacitly assume that critical thinking is a set of operations performed by a discrete subject, the Knower, upon discrete objects, the Known, buying into what Edgar Morin calls the "paradigm of simplification." Morin says that Descartes created this paradigm by "disjoining the thinking subject … and the thing being thought of" (On Complexity, 3). This paradigm of simple thought has "dominated the adventure of Western thought since the seventeenth century" and "has without doubt allowed for very great progress in scientific knowledge and in philosophical reflection" (3); yet, according to Morin, it has led us to a blind intelligence that "destroys unities and totalities" … that "isolates all objects from their environment" … and that "cannot conceive of the inseparable link between the observer and the observed" (4). Simple thought has created a pathology of knowing that is taking a "cruel toll on human phenomena" (5), and as Morin concludes about this "mutilating, one-dimensional vision:"
The inability to conceive of the complexity of anthroposocial reality, both in its micro dimension (the individual being), and in its macro dimension (the planetary collectivity of humanity), has led us to infinite tragedies. … Political strategy requires complex knowing, because strategy plays itself out by working with and against uncertainty, chance, the multiple play of interactions and retroactions (feedback loops). (5)
I like little metaphors when I'm trying to think through an idea, and to my mind, this mode of thought is akin to dissecting a frog, a live frog. If I am skillful enough with my scalpel—my analytical reason—I can neatly divide the frog into its constituent parts, reducing it to a collection of discrete, identifiable, and classifiable parts that will, in fact, help me understand the way the parts fit together and function in frogs, but along the way, of course, I've killed the frog, and I have no skill in putting it back together. This putting back together is not a trivial issue (certainly not for the frog). Moreover, the clean, hierarchical, explicit order that I imposed upon the frog's parts is not only useless for trying to reassemble the spaghetti-mess harmony that had been the living frog, but the hierarchical structure appears to work against reassembly.

This reminds me that for Deleuze & Guattari hierarchical thinking is a type of overcoding of reality that attempts to force all the relevant points of an object into neat little rows, each point occupying one, and only one, neat little place. As D& G note: "A rhizome or multiplicity [such as a frog, or a universe] never allows itself to be overcoded, never has available a supplementary dimension over and above its number of lines, that is, over and above the multiplicity of numbers attached to those lines" (9). I see critical thinking as an overcoding, in this sense, as blind intelligence. Intelligence, yes. Blind, yes. Therefore, of limited use for approaching rhizomatic reality.

1 comment:

  1. Keith, can you help me understand what might be the measure of the critical thinking (CT) abilities of a team? Take, for example, a team of five basketball players. Is their collective CT measure the sum (or average) of their individual CT measures? Or, it their collective CT measure the number of plays they have learned together and can execute on the court? Or, is their collective CT measure their ability to improvise collectively in unanticipated situations?