Beating the Daylights Out of Bobo.Posted: December 13, 2007
Mike asks: “What is the most complicated concept that you’ve ever pondered before?”
I’ll take pondering to cancel out all of the thoughts i’ve had that began and ended with: “Hmm. That’s really complicated and way over my head- i think i’ll leave that one alone.” and stick with the concepts that go further than that and into some actual critical thinking.
The most complicated are my favorites- because i make them complicated. I have a penchant and panache (read: possible mental disorder) when it comes to making the simple complex. This turns around and bites me sometimes- but i’ll take it. I feel like if i’m going to think about something then its worth my time to think about it in a new way… which requires, generally, creating at least a slightly more complex way of thinking about it.
One of the ways i like doing this is to draw from a range of paradigms and viewpoints on a single topic- these paradigms can (seemingly, at first) be complimentary or conflicting. The main point (for me) is that you (i) don’t end up with something you (i) could have read out of a book in less time- b/c then you (i) might as well just read the dumb book to begin with. Drawing from multiple disciplines is key.
Think of it as a spreadsheet. Your topic is peanut butter and you want to think about peanut butter outside the classic sandwich paradigm. Label the first row, “Peanut Butter”, and label the first coloumn “Sandwich”. In the cell where those two intersect, you put all your observations regarding peanut butter within the classic context of two slices of bread. Next coloumn, label it “Triscuits”. Next coloumn: “Apple Slices”. in each corresponding cell, insert your thoughts on that paradigm. This gives us multiple ways of thinking about peanut butter arranged side-by-side for comparison and deconstruction. You can make it more interesting by adding a row labeled “Grape Jelly”. And these are just some of the standard peanut butter paradigms- nothing outlandish. For terrible ideas, you can add “Toasted Bread and Butter” or “Pancakes”.
You may not value peanut butter enuf to put this much effort into it, but you can see the potential of the spreadsheet idea if you substitute Patience for Peanut Butter. Your columns can be labeled “What”, “Why”, “How”… and then additional rows of “Christian Bible”, “Hebrew Tradition”, “Psychology”, “Aesop”… to get a nice Westernized overview of the topic of Patience. What this does is put in front of your eyes ideas and concepts related to the topic that you would otherwise simply never see- even without throwing in outlandish ideas.
If you’re going to teach something, you’ve got to know it first. When i talk about making things complex for analysis, I’m talking about learning something so well that you know it front and back, inside and out, and can tackle it from multiple angles- all for the purpose of being able to draw out the core idea (heath?) and communicate it so that your given audience gets it and understands it and could turn around and communicate it to others.
I have an uncle who makes experimental aircraft for kicks and cash (passion meets profit!) and he once explained to me (over cheap chinese food) the core idea behind his gyrocopter by comparing it to a pancake. Fabulous. I got it and love telling other people about the gyrocopter/pancake because it’s so easy and simple, but you come away actually understanding the physics of it.
Make sense? Complexity for the sake of complexity is dumb. Complexity for the sake of synthesis, accessibility and understanding is the point.
Next, I’ll drop Ken Wilber’s name. This guy does lovely things with spreadsheets- read the first chapter of his “Integral Psychology” to get the hang of what he’s talking about, then check out the appendices. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, his knack (read: ridiculous amount of work) for critical analysis is unbelievable. I’d mention Brad Sargent first here, but i’m only guessing that he has created similiar resources- i don’t know where to locate them.
Finally, to answer the question: Violence. You know, the old Rene Girard thing i’m always dragging up.