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Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less Paperback – Illustrated, December 8, 1999
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- Item Weight : 8.5 ounces
- Paperback : 278 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0060955414
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060955410
- Dimensions : 5.12 x 0.7 x 8.03 inches
- Publisher : Harper Perennial; Illustrated edition (December 8, 1999)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #458,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Mr. Claxton is a cognitive scientist, in his own words, but apparently has a strong professional background in the psychology of learning, and at least a passing interest in Eastern philosophy.
The premise of this book is both brilliant and fairly straightforward, although it is always presumptuous of a reader to stake that claim. Claxton makes a convincing scientific case that the “scientific” perspective—what he calls the “d-mode” (deliberate)—has come to totally dominate our social, commercial, and educational institutions. And while he does not reject this development out of hand, he does make a strong case that the perspective is incomplete and has caused us to overlook the essential humanity and importance of the unconscious—what he calls the “undermind,” the place where intuition, contemplation, and instinct reside.
The undermind is not the Freudian subconscious, but is the vast area of thought that is not consciously recognized or understood. This is the tortoise part of thought where slow thinking—slow knowing as he refers to it—is the most effective, and often the only, path to truth. Speed, in these cases—or hareful thinking (my own phrase)—is not just ineffective, but counter-productive. If it is truth that we’re after, the hare, in these cases, is a red herring.
Claxton proffers that conscious rational thought and underminded thinking are ideally suited to different problems. As in the case of the Chinese notion of yin and yang, they are complementary, not opposing, modes of thought. One, in fact, cannot exist without the other. (He does not directly make the comparison, to be fair.)
There are many ramifications of the one-dimensional pre-occupation we see today. In the world of business, companies have essentially sterilized themselves, finding themselves incapable of timely innovation in fast-paced markets that demand it. For the same reason, moreover, they have destroyed any sense of engagement and belonging in the workplace, stifling both creativity and productivity in the process.
My own gestalt in this area while reading this book was that this pre-occupation with conscious reason—big data, statistical analysis, talent management, and financial modeling—is the reason why the work/life question is in the forefront of so many corporate minds, particularly among the young. If we accept the value of tortoise-knowing, the question literally evaporates. We can even work, as I did some four decades ago, in our sleep, without the stress felt today due to our blind focus on deductive reason and the false confidence we place in fast decisions.
Claxton is even more concerned, and on point, when it comes to education. We are not preparing our children for a life of learning. We are preparing them to perform on standardized testing, or convincing them that their “abilities” are fixed and cannot be improved upon. Both are unproductive and ultimately inhumane outcomes. We are setting our children up (I have two daughters in high school.) both for failure and for a life of angst and anxiety as they struggle to remain connected in a meaningful way to the world around them.
While he doesn’t address these issues directly, I do believe that Claxton has also uncovered a significant root cause of the political division, and the struggle around class, race, gender, and sexual identity that is tearing the very fabric of Western society apart today.
The reason is outside the peripheral vision of the hare, but within the sweeping visual arc of the attentive but subconscious tortoise. When we see conscious rationality as both exclusive and all-inclusive, as the hare does, it is a short hop from “I am right,” to, “You are wrong.” There can, as a result, be no diversity at any level.
So who would this book benefit? If you ask the hare you will get a short list in return. If you ask the tortoise, however, you will see the value of this book to business people, political leaders, educators, parents, and adolescents. I can’t think of anyone, in fact, who would not benefit from this book.
I do not know Mr. Claxton and never heard of him or this book before stumbling across it in the Kindle deal section. I am a voracious reader and was running out of money to satiate my appetite now that $15 is not an uncommon price for a Kindle book. This book was a steal by comparison but is one of the most powerful and thought-provoking books I’ve read this year.
Providing a strong case for the use of what he calls the "undermind," psychologist Claxton provides study after study to demonstrate how much we can gain by going beyond what he calls "d-mode thinking" - the analytical, one answer approach that says thinking harder is the best way to solve every problem. If you cannot, you are simply not bright enough. D-mode thinking, elevated and enhanced by the computer age, has its application, but for many more complex problems it simply will not provide the best results, if any at all. Some of its shortcomings include valuing answers more than questions, explanation over observation, reason over intuition, and is much more purposeful and effortful than playful. Fascinating chapters include Learning by Osmosis, Having an Idea, Knowing More Than We Think, Thinking Too Much, Perception Without Consciousness, Paying Attention and The Undermind Society: Putting the Tortoise to Work.
Early in his book Claxton provides this guidance on thinking fast or slow: "Whether to back the hare or the tortoise depends crucially on the nature of the situation. If it is complex, unfamiliar, or behaves unexpectedly, tortoise mind is the better bet. If it is a nice logical puzzle, try the hare brain first."
This is a challenging book to ingest, but the patient reader can glean much about balancing reason (which does have its place) and intution (typically present in all of us at a young age, effectively drilled out of many of us by young adulthood through concentration on knowing rather than acquiring know-how). Claxton's concern, demonstrated in the words of the German composer Conradin Kreuter in 1955 as he described the difference between "calculative" and "meditative" thinking is that "calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practised as the only way of thinking.... Then man would have denied and thrown away his own special nature - that he is a meditative being."
In the final chapter of this extraordinary book - The Undermind Society - the author posits the creation of work places and situations where the value of intutions and the nature of the mental modes that produce them are clearly understood by all, especially leaders who both support and practice "slow learning." Providing workers with some autonomy and control over their work and environment will allow them to feel "safe" to be more innovative and intuitive.
Claxton closes with these thoughts: "The voices of philosophy, poetry and imagery are relatively weak in a world that largely assumes that only science and reason speak with true authority.... The hare brain has had a good run for its money. Now it is time to give the tortoise mind its due."