There has been an interesting convergence of memes over the past few months. The focal question revolves around the potential role of software tools in helping us move towards a more open, mindful stance when working on problems that require creative insight. We can’t always get there through focused, rational analysis. So what would software do?
Writing as a priest about wisdom, Richard Rohr (e.g. in Everything Belongs) contrasts the difference between the calculating mind and the contemplative mind. Guy Claxton (e.g. in The Wayward Mind) writes about this in similar terms but focused on creativity and learning. Rohr speaks of the spirituality of subtraction, rather than of performance and accretion (see much western religion), and Claxton writes similarly. This is all about learning the habits of mind that can nurture the ability to think deeply and expansively, to see the big picture (to ‘colour outside the lines’ as Rohr nicely puts it), and to allow the unconscious to do its creative work as well, when we allow ourselves to follow hunches and disengage from working consciously on problems.
Then Jack Park sent me a link to this March lecture to Google by David Levy, entitled “No Time To Think”:
Levy kicks off by reminding us of the context in which Vannevar Bush, the father-figure of hypertext, was considering the need for better tools for thinking: how are we going to carve ourselves space to think deeply about the things that matter, when we already experience information overload and disciplinary specialization? (reminder: this is 1945, at the close of WWII!). Levy then introduces a new character (to me) — the German theologian Josef Pieper, who wrote in Leisure: The Basis of Culture, on our profound need for “leisure”, his word for the mental and emotional space to engage and experience the world as it is in all its richness, free of our preconceptions. Another way of speaking about the contemplative stance.
Levy concludes that the next big challenge for human-centred computing may be to rebalance the ancient concepts of ratio (searching, re-searching, abstracting, refining, concluding) with intellectus (thinking, reflection, assimilation, contemplation):
My quest for how these converge into meaningful patterns and a research agenda continues…