Wednesday 6 March 2013

Modelling thinking

Childhood experience would usually sort this out at an unconscious level. Growing up, you absorb, adapt and extend the patterns of your experience, speaking the way your parents and friends do, aligning your emotional patterns to the text of your context.

I was more fortunate than this. My parents didn't speak the same language. My dad was a Scot, my mom Swiss. To this day, I think in a meta-language somewhere between languages. Being exposed to Afrikaans society has made it clear to me that cultural alignment influences communciation entirely. When studying applied linguistics, I read Jerry Fodor's work on private langauge, wondering if there could be such a thing. I didn't reach a satisfactory conclusion, and am left with the sense of having a private awareness that communicates either by default or on purpose.

The crux, of course, is how I communicate with myself. This is baffling. "Conversations with God" I, II and III ad infinitum goes in this direction, if you have the time.

Another bit of good fortune, although it didn't seem like it at the time, was that I had to sit and listen to preachers, preachers and preachers as soon as I could sit. This very valuable extended experience taught me physical self-control and stillness, to be sensitive to rhetoric, freedom of imagination because what else could you do? and critical conceptual agility because the whole purpose of the sermons was to enagage dogmatic purity, existential honesty and infinite salvation. It was my habit, from a tender age, to rush up to the preacher as quickly as possible to make acquaintance because I wanted to hear his "real" voice and sense who the person really was. More often than not, I was disappointed. The words of the sermon that promised so much failed to deliver a real person. The urgency of my curiosity amused, then irritated and finally enraged quite a few preachers who then complained to my father about my disobedience to God's word. They failed to realize that I genuinely wanted to understand. Needless to say, I refused to model my thinking on the style they offered.

I am still amazed that so few of my school-teachers had styles of thinking and being that suggested themselves as models. Frank Rumboll and Malcolm Andrew made lasting impressions on me, the former in terms of exactitude of wise analysis, the latter for being able to reduce complexities to essentials.

The humanities section of UCT's library was a smorgasbord of models. I read and re-read Satir and Perls without ever hearing of NLP. Hegel I liked, too. I can't remember why I was intrigued by Patrick Suppes, but I was. I would not able to make a list of the ten most influential books I have read. They would run into thousands. Neville Shute would be close to the top of the list. He was no academic. C.S.Lewis would also rank up there, for being a sane Christian. Hans Kung, whose books and lectures came to nothing more startling than realizing that faith and trust aren't far apart. I came to realize that I liked the "academic" model. I threw my energy into that vast pot, and tried to taste what I was cooking. There was one essential ingredient that still eluded my knowledge: my sense of self. I knew how to think for myself, but not what to think of myself.

This is going to sound like a snake with its tail in its mouth: what you communicate to yourself is how you think of yourself. When the brain is pushed towards cogitation at the expense of decision and emotion, the snake will swallow itself.

NLP deals with the balancing of decision, emotional states and intellectual constructs. I'm not sure if it takes one in the direction of being free to choose models, or if the essential model is freedom itself, which is a spiritual insight, but too intangible for easy access. My guess is that the former contains steps to achieve the latter.

I have come to the unsurprising but happy conclusion that I resonate with the models that resonate with me. The saving grace is that I am also happy to learn new chords.


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