Random Thoughts … About Art and Education
THE SOCIETY OF MIND
by Jerome J. Hausman
Marvin Minsky, a pioneer of artificial intelligence, died in January 2016. He, along with his colleague Seymour Papert, was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They did much to develop our understanding of computers and their connections with the learning process.
Technically speaking, they were not “art educators” but, fundamentally, they did much to orient understanding our fundamental ideas about science, mathematics, model-making, and arts.
I have long admired and valued Minsky’s book, The Society of Mind. Published in 1986, it can be characterized as an “intellectual puzzle.” Each section contained in a single page, can be seen as part of a larger mosaic revealing a unified “theory of mind.”
The book ranges from “the significance of children’s drawings to the problem of self-knowledge, from the power of negative thinking to the role that humor plays in ordinary thought.”
You need not read the book in linear sequence. Like a large abstract painting, it can be viewed from multiple points and traversed as the readers needs and interests dictate, like much in human experience. You put it together as good sense and understanding become apparent.
So much in our present-day educational emphasis passes for a common core of understanding: standards, focused learning, testable outcomes, and measurable results. It is as if we are striving for a table of contents for Google.
Minsky’s book has an incredible array of sections: wholes and parts; conflict and compromise; the self; individuality; insight and introspection; problems and goals; a theory of memory; the shape of space; learning and meaning; seeing and believing; the mind and the world; and still more! It is a different way of thinking than is presently in vogue.
I have long been impressed with Minsky’s writing about “knowing and believing.” As he put it, “to comprehend what knowing is, we have to guard ourselves against that single-agent fallacy of thinking that the ‘I’ in ‘I believe’ is actually a simple stable thing. The truth is that a person’s mind holds different views in different realms …
“Then, if what we believe is so conditional, what makes us feel that our beliefs are much more definite? It is because whenever we commit ourselves to speak or act, we thereby have to force ourselves into clear-cut action-oriented states of mind in which most of our questions are suppressed” …
“I do not mean that such distinctions are not important, only that they do not justify the simplistic assumption that, among all the mind’s activities, certain special kinds of thoughts are essentially more ‘genuine’ than others. All such distinctions seem less absolute when every deeper probe into beliefs reveals more ambiguities.”
Art helps us to understand that there are multiple views of the realities we encounter. Seeing and understanding these multiple realities helps us to understand the truth.
A&A Editorial Advisor, Dr. Jerome J. Hausman, is a lecturer, consultant, and a visiting professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.