Debate Magazine

We Are Always Amassing Information from Our Environment and Using It to Add to Or Rearrange Our Model of the World

By Stevemiranda

Yesterday, I mentioned that a friend suggested I read Kathryn Schulz’s excellent book Being Wrong, because, she said, “It’s about PSCS.”

Here’s another example of a what, I think, my friend was referring to. PSCS founder Andy Smallman talks about the product of PSCS being not a narrow academic program, but rather an environment that is carefully designed—in fact, painstakingly designed—to nurture qualities like curiosity, passion, integrity, courage, and a deep understanding of the value of being in community with others.

Schulz writes,

“[N]ot long ago, I arranged to meet an interview subject for coffee in Manhattan. When I walked into the café and she stood up to introduce herself, I had the common yet always somewhat startling experience of realizing that she looked nothing like what I had expected. What was strange about this experience—what is always strange about such experiences—is that, prior to meeting this woman, I had no idea that I had any mental image of her at all. And yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, I had generated a picture of her, without any conscious awareness of doing so. Moreover, this process must have been quite sophisticated, since when I went back and thought about it, I realized that not only could I describe the person I had expected to see, I could pinpoint some of the factors that led me to draw my mistaken portrait: a name I associated with a certain era and ethnicity, a scrap of information that suggested a certain aesthetic, and so forth. In short, some very sophisticated theory-making was going on in my mind, entirely without my awareness. This is true for all of us, all the time. Below the level of conscious thought, we are always amassing information from our environment and using it to add to or rearrange our model of the world.”

When society creates schools that teaches students to compete with their peers for grades, teaches them to focus on the future instead of the present, and teaches them that getting an “A” is the same as learning . . . well, they’re getting the message. Whether they’re aware of it or not, students are engaged in a complex process in which some very sophisticated theory-making is going on.

They are amassing information from their environment, and they’re using it to rearrange their model of the world.

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