Slow Food, Slow School: John Cleese and the Promise of the Tortoise Brain

There’s a slow food movement so why not a slow mind movement?

Some years ago Guy Claxton wrote Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less. It made a compelling argument that the mind works best when we trust the unconscious – our “undermind” tortoise mind.

The hare brain is the deliberative, logical, conscious thinking we all engage in and prize so highly. It’s when we apply reason to data and draw logical conclusions. The tortoise mind is more leisurely. It takes it’s time. It plays with ideas and explores possibilities. It drifts, daydreams and sleeps on the problem.

We live in fast times and blink our way to decisions. We prize the “hare brain” with its fast, decisive efficiency. We believe in the power of immediacy. Two candidates for president debate for 90 minutes and we must know who won and why and what we think the minute they step down from the podium. We give children timed tests and prize the speed with which they can fill in the blanks and pencil in the circle.

The underlying assumption is that certainty and speed trump ambiguity and contemplation. And yet – hasn’t it always been true that taking time and allowing for ambiguity lead us from knowledge to wisdom? All this much vaunted “rigor” puts a rush to judgment and blind certainty on a wobbly pedestal.

Claxton makes the case for allowing ourselves to be less analytic. And he bases it in cognitive science. Hare-brained problem solving under pressure may not be the best way to find the best solution.

John Cleese wrote an excellent piece in Edutopia picking up on the connection between thinking, teaching and creativity. Here’s how it starts:

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