Thursday, June 28, 2012

Testing the Yes

Truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.  Malcolm Gladwell, über-successful author of books like Blink
            Once we discovering our yeses—where internal passion meets external need—we then must try them out, testing it to see if they work.
            But first, we must first take a look at how we make decisions.
            One my mentors, the late psychologist and Princeton Seminary professor, James Loder, was thinker whose interests spanned Jean Piaget to John Calvin, Niels Bohr to Søren Kierkegaard. He was both one of the most brilliant men I’ve met, who would also shed tears as he spoke about “transforming moments” with the Spirit.
A Stunning Book
            In the book he co-wrote with physicist Jim Neidhardt on the integration of theology and science, The Knight’s Move: The Relational Logic of the Spirit in Theology and Science, Loder and Neidhardt described a five-step process of discovery or discernment (pages 230-2):
1.     Incoherence (where things don’t quite add up)
2.     Search for resolution
3.     Construction of new meaning (the resolution begins)
4.     Release of energy with the discovery of the resolution (Think here of Archimedes running naked from the Greek bath house shouting “Eureka” because he had discovered the theory of the displacement of water.)
5.     Verification (I’ll return to that in a moment.)
In Loder’s understanding of these “transforming moments, “ in this fifth step we interpret or verify our insight, particularly integrating with past and projecting its implications into the future.
            I’d like to reflect on these.
            First of all, conflict or incoherence can be good. Sometimes we notice—and it can hurt when we observe this fact—that there’s a conflict between what we believe and our life in God’s calling, or we want to refine it. Loder helped me to see conflict as a necessary part of human development.
            Second, I believe our intuition or imagination is powerful here and often begins the process. Our intuition often grasps the right answer before we have the specific steps to prove it. Our intuition is not exact. And that’s why testing is key. Loder analyzes Albert Einstein’s great intuitive leaps that lead him toward his Theories of Special and General Relativity. Loder and Neidhardt describes Einstein’s use of imagination (Knight’s Move, 177ff.): “a jump of imaginative insight: a bold leap, an informed, speculative attempt to understand, a ‘groping’ constructive attempt to understand.” Einstein talked about the how his intuition guided the process and provoked to ask more questions. We take that great imaginative insight, that “bisociation”—where we bring two ideas that seemed incompatible together—and we work to interpret our lives accordingly.
            Third, discovering almost always includes continuity with the past. New insights have a connection with our past. They create a narrative that makes sense. It’s the story God is writing in our lives. If it doesn’t have continuity, then it’s not a real solution. If we’ve heard God direct us in the past, the future will make sense with what has gone before. Or to quote business author (and friend) Candice Carpenter Olson from her book on human change, Chapters: each chapter builds on the chapter beforehand. It’s a new chapter, but the story has continuity.
            Finally, verification or testing is essential. And this is the key concept for this section of my book. As James Loder writes of science, 
many beautiful physical theories are simply wrong. The steady-state theory of the universe was indeed aesthetically very pleasing to the human mind but it could not account for such key astronomical observations as the background (black-body) radiation” (The Knight’s Move, 232). 
We have to test our great insights and see how they work. Big bang cosmology, which could account for cosmic background radiation as the echo of the initial creation of our universe, made better sense.
            So now it’s up to you to test your specific yeses, to “work out your own salvation” (Philippians 3:11). (By the way, it’s clear that this is not working for our salvation because the passage continues with “God is at work among you.”) “Working out” our salvation means that we work out the implications of your salvation. We’ve already declared our big Yes to God and now we work out what that means for us particularly.
            How we do that is the next chapter of testing. 

1 comment:

M Fitzpatrick said...


I won't be making the Triad tonight, alas, but I have to say I am impressed by your blog and the topic. Loder's book sounds wonderful, and I have added it to my list of epistemology texts I need to read.

I love the way your blog starts. "Once we discover our yeses . . . we then must try them out, testing it to see if they work." This sounds just like Whitehead's imaginative flights that are then grounded in reality. Lovely!

I like Loder's schema as well. I completed the "Philosophy of Science" class at Chico State this past semester, and it was really enlightening. I have a lot of opinions on science, and Loder's contribution is a good one. I agree that incoherence can be good. Whitehead has that famous discussion where he talks about the value of false propositions. They don't tell us how the world is, but they do give us insight into how it could be. Similarly, Loder's 'incoherence' is much like Kuhn's 'anomalies.' We notice things about the world that literally don't make sense, and that discovery is actually a very good thing.

I actually think imagination has a far greater role in both science and philosophy than has ever been acknowledged. For me, the four sources of knowledge are experience, reason, imagination and testimony/tradition. For some reason, the whole history of both philosophy and science has been about reason, and very little has been done to show the value of imagination in seeing the structure of reality. Charles Pierce did - he called it abduction. Others have too - I would say that Whitehead's entire work was an incredible imaginative journey. Of course, imagination has to be grounded in reality through experience, but still, it is imagination by which we make the great connections in all human knowledge.

That grounding on reality is what testing is about. But we have to be careful about how much we grant to testing. Testing is important, but our testing is only as good as the testers. The interpretations we draw from what we observe much always be understood as fallible. Something we said yes to for a very long time may have been the linchpin of an entire illusion.

Great post. Hope the discussion goes well tonight.