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The role of spontaneous conversation

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 25 October 2011

 


Title

The role of spontaneous conversation
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 136
Posted DateTuesday 25 October 2011 21:00 GDT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen
Linkshttp://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/12/fail_accept_defeat ... 
http://www.gurteen.com/gurteen/gurteen.nsf/id/improving-unde ... 

A while back I wrote a blog post entitled Improving Understanding in which I told a story where I suggested to a student that she run mini Knowledge Cafes with fellow students to gain a deeper understanding of her studies.

In response, I received an email from Guillaume Boutard, a PhD. student from McGill University in Canada in which he told me about an interesting article in Wired Magazine Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up whose conclusions he pointed out were similar to the ones I was making.

Here are two quotes from the article:
The reason we're so resistant to anomalous information -- the real reason researchers automatically assume that every unexpected result is a stupid mistake -- is rooted in the way the human brain works. Over the past few decades, psychologists have dismantled the myth of objectivity. The fact is, we carefully edit our reality, searching for evidence that confirms what we already believe. Although we pretend we're empiricists -- our views dictated by nothing but the facts -- we're actually blinkered, especially when it comes to information that contradicts our theories. The problem with science, then, isn't that most experiments fail -- it's that most failures are ignored.

While the scientific process is typically seen as a lonely pursuit -- researchers solve problems by themselves -- Dunbar found that most new scientific ideas emerged from lab meetings, those weekly sessions in which people publicly present their data. Interestingly, the most important element of the lab meeting wasn't the presentation -- it was the debate that followed. Dunbar observed that the skeptical (and sometimes heated) questions asked during a group session frequently triggered breakthroughs, as the scientists were forced to reconsider data they'd previously ignored. The new theory was a product of spontaneous conversation, not solitude; a single bracing query was enough to turn scientists into temporary outsiders, able to look anew at their own work.

An interesting article, including a section on "How to learn from failure".

And of course the bolding of spontaneous conversation in the above passage is my doing.




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