I appreciated David Moody's article for its attempt to further unpack the nature of transformative psychological insight. I also appreciate the science teacher's attempt to get around often highly intractable common misconceptions about the natural world. But I also sensed in the article - and in much of the current literature about scientific and philosophical and psychological insight in general - an underlying mystification of the insight process.
'Insight' seems to have always had a vague and mysterious meaning. From ancient Vipassana Buddhist use to Wittgenstein's musings, insight has represented some magical event that somehow transforms our understanding. In postmodern and new age discourse, we now call it a 'paradigm shift, ' 'gestalt change, ' 'conceptual leap, ' 'cognitive turn, ' 'psychological moment.' But, as far as I can see, the process of understanding is much more mundane and simple. Basically, to understand something, to have an insight into it, is to see how one thing causes another or how things fit together.
Then where is the source of mystification? Where does the difficulty come from that prevents understanding? It seems to come from two directions: (1) the obstacles to seeing causal connections or contexts - the things David Moody referred to in his article, and (2) the refusal to admit the significance of that under-standing into our lives.
We all learn in different, overlapping ways, and so some of us need to literally picture a phenomenon, see its causes, effects, contexts, in order to understand it. (And these pictures often have to be related to our macro-world way of seeing reality-basic everyday human gestalts.)Also, we all have various learned intellectual models that filter newinformation: cause-effect schemas (e.g., local, contiguous, mechanistic cause);degrees of 'variable' complexity (e.g., linear, spontaneous, multiple variablesequences); knowledge-action patterns;ideas of appropriate simplicity, symmetry, abstraction, etc.
When new information doesn't fit into these schemas or cannot be literally pictured or is too abstract or too complex, we cannot understand it or integrate it. The teacher's role-assuming the new information is true and significant-is then to help us understand by helping us spot and modify restricted mind-sets that are preventing assimilation and causing confusion. And it is rather obvious and straightforward-nothing mysterious-how this is done: by providing more information, showing the limitations of various learned paradigms, helping to 'picture, ' helping to contextualize, relating to existing structures, etc.
These blocks to understanding must ofcourse be dealt with by all teachers: this is certainly one of our main pedagogical tasks. But these conceptual blocks are not. the only obstacles to insight. To my mind, far more important-because hitherto more neglected, and absolutely necessary for relevant understanding - is the obstacle of failing to see the significance of newperceptions or understandings.
I suspect that when young students are learning science, some don't care that much about the theoretical workings of the natural world. Where there is no significance to the information, there will obviously be less energy expended to try to understand or assimilate it. Similarly for adults. We will never understand 'attachment', for example - even though we've all read lots of Krishnamurti and 'know' the causal realities involved - unless we see/feel its significance for our lives. And we will not see significance in any perception or understanding unless we are open to its impact on our lives.
Understanding scientific theories doesn't affect our lives very much- w e can go about our lives in the same ways. Understanding attachment, on the other hand, could radically alter our everyday lives: it could cause us to drop habits, change significant behaviours, feel our psychological world differently. So we tend to be open - once past the conceptual obstacles - to letting in new understandings of scientific truths but more guarded around psychological realities, because we seem to know they can change our psychological being. We often 'suspend' psychological understanding so we will not have to change our comfortableand secure ways.
So the 'mystery' of insight seems to lie, not in the actual process of understanding (seeing causes, effects, contexts, connections), but rather in the way we are' open' to those understandings. And this is not a mystery at all. If we are not open to change, to the unknown, to the unpredictable, to a spontaneous future, then understanding, be it scientific or existential, will elude us. We will have a memory of some abstract structure but no real working insight.
The burning issue then becomes: why aren't we open to change, to allowing understanding? Is it because of fear, habit, inertia? And this exploration is, of course, the work of the schools - of resistant students, ardent science teachers, and fearful individuals (us) in general.