Yes,but-ism and Aha!-addictedness

“All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” is the sensational title of a book of essays. I haven’t read it, and this post is not about that. The more common variant of this is more like “All I Really Need To Know I Learned By Age 15”. In fact, most widespread is an implicit position – “All I Really Need To Know I Learned By Yesterday”.

Yes,but-ism is one of the mechanisms through which we cling to yesterday’s beliefs. A tendency to a habitual “Yes, but …” reaction as the first line of defence should set off alarm bells in a watchful mind, for potential belief-updates are being summarily blocked. Assuming that the Yes,but-ist is not bigoted, under what conditions then is he/she going to update his/her beliefs? I think that some Yes,but-ists wait for “Aha!” moments to update their beliefs of yesterday.

I first came across the Aha! terminology several years ago when I was reading about Gestalt therapy. I reproduce here an extract from Baker-Sennett & Ceci(1996)/Abstract:

“The most basic premise of Gestalt psychology suggests that the task of human perception and thinking involves the organization and recognition of patterns in the environment (see Koffka, 1935; Kohler, 1947; Wertheimer, 1959 and reviews by Epstein, 1988; Ohlsson, 1984a; 1984b). Kohler, Wertheimer, and others argued that at some point while searching for a solution, the problem is spontaneously restructured, a pattern comes in to perspective, and the problem is solved. Upon arriving at a problem solution, the solver experiences an immediate feeling of correctness otherwise known as an “AHA!” experience.”

The story of the discovery of the Archimedes’ principle, and Kekule’s inspiration for the structure of benzene come to mind as outstanding examples. But it is a tall order to fundamentally expect Aha! moments to trigger belief-updates. Registration of something as profound vs. commonplace is actually a trait of the labeler’s mind, not of the phenomenon being studied. Just to cite one example, what Tesla presumably considered profound and important enough to dedicate his life to pursue, are now a few “ho-hum”, “banal” chapters in an engineering textbook, presumably not possessing the potential to inspire an Aha! experience for many Yes, but-ists.

Aha! moments are few and far between, and furthermore are functions of the Yes,but-ists’ minds rather than the subject matter. (On top of that, people tend to ascribe low Aha!-potential to a phenomenon – even a complicated one – that has already been explained, even if they don’t understand the explanation, and regardless of if the original explanation-quest happened through historical, momentous Aha! moments.) The entirety of painstakingly accumulated collective knowledge on the other hand is out of our bounds owing to its sheer overwhelming vastness; even if we were to constantly strive to update our beliefs of yesterday through proactive bromidic means – let alone wait for the luxury of Aha! moments.

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12 comments
  1. Tiny Seal said:

    Yes, but isnt pattern recognition through aha moment one of the easiest forms of learning?

  2. Unawoken said:

    🙂 Testing my knee-jerkiness there?

  3. Thrashes Rakes said:

    Hmmm…

    Maybe all we need to know was genetically programmed into us and the true AHA! moment is the actual conscious realization of facts which are in hindsight self-evident.

    Most of what we consider to be the great discoveries deal with very fundamental concepts, such as the universe is made up of lots and lots of teeny-weeny particles.

    My one AHA moment not related to biological processes came when I discovered the simple fact of what makes me happy or unhappy.

  4. Unawoken said:

    thrashes rakes,
    In the “all we need to know” series, the crux is of course the word “need”. This is where people will draw lines at various subjective levels of comfort. But I personally do not agree that all we need to know was genetically programmed into us. Genetic programming is static, and suboptimal. I’d argue we need to know beyond what our instincts tell us. Also, I do not think that the facts are self-evident in hindsight. While this seems true for some facts, such as the earth being round, or the earth going round the sun, it is not true of complex facts of say QM or General Relativity, for most people. Also, self-evidence regarding a fact is generally a property thrust upon the fact in hindsight to maintain confidence in one’s reasoning capability. In other words, I think things _seem_ self-evident in hindsight.
    Agree that great discoveries deal with fundamental concepts, for an explanation for a phenomenon demands a movement-arrow going from the complex to the fundamental. However, ‘fundamental’ does not equate to ‘simple’. For example, the “modern” physicists of the early 20th century thought that they had come to know all there is about the fundamental particles, until they started finding more and more and more of the ‘fundamental’ particles. The relatively recent realization that the particles are not fundamental, in fact, it does not make sense to talk of particles in the sub-subatomic domain, makes a further inroad into the fundamentals, but this inroad is not really simple to understand for humans with “particular” ways of thought.
    It seems your’s is a great and rare Aha! moment to experience!

  5. unawoken said:

    Were it possible to trace the succession of ideas in the mind of Sir Isaac Newton, during the time that he made his greatest discoveries, I make no doubt but our amazement at the extent of his genius would a little subside. But if, when a man publishes his discoveries, he either through a design, or through habit, omit the intermediary steps by which he himself arrived at them, it is no wonder that his speculations confound them, and that the generality of mankind stand amazed at his reach of thought. If a man ascend to the top of a building by the help of a common ladder, but cut away most of the steps after he has done with them, leaving only every ninth of tenth step, the view of the ladder, in the condition which he has pleased to exhibit it, gives us a prodigious, but unjust view of the man who could have made use of it. But if he had intended that any body should follow him, he should have left the ladder as he constructed it, or perhaps as he found it, for it might have been a mere accident that threw it in his way… I think that the interests of science have suffered by the excessive admiration and wonder with which several first rate philosophers are considered, and that an opinion of the greater equality of mankind, in point of genius, and power of understanding, would be of real service in the present age.” – Joseph Priestly, The History and present State of Electricity

  6. unawoken said:

    Be not astonished at new ideas; for it is well known to you that a thing does not therefore cease to be true because it is not accepted by many.

    — Spinoza

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