Linear thinking LO22800

Vana Prewitt (
Tue, 05 Oct 1999 10:56:45 -0400

Replying to LO22781 --

Steve Eskow wrote:

> If there is a need for a dichotomy, a pairing of "linear" with its opposite,
> wouldn't "nonlinear" seem more appropriate as a binary opposite of "linear,"
> while "global" is paired with, say, "local"?

The terminology is not mine, but that of the field of cognitive science.
I only attempt to explain how these terms have meaning when attempting to
provide education. As I mentioned in my post, the term I find more
accessible is "branching logic" as it refelcts a different approach to
understanding than "linear logic." The term "global thinking" has been
used in the cognitive science literature to describe those who use
"branching logic."

I also agree with Chuck Mays comment that "linear" thinking excludes;
nonlinear feedback, double-loop learning, delayed feedback, leveraged
action, power laws and other "systems" and complexity qualities. Thus,
linear thinking is nonsystemic.

> the eater who starts with soup, goes on to salad, then entree, then dessert
> is a linear eater, right?

I have to assume this is a facetious question, but the answer is "not
really.". More to the point, the person who eats all his lamb before
touching the rice, or who eats all the crust before eating the fruit in
the pie is a linear eater. The person is focused on details rather than
the big picture, and approaches the task by taking pieces apart rather
than absorbing it as a whole.

> I am starting your message at the beginning, and trying to follow the points
> in sequence, as you make them, rather than jumping to your bottom line, then
> coming back to the beginning of your message, skipping to another message,
> returning to yours, etc...does this mean I am a linear thinker?

Not necessarily. You seem to be confusing sequencing with processing.

> What exactly is involved in "bringing all parts together"? Isn't it often
> like the detective who is searching "multiple paths," always looking for the
> "line" that connects the random bits into a coherent narrative?

To some degree, yes. It is also the ability to see the whole rather than
obsessing on the parts..

> If this is so, one possibility is that hypertextual thinking, channel
> surfing, to much globalizing, doesn't help students learn to find the
> "line," the "thread," the pattern that brings "all relevant parts together
> at the end."

I'm afraid I do not understand this hypothesis and would welcome your help.
Could you provide examples or clarification?

> Suppose, Vana, the theory that holds that different sectors of the brain
> control different mental functions, and that the different sectors can be
> trained by education has been discredited.
> It has, Vana. See, for example, the research and writing of William Calvin.

This is certainly something I would consider. I am unfamiliar with William
Calvin and a cursory search for his works on the Internet retrieved some
eclectic writings, including
" How the Shaman Stole the Moon
(Bantam 1991) is my archaeoastronomy
book, a dozen ways of predicting eclipses ^
those paleolithic strategies for winning fame
and fortune by convincing people that you're
(ahem) on speaking terms with whoever runs
the heavens."

My appreciation of the research into left brain and right brain dominance
is from an educator's perspective. I am not an expert in cognitive
science and have tremendous respect for those who are. .

> Despite this, the imagery of left-right brain continues in popular
> discourse.
> Is this an example of resistance to change? Is left-brain right-brain
> discourse so attractive, so useful as explanation and advocacy, that those
> using it are reluctant to change?

If my own experience is anything like that of others, I would guess that
left brain / right brain theories are widely taught and accepted by
institutions of higher learning and among scholars. I'm sure that
research into the functions of the brain will yeild significant
information in years to come and some of it may very well discredit early
theories. I'm less concerned about which theory explains the world as I
experience it, as I am in understanding that world , being able to make
sense of it, and manage it effectively. The right brain / left brain
research does a nice job of helping me make sense of varied learning
styles, an issue I contend with daily as an adult educator..

Alternative theories will have to be as equally accepted and promoted by
researchers and scholars to receive recognition and promotion within
formal educational systems. It seems less a matter of resistance to
change as it may be that the proof of validity is on the newcomer.

kind regards,

Vana Prewitt
Praxis Learning Systems
Chapel Hill, NC


Vana Prewitt <>

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