Metacognition and finding the light

Metacognition occurs when you think about your thinking. It means that instead of just analyzing evidence at face value, you start to ask questions about why you favor certain facts over others. You think about whether or not you have emotions, cognitive biases, peer pressures, or other things that are affecting your thought processes. You ask yourself if you would think something different if the roles were reversed, if you had a better day, if you had not had such a bad experience last time. From Creationism to Evolution: How the World’s Most Powerful Idea Has Shaped My Thinking About Business

Metacognition is a key process in science. If it isn’t there, it isn’t science. From the issues of observer bias to those of accuracy and precision, a scientists must qualify findings by how they know what they know and observe what they measure. That means that there is always a consideration for the quality of knowledge and a realization that that knowledge is limited to a certain context and only valid under certain assumptions.

A famous case in point is the theory of gravity. That has expanded from the very local, pre-Newton, Aristotle understanding of common objects to the Newtonian context that has a solar system wide context to that of the Einstein view which encompasses a context of the Universe. Each of these three theories is ‘correct’ given an appropriate context but falls short when taken out of that context. Einstein was famous for his thought experiments that uncovered discrepancies in existing knowledge – created cognitive dissonance. These though experiments are an example of metacognition at work. They are the mulling over of what we know and how we know it and what those two factors really mean to how we understand reality.

Rob May took a look at how he understood Biblical Creation and thought about his thinking.

Then, in 1997, I was solidly in the creationist camp. It’s not important to talk about what changed my mind, but the process and the results are important, so this is a story about how I came to accept the theory of evolution and how it changed my thinking on many other issues.

Many take such a revelation, such an insight, as tossing out the old for the new. This also needs a bit of metacognition. It is possible that both old and new can coexist and that thinking about what you know can allow each to coexist by placing each in an appropriate context. That is one factor that complicates the creation versus evolution argument: many cannot see these as coexisting and take the acceptance of one as a denial of the other. That misdirects the conflict and makes it a confrontation.

The message is that there is a process here. Without metacognition, a process of thinking about our own thinking, our response is often to reject what will flavor our understanding. If we want to learn and grow, a first step is to look at what we know and how we know it, to separate opinion from belief, and to discover how we feel about the issue. From there, the challenge is how to bring all of these together into a new understanding. It may well be that we end up ‘born again’ having to totally dismiss our previous position for a new one but it is often the case that we will find that our previous position gains nuance and richness as we place it in its proper place and context. We will never know unless we struggle with what we know and how we know it and work to fit it all together.

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