The brain has no hard edges; neither does information. There are no gray interior walls to prevent ideas from wandering across the boundaries between and among fields. Many paths of curiosity lead to intellectual, artistic and scientific questioning, and onward to understanding. For many of us and for our children, these curious pathways are barred by signs that say: “Private Property—Do Not Enter Without Permission”). In the words of a song: “We have to be carefully taught.”
In academia, and public schools, intellectual fields are guarded turfs or territories that reflect societal values and belief systems. They are not necessary artifacts of information, of knowledge, or of nature. Believing that a rigid separation between intellectual fields is real and necessary is dangerous to our developing knowledge. The same separation is also dangerous to our developing minds. The universe is probably best understood as systems whose energy and behavior are distributed along a continuum of observable spectra within which boundaries occur only in the eye of the beholder. Boundaries always refer to our own perspective, ultimately reflecting the reach of our understanding—the length of our intellectual ‘legs’. Minds that have been taught to perform linearly and ignore associative ‘distractions’ may develop the long legs of a distance runner and go far in a single direction. Minds that have been allowed to enjoy syncretic-associative ranging may develop into intellects with multiple talents and directions. (They will certainly be warned that they are spreading themselves too thin.)
The intellectual world of the twentieth and twenty first centuries have been arranged within neat cultivated fields, from which extraneous growth is weeded out. We have trimmed the curriculum of our children’s education to fit within these brick and ivy walls because we can only educate within our preconceptions. Truly new insights are rare, but they are frequent enough to keep our sciences and humanities moving. More rare still is the new insight that is not met with resistance and denial or ridicule. Fundamental new ideas are rejected because what is truly new does not fit within what we already know. Often the newness results because someone has beaten a pathway across previously impermeable boundaries that divided fields. This territorial and conceptual incursion is met with defensive posturing and frequently ends in battle. A student with a truly novel idea may be ridiculed and rejected. She or he is not coloring inside the lines.
We have been training minds not to grow but instead to operate reliably within neat hedgerows, categories of knowledge, trimming away what does not fit our view of reality, and pruning out the glorious associative-syncretic curiosity and the boundlessness native to our brains. We do this to please the Judges of The Academic Garden Club who favor rows of children with clean linear-logical routines for problem solving.
Sometimes what we do not know can be discovered by logical progression from what we already think we do know—sometimes not. Sometimes the unknown is so unimaginable from within the safe bounded fields of the ‘known’ that we cannot get there from here by any road we can map beforehand. In these cases we typically stumble upon the unknown by surprise while on a random walk, when an experiment fails, or while showering, falling asleep, or waking. In those moments, our logical training is at rest, our attentional focus diffused, and unconscious process rises to near the surface of our awareness. These are the playing-fields of associative creativity. In these fields there are no fences that we cannot lightly step over, indeed we hardly notice them.
This is a domain where science is open to the poetic and aesthetic, to the psycho-logic of the associative mind and memory. This is dyslexia country. Here is where the bright or brilliant dyslexic -- associative mind may shine brighter than the non learning-disabled bright student. These minds are not particularly orderly, reflecting the kind and sense of order that characterizes intellect in our culture. Associative reasoning, dyslexic style, more closely resembles the order of nature, or the Divine Disorder, as it has been conceived of in the past. Because we lack an all-knowing, all-seeing view of the universe, or of our local world, and particularly of our own minds, we may insist that all here is disorder (particularly in regard to the associative minds of other people). But it is not. There is order in nature that we discover as we stumble upon and ‘invent’ new ideas. Learning to stay alert within this field of cognitive science without pre-determining what we are going to do here might be the first exercise in this field-guide to the associative nature of our own minds. Dyslexics may turn out to be our finest inventors, creators, tour guides and explorers. They always have been.