[OPE] Marxist psychology 101

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Thu Oct 08 2009 - 13:57:00 EDT

How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect

Published: October 5, 2009

(...) In the most recent paper, published last month, Dr. Proulx and Dr.
Heine described having 20 college students read an absurd short story based
on "The Country Doctor," by Franz Kafka. The doctor of the title has to make
a house call on a boy with a terrible toothache. He makes the journey and
finds that the boy has no teeth at all. The horses who have pulled his
carriage begin to act up; the boy's family becomes annoyed; then the doctor
discovers the boy has teeth after all. And so on. The story is urgent, vivid
and nonsensical - Kafkaesque.

After the story, the students studied a series of 45 strings of 6 to 9
letters, like "X, M, X, R, T, V." They later took a test on the letter
strings, choosing those they thought they had seen before from a list of 60
such strings. In fact the letters were related, in a very subtle way, with
some more likely to appear before or after others.

The test is a standard measure of what researchers call implicit learning:
knowledge gained without awareness. The students had no idea what patterns
their brain was sensing or how well they were performing.

But perform they did. They chose about 30 percent more of the letter
strings, and were almost twice as accurate in their choices, than a
comparison group of 20 students who had read a different short story, a
coherent one.

"The fact that the group who read the absurd story identified more letter
strings suggests that they were more motivated to look for patterns than the
others," Dr. Heine said. "And the fact that they were more accurate means,
we think, that they're forming new patterns they wouldn't be able to form

Brain-imaging studies of people evaluating anomalies, or working out
unsettling dilemmas, show that activity in an area called the anterior
cingulate cortex spikes significantly. The more activation is recorded, the
greater the motivation or ability to seek and correct errors in the real
world, a recent study suggests. "The idea that we may be able to increase
that motivation," said Dr. Inzlicht, a co-author, "is very much worth

Researchers familiar with the new work say it would be premature to
incorporate film shorts by David Lynch, say, or compositions by John Cage
into school curriculums. For one thing, no one knows whether exposure to the
absurd can help people with explicit learning, like memorizing French. For
another, studies have found that people in the grip of the uncanny tend to
see patterns where none exist - becoming more prone to conspiracy theories,
for example. The urge for order satisfies itself, it seems, regardless of
the quality of the evidence.

Still, the new research supports what many experimental artists, habitual
travelers and other novel seekers have always insisted: at least some of the
time, disorientation begets creative thinking.



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Received on Thu Oct 8 14:03:13 2009

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