‘Learning to loaf' – this books explores the ways of knowing that require more time, the ways we have unlearned or ignore, but that are crucial to our complete mental development.
The human brain-mind will do a number of unusual, interesting and important things if given time. It will learn patterns of a degree of subtlety which normal, purposeful, busy consciousness cannot even see, let alone master. It will make sense out of hazy, ill-defined situations which leave everyday rationality flummoxed. It will get to the bottom of personal, emotional issues much more successfully than the questing intellect. It will detect and respond to meaning, in poetry for example, that cannot be articulated. It will sometimes come up with solutions to complicated predicaments that are wise rather than merely clever. There is good, hard evidence, from cognitive science and elsewhere, for all these capacities. Claxton explores the slower ways of knowing and explains how we could/should use them more often and more effectively.
An argument for the seductive proposal that our unconscious intelligence is more productive than we think. Claxton, a visiting professor of psychology and education at Bristol University in England, builds his thesis on the dichotomy between the privileged mode of intelligence - conscious, result-oriented problem-solving - and the less respectable unconscious intelligence. This unconscious, or "undermind," approaches problems playfully, examines the questions themselves, and keeps us in touch with our poetic nature. Claxton is admittedly using the tools of the enemy to prove his point - since we give weight to scientific thought, he will use scientific thought to show the merit of intuitive thought. His multidisciplinary approach is beautifully executed, with a constant dialogue on the virtues of intuition and a peaceful mind drawing on the works of poets, novelists, and Buddhist teachings. However, the slim thesis stretches thinly into 13 chapters as Claxton approaches his proposition from all sides - intuition, consciousness, biopsychology, reflections on society's standards of intelligence. There's plenty of meaty new research - parallels with instinct in animal behavior are especially intriguing - but the overall effect becomes repetitious, and chapters begin to seem padded and disjointed as the book progresses. And despite his pointed attention to fashionable currents in psychology (evolution, the rudiments of brain research), Claxton's book feels dated and fussy. His metaphors are whimsical, and his repudiation of the speed of the modern age echoes neo-Luddite fears of a computerized world. There is only minor mention of gendered modes of thought, that his "undermind" corresponds with the nonlinear, intuitive process increasingly associated with women's thinking. The pleasures of the "tortoise mind" tend to be poetic, very easy to romanticize. Claxton makes a last-minute case for how this mode of thought can be incorporated into the modern workplace, but his heart obviously lies in its abstract beauty. (Kirkus Reviews)