Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jonah Lehrer on Art & Metacognition

Jonah Lehrer, pictured above, is a (hot!) Neuroscientist and author.  His most recent book is titled, "How We Decide," all about the science behind even our most mundane decisions.  He recently gave a lecture at the Walters Art Museum called, "From Marshmallows to Metacognition: The Science of Decisions" in promotion of "How We Decide".  It was a great lecture, and I throughly recommend checking out the book- I know I will be doing so soon!  Given that he was lecturing at an art museum, he had to link his ideas to the arts at some point, and given that I am an artist and art educator, this was one of the more interesting parts of his lecture for me (albeit also one of the shortest parts of his lecture.  Honestly, though, the rest was just as interesting).

One of the things Lehrer talks about is something called "metacognition," or as he put it, "thinking about thinking".  Lehrer said that when kids look at art, for example Rembrandt, they are practicing metacognition- thinking about thinking- and therefore learning more about the human condition as well as about the practice of metacognition.  Looking at art inspires us to ask questions like those I ask my preschoolers when we look at art together: "What do you see?", "Why do you think he feels that way?", etc.  This, according to Lehrer, is just one of the many ways we practice metacognition, and learning to practice metacognition is an extremely important tool of success for everyone.  The ability to be aware of our own thoughts, and their implications, and thereby control them- as well as understand ourselves, our place in the world, and those around us better- can be (and is) one of the main factors in whether an individual succeeds or fails in life.  It is fascinating and very validating neuroscience that supports the arts enormously.  I really hope Lehrer talks about the relation of art and metacognition in his book....I will find out soon enough....!  No matter what, remember to go out there and look at art and practice metacognition- it's scientifically good for your brain!

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