a book review by GERALD LOMBARDI
The Power of Not Thinking: How Our Bodies Learn and Why We Should Trust Them
2020, 336 pp, Blink Publishing/Bonnier
In The Power of Not Thinking: How Our Bodies Learn and Why We Should Trust Them, Simon Roberts aims to resuscitate the human body from the sepulchre of Western thought, where Descartes and his successors presumably buried it, and to correct popular misconceptions about how we generate knowledge. In the author's words:
"Our intelligence does not just arise from our brains... nor can it be programmed as a set of rules or propositions that enables us to think in particular ways or perform particular actions. Instead, our understanding of the world arises from our bodies’ interactions with and perceptions of the world – and it is through these interactions that our bodies acquire knowledge." (p. 6)
This proposition will be taken for granted by some readers of this review, and by anyone who follows its intellectual touchpoints: embodied cognition, situated learning,...
by GERALD LOMBARDI
Interest in the unconscious and the instinctual has been on the ascent for several years now in many research realms that EPIC members inhabit. In consumer research particularly, where I’ve been a practicing anthropologist for years, the findings of neuroscience, cognitive science and the brand of social psychology called behavioral economics have driven an upsurge of interest in what lies below the surface of overt action. They all promise new ways to explain why people do what they do, and have provoked a sizable shift in research methods and goals. The consequences of this for our understanding of people have not been all good. The consequences for society are downright scary. I’ll explain; but first, some background.
How We Got Here
The underlying science behind this change in perspective is a set of still-emerging findings about how the brain works, how behavior in social contexts is genetically and physiologically influenced, and the role of evolutionary pathways in determining our mental structures....
An oft-stated rule in design and engineering is, “Good, fast, cheap: pick two”. The success of ethnography in business has forced this rule into action with a vengeance. As a result, ethnographers now face a threat experienced by many categories of worker over the past two centuries: job de-skilling. Some mechanisms of de-skilling in business-world ethnography are reviewed, including:
simplifications that invert the conventional depth-vs.-breadth balance of ethnographic knowledge;
standardizations that permit research to be distributed among workers of varying cost;
the rise of ethnographic piecework suppliers who rely on pools of underemployed social scientists.
I argue that pressures leading in this direction must be contested, and that only by altering the cost-time-quality paradigm that controls our work can we restore its value to our employers and clients....