Home Winsights
No. 57 (February/March 2002)

The Socratic Continuum
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.

As you've seen in this column over the past year or so, the significance of the facts has been dawning for us that...

Just about every successful creativity-evoking method or technique is essentially Socratic in nature.

(Socratic:   one is induced to examine one's own awarenesses, and to make response from what one discovers there.)

Just about every successful creativity-evoking method or technique (and there are literally HUNDREDS of these) can, usually with but little adjustment, be made to serve also as a radically accelerative learning technique or as a means to powerfully enhance and deepen learning.


No "Frills"
Argument has often been made that creativity methods and practices should be included in the curriculum both for their own sake and because learners thus taught become more creative citizens, more capable of coping with the situations they encounter, and more effective in their productive lives.

Certainly these arguments are correct, but they don't go nearly far enough. I observe this because in thousands of school districts around the country, school boards and budget administrators reject the inclusion of creativity in the curriculum as yet another useless "frill" in the way of the mission of getting "the basics" somehow taught. They believe there's not enough time and resource for the basics as it is, so that to add creativity could only reduce the basics being learned.

I continue to be amazed that in all these years no one has stood this "frills" objection on its head. The primary reason why creative method should be part of the curriculum is that its appropriate use makes far more effective and efficient the learning of the rest of the curriculum's contents. Include creative methods and practices not as another "frill" trying to crowd in, but as a powerful tool boosting learning and ensuring that more, not less, of the rest of the curriculum gets actually learned and well learned.

Which is more remarkable — the degree of overlap between these two fields, or the general failure to notice it?

To this day, most of the world-wide creativity movement, which has spread and advanced around the world for a half century, is totally unaware that this movement's own methods can be used to improve and accelerate learning — as we've done with Dynamic Format (full instructions given here). This abstraction from various creativity programs of successful group practices allows one to lead even hundreds of students at a time through intensely Socratic and rewarding learning experiences which previously could be provided for only one or several students at a time.

To this day, most of the accelerated learning movement is similarly unaware from the other side of that equation. Battling hard to get acceptance of use of one or several particular accelerated learning methods, most of those hearty few educators who care about better methods of learning and teaching are blithely unaware that hundreds of profoundly accelerative techniques are sitting right there waiting for them over in the creativity movement. Many of these techniques are far more profoundly improving of the learning process than those one or several specific methods of teaching which those educators are fighting so hard to implement.

Literally hundreds of available creativity techniques exist which could so readily be used to get learners — from observation and from their extensive and mostly unarticulated database which is beyond their narrow-bandwidth immediate conscious verbal focus — to "create" accurately (and almost instantly!) the core of what they need to learn in just about any subject.

Once that core is brought into conscious focus, whatever remaining learning needs to be done in that subject (by whatever method!) integrates readily and swiftly around that already-known core. And most of these creativity-based methods are far more easily learned and applied, and produce far better understanding, than most of the formal accelerative learning techniques currently being pursued in the accelerated learning movement.

This truly educational approach — "educational" in its Socratic meaning, to accelerate learning by eliciting in advance a core of understandings from within the learner and hitching around it whatever instruction remains to be done in the subject — creates a picture of classroom learning which is both well within common sense and almost hopelessly beyond the understanding of many teachers who still think of their role in terms of transferring curriculum contents into their blank-minded students. (See discussion of Socratic Method below.)

This entire matter goes far beyond simply specific techniques. There is a core issue here which strikes both you, Gentle Reader, and me, right between the eyes.

You and I, and every living human being, have in common one certain great need!

In recent columns, including in last November's article "Windtunnel", we have discussed how all of us have developed short-cuts in thought and perception, and stock responses on nearly every subject — fluff which blinds us to our own deeper, subtler awarenesses on the very same matters and which most severely limits our intellectual, artistic, interpersonal, and practical experience and effectiveness in this our world.

To reclaim some modest portion of your rightful heritage of ability, appreciative experience and effectiveness, you, I, your family, your co-workers, your employees — every human being, in fact — very profoundly needs ...

... to be drawn out in depth and at length, on matter after matter after matter.

That is your main path toward your own further humanity, and that appears also to be our main general path toward a more human future.


Why Socratic Method builds genius
The first time Socratic Method was the main instructional method was in late classical Greece. The population there on which it was used numbered only in the tens of thousands. Those few tens of thousands produced a greater number of world-class geniuses than today's Earth's five BILLION people with today's standard methods, even with all our technological and Information Age advantages!

The second time Socratic Method was widely used was in Renaissance Europe, where several hundred thousand people got to experience it. That population base, of just a few hundred thousand people, again outproduced today's five billion people in numbers of world-class geniuses. Miracle leaps of growth and understanding were so consistently and widely experienced that the profession we still call "education" was named after its central apparent phenomenon, even though the teaching profession has failed to do educating for a very long time.

Socratic practitioners, blown away by their own results, became convinced that all knowledge and understanding is somehow already within each learner and needs merely to be "drawn forth" — i.e., "educated."

We do not have to assume that all knowledge and understanding is in fact already there, but certainly immensely more is there in each learner than is conventionally ready to hand:

  • "forgotten" from previous encounters like 99.9999999999% of all experiences; never articulated in the first place;
  • never noticed when it was going in, or noticed too slightly to be responded to at the time;
  • pattern-recognitions and inferences reached at beyond-conscious levels.
Creativity — oops, Socratic — methods, by getting one to examine one's own, first-hand awarenesses and to seek to respond from what one discovers there, does more than just reinforce whatever particular awareness is being fished for in the lesson. Of far greater importance, Socratic methods reinforce the behavior of being aware.

Depending on the type of question and the type of awareness one is led to dig into in search of answer or other concrete response, various awareness-handling regions of the brain are reinforced into much closer permanent relationship with our left temporal lobe, word-box focused consciousness, making far more of their resources and intelligence available to our everyday usages.

The more we are drawn out, or somehow can draw ourselves out, in depth and at length on our deeper and subtler awarenesses, the more we enter into our more fully human heritage. This is our need, this is your need, this is every human being's need, to REALLY be heard, to really be drawn out in depth and at length on matter after matter and on many various matters. THAT is the main reason to incorporate creative method into education, but it is far greater than just better education. It is the essence of our existence as human beings. You are so much greater, so much more very wonderful, than you yet realize.

And so is your family. Your student. Your co-worker.


Practical Questions
Quick practical question:  what will happen in your firm if your main policy- and decision-makers and executives meet for at least one three-hour block each week, specifically for the purpose of drawing each other out on your respective deeper and subtler awarenesses about your firm's operations and situation and problems and opportunities?

Another quick question:  what if your department's main researchers and/or scientists similarly met for at least one three-hour interval each week, drawing each other out on your respective deeper and subtler awarenesses about what you are investigating?


Physical Effects of Being Really Heard
You know very well what it feels like when someone finally hears you out on something that's important to you. That is more than welcome relief, release, and heartening that you feel going on within your system. The past few decades of research show these feelings reflect changes in the immune system, in brain chemistry, biochemistry, and in the physical body's general ability to function.

How powerful are these effects? Look at the great British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. Hawking is truly unique because here he is, going strong as ever, forty years after he was supposed to have long since died of Lou Gehrig's Disease — surrounded by bright people listening closely to his every nuance of thought and relaying that information to an eagerly waiting world. That Socratic process has done more than make Hawking the rest of the way into a world-class genius. That Socratic effect is so physiologically powerful that Hawking has outlived, 3 to 1, just about anyone else who was stricken by that neuro-degenerative and invariably fatal disease.

Darn it, it feels really good to be really heard, and it does a lot more besides feel good!


Socratic Continuum
There are hundreds, there may well be thousands, of specific techniques which lead one to examine one's own awarenesses and to seek to make specific responses from what one discovers there in those awarenesses:
  • By responding in some specific way to them, reinforcing those particular awarenesses.
  • By reinforcing the behavior or trait of BEING aware.
  • By reinforcing further and richer regions of one's brain and intelligence onto line with immediate experience and usefulness.
Some of the most powerful such methods involve a lot of "pull," one person literally drawing forth awarenesses from another. Among the stronger such methods we have presented here on the Project Renaissance website is the "relentless question" method in Winsights No. 33, "Add Depth and Richness to Every Facet of Our Mutual Lives." The essence of that powerful listening method is:
  1. Whatever you can use to keep your partner encouraged by your attention and absorption to expound at length on his or her perceptions, and

  2. Simply not let your partner off the hook until after he or she has gone to considerable depth and subtlety in thought and perception on the matter in question.
On the other side of the broad continuum of Socratic methods you can find a lot of "pour-forth," which can be done by one person even without a listening partner, though usually these also are best with a partner. These include that early creativity method, "Brainstorming," and its modern descendants, Freenoting and, in the November 2001 Winsights, Windtunnel. Most other Socratic methods and most other creativity-evoking techniques are to be ranged somewhere between these two "poles" — the "pull-forth" pole and the "pour-forth" pole. Or they combine elements of both.

The Socratic Continuum

This "Socratic Continuum" concept is very much a work in progress, but it necessarily must revolve around, and continue to revolve around, the utterly fundamental human need to be really heard, to be drawn forth at length and in depth and through considerable subtlety, on issue after issue, topic after topic.


Comments to:
Win Wenger

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