Prof. Howard Gardner delivered a lecture on the topic “The Synthesizing Mind: A Personal and A Psychological Perspective” under the CogTalk series organised by the Centre for Neural and Cognitive Sciences, University of Hyderabad on 24th February 2022.
The 24th of February holds a special place in the calendar of The CogTalk. It is not every day that one gets to learn about the mind and the world from Prof. Howard Gardner himself. The excitement among the audience, akin to a child watching its favourite fiction character come to life, is indeed memorable. This lecture series is the brainchild of Prof. Ramesh Mishra, Chair, Centre for Neural and Cognitive Sciences, aimed at educating young students and scholars to path-breaking research work in cognitive sciences. It encourages them to ask innovative questions and use truly interdisciplinary ideas to answer them.
Prof. Gardner needs no introduction. He is one of the most influential academics of the 21st century. He is currently the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is also an adjunct professor of psychology at Harvard University and senior director of Harvard Project Zero. Apart from being the recipient of numerous prestigious awards and honours, he is a vigorous writer having written over 30 books but primarily, he is a synthesizer.
Through his discourse with Prof. Mishra, Prof. Gardner shared his scholarly interest in mind sciences. He was one of the pioneers to emphasize a multidisciplinary approach to studying cognition He adds that there is more to empiricism than can be captured through today’s psychological tools and methods. It necessitates combining quantitative and qualitative approaches of study to get at the crux of the human mind.
Scholarly habits are a by-product of years of practice in reading, writing, building a philosophical stance for oneself and ardently holding on to it. By not letting oneself cocoon and by staying abreast with the happenings of the world, one allows free association of thoughts, what the speaker calls – the ability to synthesize. Who knew that Prof. Gardner reads newspapers of 4 to 5 countries every day!
The man who helped us tap into people’s intelligence shared what it is like to have his mind. He takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, Roger Brown, Eric Erikson, Jerome Bruner, Nelson Goodman, Noam Chomsky, B.F. Skinner, and many others who achieved great things by synthesizing. It was Prof. Gardner’s skill of making connections between multiple aspects of thought easily that made him who he is. He attracted mentors of the right type. His courage to initiate discussions and be able to challenge his mentors and seniors, albeit in a respectable way, made him stand apart from others. One of his key takeaways for students and aspiring scholars is for us to choose our mentors wisely; to be around people that we wish to become. That determines what kind of a path we chart for ourselves; to be a hedgehog or a fox.
Given the current war-like situation, Prof. Mishra probed the speaker about his multiple interactions with Noam Chomsky –the father of modern linguistics– about the Vietnam war days. Prof. Gardner added to Chomsky’s thoughts on how it is the responsibility of scholars and students to develop a world that enables transparent exchange of information and scientific interactions. He strongly encouraged students to read Chomsky’s essay – The Responsibility of Intellectuals. He appreciated Chomsky’s courage to be able to speak up the way he did – a trait often misrepresented by many other scientists.
As Prof. Gardner puts it, “We all know the consequences of having administrators with a bad taste in scholars.” Unfortunately, the modern system rarely directs power in the hands of scholars in eminent universities, making it important for administrators to intelligently select the scholars to invest in. For it is in universities that we transit from little s – the everyday synthesizing, to the big S– being able to put together a lot of information in a way that educates and enlightens people; the prime focus of Prof. Gardner in his memoir, A Synthesizing Mind.
Finally, Prof. Gardner bids adieu with a message to young minds “Guard your time carefully, decide what is really important and get to that first in the day.”
– Aswini Madhira
Full video of the talk can be watched at the link below:
Lab webpage: https://actioncontrolcognitionlaboratory.wordpress.com/
Prof Mishra’s Homepage: https://rameshkumarmishra.wordpress.com/