Knowledge in Context

The other day, I posted on the theory of cognitive flexibility.  What is that?

It’s a theory that strives to determine how the human mind can obtain and manage knowledge and how it restructures our existing knowledge base, based on the new information received.

So far so good. This aspect of the theory fascinates me

Knowledge cannot be perceived out of context. It is the context that allows learners to see any possible relationships between various components of the subject matter presented.

Context is critical. But just what is context? Intuitively, we might consider context to be the setting in which the knowledge is derived and used. So if I see a lion kill its prey in the wild, I will learn more efficiently how a lion is dangerous than reading about it in a book. In other words, our intuition tells us that context is external.

But here is the weird thing. In fact, we create the contexts that we perceive. That is, our brain orders the data that we take in based upon its understanding of reality. So when I look out my window, I see my garden. Not just trees, grass and bushes, but my a part of my home. That is the context for me to acquire knowledge. The one that I created.

With me so far? Ok, hold onto your hat! In life, we face at least two learning challenges. The first is managing context. The second is connecting context and knowledge about context. Put another way, we will not be all that great at acquiring and using knowledge(creativity?) if we are not capable of seeing the context where it may be useful.

Ciskszentmihalyi understands this. He argued that a core function of life is to create context, or as he called it, to create meaning. Life has no meaning other than what we give it.

So how do you create context?  This is the main topic of Csikszentmihalyi’s great book “Flow”. And you can check out my summary of the key ideas in the books menu above.

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