This article was published in the Summer 1996 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Book Note
The Mechanism of Mind
by Edward de Bono
Simon and Schuster, 1969
reviewed by Richard Hammer

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Edward de Bono has written a shelf of books about thinking. They contain fascinating stuff, and cast new light on the FNF effort to build new vision.

First, following a lead from subscriber Maribel Montgomery, I read Serious Creativity: Using the Power of Lateral Thinking to Create New Ideas. This 1992 book gives techniques for generating new ideas. It also introduces de Bono's theories of the way our brains work. Next I followed de Bono's reference to his The Mechanism of Mind, which he suggests for readers who want to know his theories.

De Bono uses physical models of surfaces to portray the mechanism of mind. Here is one: Take a flat surface of ordinary table jelly (say it has been jelled in a flat cake pan) and drizzle water onto it (perhaps in a pattern, perhaps randomly). Some drops will stay where they land. Others will flow
together, into some pattern. Now let it all evaporate, come back tomorrow. There will be patterns on the surface of the jelly, low spots where the drops settled. This, according to de Bono, is memory, something that has happened and not completely unhappened.

Today, when you drizzle water onto the surface, the flow of water will be affected by what happened yesterday. If you drip water in a new pattern near enough to one of yesterday's patterns, then today's drops will flow into yesterday's depressions, and will simply reinforce (or deepen) the first day's pattern. Little trace of the second day's pattern (somewhat different) will remain. So the order in which patterns are presented determines which grooves get established.

The book is filled with such writing about happenings on surfaces, happenings which harken of mental experience. Thoughts flow in learned patterns. And the more those patterns are etched, the more difficult it becomes for later thoughts to find new patterns. Events which differ from existing patterns nonetheless tend to flow into the established grooves.

This model of mental mechanics suggests techniques for getting unstuck, and de Bono, in most of his work, explains these techniques again and again. He suggests ways to jump out of the groove, to enhance the possibility of finding a whole new avenue.

One of these techniques, for instance, is the random word technique: Selecting a word randomly, say by poking your finger onto a printed page, force your thoughts to find connections between that word and the problem you face. Probably at first there will seem to be no connection, it will seem silly. But finding some connection, even a ridiculous connection, might cause your thoughts to jump to some useful new idea or insight.

De Bono teaches things that seem pertinent to FNF. He gives a model of what we are up against, ingrained patterns of thought, and suggests ways of overcoming adversely ingrained patterns. D

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