Mind and morality: insight into the work of Arthur Zajonc

Hi everyone

Happy new year to you all. I hope the festive period offered at least some respite from work and that you found time to do things that brought you joy and peace.

In preparing for a presentation next week I came across a You Tube video of a presentation by Arthur Zajonc entitled ‘Mind and morality: where do they meet?’. I know that many of you will have heard of  him and that one of you if not more have worked with him. His contribution to the Mind and Life Institute and contemplative studies has been significant. I have read several of Zajonc’s books and papers (have a look under the resources tab) and have found them very influential, even captivating but have never found them easy! In particular I have enjoyed the way he speaks about an ‘epistemology of love’ and the need to move towards and enter into relationship with that which we seek to understand rather than standing apart from it, trying to learn about it.

I know, when I read Zajonc’s work, that my understanding is just scratching the surface of what he is actually saying. Whilst this can be frustrating it is also satisfying to have a challenge, to have to sit patiently and open into not knowing. However the presentation that I mention above was very helpful is pointing me towards a better understanding. In particular this presentation points to the danger of when our scientific models of the world dominate our thinking to such an extent that we put aside our actual experience in the world because the scientific model says otherwise. In effect our models and theories can stand between us and the world we are trying to know. As such we bend our view of the world and how we behave in it to fit the model rather than trying to deepen our own experience of what is in front of us.

Reflecting about this in health profession education in particular I saw that if students become too dependent on the models and theories that they are taught these ideas could stand between them and their patients. The doctor or nurse is stopped from seeing the human being in front of them as they are reduced to a collection of symptoms and diagnoses. In this way mind, or too much mind, can stand in the way of morality as we lose sight of humanity behind what we think we know. If on the other hand students are taught to get in touch with their own experience and see the person first, to be present to their experience and then to draw upon their intellectual knowledge and technical skills this could lead to a deepening of connection with those they care for.

Zajonc challenges us to question what is really means to know something and encourages us to explore the relationship we have with the things we claim to know. I would really recommend watching the You Tube video and would love to know what this video or other aspects of his work have provoked for you.

Happy exploring



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