23. Innovation by interaction
Earlier, in item 15 in this blog I discussed the importance of cognitive distance for learning and innovation, in collaboration between people or organizations. Such distance should be large enough to tell or show each other something new but not so large that there is no mutual understanding and tolerance. We need distance for potential novelty but proximity to realize it. Why and how, more precisely, does that work? Here I apply my theory of invention, set out in item 18.
In item 15 I showed that at any cognitive distance one is faced not only with the need to fit the ideas of the other into one’s own cognition, but also the need to help others fit one’s own ideas and practices into theirs. Thus people can help each other to cross cognitive distance and trigger shifts of thought.
In terms of the cycle of invention discussed in item 18, this positing of one’s ideas into the minds of others entails generalization, the attempt to fit one’s ideas into novel areas. Depending on cognitive distance, this yields misfits in understanding that require adjustment. People will try to ‘put it differently’, thinking back to how they came to grips with the idea, what other ideas they tried, and what other ideas are related to it, in their experience. In terms of the cycle of invention, this entails differentiation. As people do this reciprocally, they are stimulated to try and fit elements of the other’s thought into their own thinking, in hybrids of thought and practice (reciprocation), which stimulate a novel synthesis thinking and action (accommodation).
One can increase abilities to cross cognitive distance by an accumulation of knowledge and experience in the practice of crossing distance. However, as one accumulates knowledge one needs to search at increasing cognitive distance to still encounter something new, finding fewer and fewer sources of further novelty, and increasingly one has only oneself to counsel. Geniuses and wise people are lonely.
The two-sidedness or reciprocity of the process of learning by interaction yields immense leverage, compared to interaction with non-human nature, since in the mutual adaptation of discourse the ‘receiver’ can shift his stance and outlook to catch a meaning and the ‘sender’ can adapt to such stance in pitching his meaning, and revising his metaphors and bringing in meanings from yet other contexts.
In theory of knowledge, the cycle of invention is my answer to the old problem of object and subject, or of the outside and the inside. Are objects in the world causes of the cognition of the perceiving subject, in the form of representations in the mind, as empiricism claims, or are objects in the world perceived in terms of prior cognitive categories of the subject (such as time, space and causality), as idealism claims, or are object and subject inseparable. According to the cycle all three are right. Objects are perceived and made sense of in terms of categories employed by the subject but those may be changed (in accommodation) in the process of absorbing perceptions into mental categories (in assimilation).