Monday, November 26, 2012

William George Jordan Shares His Secret for Creating Analogies

William George Jordan created a lecture series entitled Mental Training: By Analysis, Law, & Analogy in the early 1890’s. The objective of these was to improve the ability of students to digest and utilize information.

In 1907 he published a pamphlet entitled Mental Training: A Remedy for “Education” which included a list of his twelve lectures along with a short summary of each. His view on education can be summed up in one short sentence; rather than simply feed children facts we should focus on teaching them how to think. In Mental Training shares his proposed methods for giving students the tools the need to digest and use information.

I’ve always been amazed by Jordan’s ability to teach using analogies drawn from a vast array of historical events, everyday objects, machinery … . He shares the “secret” to developing this skill as he describes an experience with a student of his lectures:

A single illustrative case from memories of mental clinics will make my meaning clearer as to the practical use of analysis, law, and analogy in observation. To a student taking a course in Mental Training, I was speaking of the importance, in observation, of constant preparation for instant use, and of the value of passing every impression through this trifold process. We were just leaving the Museum of Art, when I asked him what he had observed, what he had classified and stored in his mind from what we had seen; for we had gone to the gallery with the idea of training rather than for the mere aesthetic pleasure of the pictures. He said he could not recall anything special, but he gave a good list of statues and pictures as we had seen them, showing that his eye-memory was well developed. “This,” I said, “is good so far as it goes. But in itself it is not observation. The mere use of the senses is not observation. They are but the instruments of observation, as the telescope is the instrument of the astronomer. Observation is impression plus deduction; impression plus individual interpretation; it is what we see, plus what we think of it. A photographic camera can retain what passes before it, but it cannot observe; the phonograph, that marvelous new ear of science, can hear and repeat what it has heard, but it cannot observe. In every observation there should be a, deduction, a judgment, a classification, the beginning of an attempt at generalization.

Thusnelda in triumph of Germanicus (1873)

“Thusnelda in triumph of Germanicus”, Carl Theodor von Piloty, 1873

“Let us now test the gallery by our trifold process of analysis, law and analogy. First, what picture in the whole gallery did you like best?” This forced him to pass every picture that he remembered in the gallery through a process of analysis, more or less perfect, qualitative and quantitative. After a moment he decided on “Thusnelda[1] before the Court of Germanicus.” You remember the painting: a tall, regal woman leading a child by the hand; she stands a captive in queenly contempt before a barbaric Roman court, lying at ease on skins of animals. “What is the focus of the picture?” was the first question. “Thusnelda.” “Wherein is the great power of “Thusnelda?” “Her face.” “Now we have roughly analyzed it, let us see the secret of the face, its force, its law. What does the face mean, what does it show?” In a few moments we decided that “it was the noble superiority of a great nature that, in the moment of its abasement, rises above its persecutors.” “And now for the analogy. Where in all your reading, conversation, or observation can you recall a situation where in such an expression would have risen on the face of any individual?” “Galileo, when he said, ‘but the earth does move’” “Another?” After a little hesitation he said, “John Huss[2] at the stake, when they lit the fagots." “Another?” “Regulus[3] before the Carthaginians.” “Another?" “The same expression, softened, purified, and sanctified, would appear on the face of Christ on Calvary.” “That is enough. You have passed this picture through the process of analysis, law, and analogy, and have formulated a clear expression for your impression. It may be that years from now you will again see such a face, or hear of it, or read of it. Your prepared formulation will spring forth of itself; you will not have to halt and stammer, and then build up weak, tentative expression of it. At the same time, the instances of Thusnelda before the Court of Germanicus, Galileo before his persecutors, John Huss at the stake, Regulus before the Carthaginians, and Christ on Calvary, will be revived together. You have trained them to answer to a given call. You have made an appointment with them. You have started a new centre of localization in the brain, at which all similar instances later will be automatically classified. They are grouped, not by any accidental resemblance, but by the highest psychologic basis of classification—law, the oneness of relation between cause and effect shown in all the separate instances.”

A few other pictures were then studied, with a remarkable increase noted in quickness and grasp. In these exercises it was all individual work; he was not repeating what he had heard, he was thinking for himself. Someone else might have given only one, weak analogy, but the process would have been the same. It may be said that this would be an exceedingly tiresome process if one had to go through it every moment, with each new impression. It would be tedious were it always conscious; but it is only a matter of effort for a few times, then, at the mere glance of the eye, the mind carries out the process. It would be hard if we always had the same difficulty in writing our names as we did at our trial; if bicycle riding were always accompanied by the early “headers” and the delicate studies in equilibrium; but these efforts soon sink as processes below the horizon of consciousness, and become almost automatic. We are in this exercise, and in all others, only intensifying and quickening a process all go through. It may be in a very vague way, so misty as to seem only an emotion of pleasure, or a feeling of interest without thought of process, or so almost simultaneous with the impression as to seem instant and indescribable. This process would not blunt the aesthetic pleasure, any more than a man’s enjoyment of a banquet would be lessened because the food was being perfectly digested.

One of the present-day type-setting machines has a mechanism for distributing the type after it is used. The ninety different pieces of type used have as many different kinds of nicking [a ~1/100th of an inch cut or “nick” in the metal type], all types of the same letter being nicked identically. A large cylinder, with longitudinal ribs extending from top to bottom, holds the type. These ninety ribs are bent to correspond to the nicking’s of the type, and these pieces of type fall in a continuous string as the key-board is manipulated. In distributing the type after using, the “matter” is placed, just as it is taken from the press, on a revolving drum over the stationary cylinder, of the same diameter. As the upper drum revolves, each piece of type falls when it reaches the ridge to which it corresponds. In the same way, with a trained mind, the illustration, thought, word, or comment, drops down automatically at the pressure of need.

The Empire TypesetterThis is not an artificial system of mental training to “teach one never to forget.” It is not memory training, but mental training. It is training the mind so that each new impression calls out the classified activities of the mind on the instant. If you put a package on the pan of a grocer’s scale, the index figure moves round on the dial and stops at the number, indicating the weight. If you press in succession a number of buttons in an adding machine, instantly the sum of those numbers is flashed before you. So it should be with the mind; there should be instant decision, not because the decision is given without thought, but because that decision represents years and years of thought and deep analysis of the principles and relations making up the decision. An impromptu is but the lightning revelation of stored memories instantly and perfectly combined to fit a need.

This process of Mental Training by analysis, law, and analogy, is not a machine system to take in an ordinary man and to turn him out a genius. It fully recognizes the differences in mental equipment; it does not believe that men are born equal; it does not attempt to make them equal. It aims only to give man power over the mental capital he has—no matter how little it may be,—to make it instantly available; and it shows him how to ever increase this capital. It teaches man to have all his powers in mental cash; not in checks, notes, or other forms of futures.

I would have loved to attend his lectures; especially to hear him respond to questions at the their conclusion. A Chicago Herald editorial contains this comment regarding Jordan’s lectures; “After the lectures, Mr. Jordon answers questions and flashes back bits of repartee to his audience until it grows dizzy. His mind, as revealed in his lectures and conversation, is marvelously well-arranged, always ready and never disconcerted, wonderfully under control.”  Likewise a Chicago Inter-Ocean editor remarked, “If one desires a practical illustration of the new theory, converse an hour with Mr. Jordan. The quickness of his mind and the fluency of speech are splendid tributes to the worth of system of mental training.”

Clearly Mr. Jordan had the gift of a keen mind and sharp intellect that was all the more sharp because he practiced what he preached. I suspect that there were many who while initially enthused by Jordan’s ideas, gave up when after a few days or weeks they could not converse with the same fluency as Jordan. It is not enough to simply learn how to think. A trained mind must be fed a healthy diet over a period of time and much practice is needed to develop the same fluency of speech and writing as William George Jordan.

All of Jordan writings on education are well worth reading (see Articles by William George Jordan and Books by William George Jordan).

[1] Thusnelda (c. 10 BC - unknown) was the daughter of a Germanic tribal prince who eloped with Arminius, the chieftain of another tribe. Arminius later led a coalition of Germanic tribes to victory over the Roman general Publius Quinctilius Varus and his legions in the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD.

The war between the Roman Empire and the northern German tribes continued, and in May 15 AD Thusnelda’s father delivered her to Germanicus, who led the Roman invasion of Germany. The father was a Roman client and bitterly opposed to Arminius. At the time Thusnelda was pregnant with Arminius’s child and had been staying with her father.

During her captivity, Thusnelda gave birth to a son. On May 26, 17 AD, she and her son were displayed as prized trophies in Germanicus' triumphant parade in Rome — with her father watching from the stands.

[2] John Huss was a Bohemian priest who was burned at the stake in 1415 because he taught that the office of the pope did not exist by Divine command. John believed the office was established by the Church so that things might be done in an orderly fashion, a view that he shared with Thomas Moore. He also taught that Church officials ought to exercise spiritual powers only, and not be earthly governors. Additionally he believed that both the bread and wine should be shared with all Christians not just the bread (the custom at the time was that only the priest would drink from the chalice).

[3] Marcus Atilius Regulus (born ~300 BC – died ~250 BC) was a Roman general and consul who fought in the 1st Punic war against the Carthaginians. He was captured in 255 BC. According to tradition, after being sent on parole by the Carthaginians to Rome in 250 BC to negotiate peace terms and/or an exchange of prisoners he urged Rome to continue fighting. Despite knowing the outcome he honored the terms of his parole and returned to Carthage where he was executed.

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