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Education Bookcast

Feb 27, 2018

Edward de Bono's work can mostly be divided into two parts: models of how the mind works; and applications of principles extracted from those models to improve thinking, particularly creative thinking. The Mechanism of Mind is his first book, and it primarily deals with the first of these two parts.

De Bono wrote The Mechanism of Mind in 1969, at a time when not much was known about the brain, nor about complex adaptive systems (the types of physical objects and situations studied by the fields of mathematics and physics known as chaos theory, complexity theory, and dynamical systems). De Bono's key insight was to realise that the brain is a complex adaptive system, and to run with this insight to produce new insights into how human thinking works, how it differs from the working of computers, and how to make the most of it.

The Mechanism of Mind introduces the reader to how de Bono thought that the brain probably worked when he was writing in 1969, by providing a series of analogies or "models" - the polythene-and-pins model, the jelly-and-ink model, and the thousand-bulb model. These aim to clarify the behaviour of the brain both in terms of what kinds of things the brain does, and how this behaviour arises from the brain's structure. His expectations from 1969 were surprisingly close to the overall understood behaviour of the brain (or, at least, small collections of neurons) according to modern neuroscience.

Overall, the book serves as a stimulus to thought, and need not be believed in its entirety. It is, after all, one man's guess at how the brain worked based on what was known to science half a century ago. Nevertheless, his explanations do support a number of interesting propositions about thinking, with important consequences for the nature of creativity, which he explains in detail in his other books.

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