Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Art of Exploratory Thinking

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."
T.S. Eliot

Here's a paper showing the different processes involved in successful exploratory thinking. In a decision-making paradigm, subjects tried to make strategic decisions in an experimental situation in which not all the variables were known. What the researchers observed was that strategic learners often made decisions that were exploratory, rather than directly rewarding.

When exploratory decisions were made (e.g. the goal being to test system), frontopolar and the parietal cortex became activated, whereas when exploitative decisions were made, it was all striatum and medial prefrontal cortex (reward).

It's interesting to think about exploratory decision-making as a necessary step for successful decision-making in real-life. In traditional education, discovery-based learning, when it happens, is rarely strategic - or at least the teaching of strategic approaches to discovery is rarely practiced or modeled...but isn't that too bad?

For more on the role of strategic risk and scientific thinking, look at Kevin Dunbar's book chapter How Scientists Think (pdf).

Cortical substrates for exploratory decisions pdf

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