At that time, when I was doing my PhD in Cognitive Science, I studied the work of the Canadian thinker, Bernard Lonergan. In 1979, in the New York Public Library, I read his big book Insight: a study of human understanding (1957).

It’s actually a major work on metacognition and (although he doesn’t use the word which came later) his work precedes Edward de Bono, Daniel Dennett and that of many others in the field of cognitive science. Lonergan has been recognised as one of the greatest thinkers about thinking since Thomas Aquinas.

Aquinas connected the dots between Greek thinking and Roman thinking: thinking inside the square. Lonergan connected the dots between Greco-Roman thinking and Darwinian thinking: thinking outside the square. My next personal choice in this ‘thinkers about thinking’ series was a trio: McLuhan, George Gallup and Berners-Lee who connected the dots between individual thinking and crowd thinking: thinking in the cloud.

The quintessence of Father Lonergan’s work was to draw attention to an iterative and repetitious cycle or spiral of what it takes to become a dynamic and virtuoso thinker. There are four mindsets to (what I would call) the Lonergan metacognition spiral. These are:

experience > understanding > judgement > decision.

Lonergan taught that these four cognitive tools (four thinking hats?) are all self-conscious mindsets that the advanced thinker uses in a deliberate (metacognitive) way and in an ascending spiral, round and round, again and again, over the many years, to gain virtuosity in one’s thinking skill.

Lonergan’s is a big book. Doctis, Iuppiter, et laboriosis. Although I have not done justice to his theology at all I don’t think that such an explicit description of his metacognition theory dumbs his great work down.

Lonergan also influenced his fellow-Canadian Marshall McLuhan who after reading Lonergan’s book on human understanding wrote his own celebrated work Understanding Media: The Extension of Man (1964).

Now here’s the interesting bit.

carlson4glendon3002The reason I recall his book and draw attention to his work today is because Bernard Lonergan was an eminent thinker and also a Jesuit priest.

His work has influenced much of American philosophy and theology and it is very likely to have influenced the new Jesuit pope, Francis, who at the very least will be aware of his work and possibly even familiar with it. This opens up an exciting prospect for thinkers about thinking.

Could Pope Bergoglio be an intellectual supporter for the worldwide development of metacognition?