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Scholarship, Understanding and the Vistas of Knowledge

  • Center for Applied Social Neuroscience (CASN)


Although there have been many advances in various fields of academia and science, in some ways there have also been a number of significant regressions, which I believe may be attributed to the stubborn clinging to the academic tradition of compartmentalizing "knowledge" into separate blocks of rigorously bounded disciplines. This paper examines the nature of knowledge and the pedagogical perspectives in its acquisition.
Scholarship, Understanding and the Vistas of Knowledge
8 March 2017
Although there have been many advances in various fields of academia and science, in some
ways there have also been a number of significant regressions, which I believe may be
attributed to the stubborn clinging to the academic tradition of compartmentalizing
“knowledge” into separate blocks of rigorously bounded disciplines.
Though working within the broadly defined fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience,
the academic spectrum that informs my work crosses disciplinary boundaries and falls
squarely within the domain of interdisciplinary studies. My orientation towards an
interdisciplinary path of study began in my undergraduate days where my interests in both
anthropology and psychology led me to recognize that these two disciplines were really two
sides of the single concern of understanding human behavior on one side is the
nomothetic viewpoint of culture and society as the barometer of a “community” of behavior
and on the other side is the idiographic perspective of the nature of the human mind in
structuring a distinct self-identity governing individual behavior within the defining milieu of
a particular community of behavior.
In my graduate studies I endeavored to marry anthropology with psychology in defining the
individual as a unique biological potential cast and framed as a product of, and the
resistance to, the molding and melding processes of, and interplay between, the tensions of
culture, society-at-large, group, family and the individual’s inner core of being.
In this direction of study, I incorporated a wide range of academic spheres, such as
history/historiography, archaeology/archaeological theory and method, cognitive
archaeology, philology, paleoanthropology and human evolution, cultural theory,
physical/medical anthropology, linguistic anthropology, discursive psychology, social
psychology, clinical psychology, physiological psychology, evolutionary psychology,
literature and literary critique, semantics, semiotics, philosophy of science, hermeneutics,
philosophical phenomenology and phenomenological psychology, because I realized that in
attempting to understand the human condition I need to understand where we are now at
the present moment in time, and, to understand that, I need to know where we have been
and the process of the journey from then to now. That knowledge can only be acquired
through the exploration of the different facets that constitute the human being, including
the products of the human mind and the record of human interaction through the ages, by
way of studies in anthropology, archaeology, cultural artefacts, evolutionary biology,
folklore and legends, historical accounts, literature (from poems, short stories and novels to
the scientific corpus), psychological investigation and philosophical perspectives on the
nature of being.
Wilhelm Dilthey, in introducing a systematic methodology for the study of the human
condition, argued towards the end of the 19th century and turn of the 20th century that
individual consciousness, a phenomenon uniquely experienced by each individual, lies
beyond vocabulary or verbal malleability to definitively relate in all its subtleties and
paradoxes of feelings and impressions, and can never be truly known outside a single,
closed, individual perspective. From the fuller understanding today of the neurophysiology
of the human brain, it can be seen how even the individual perspective is severely limited,
as the driving forces of conscious orientation, both multitudinous and instantaneously
transformed in the ever-changing complex of assemblages of cognitive constructs in the
autonomic machinery of cognitive processing, are imperceptible to the slower, highly-
filtered, more summary-based conscious processing apparatus. Dilthey stated that neither
consciousness nor the subliminal experiences or constructs of perception that underlie
consciousness, closed to intersubjective examination, could be a valid realm of study;
however, essential clues to individual human experience and universal manifestations of the
mind could be extracted from the products (or “texts”) of human consciousness in all forms
of expression such as folk tales, myths, legends, superstitions, religions, history, philosophy,
scientific theories and explanations, literature and the arts, etc. which could be studied
directly, concretely, intersubjectively, and analyzed in critical, constructive, objective,
systematic ways. In answering the criticism that a large component of such a variety of
works are creative and often fanciful and do not reflect real life; they are, however,
unequivocally products of the mind the depository of all that we experience and
therefore representative of our hopes, dreams, fears, longings, visions, imaginings, in short,
the true essence of being human.
Influenced by the Diltheian perspective, my doctoral dissertation was a study in
understanding the past through a psychosocial discursive analysis of Neo-Assyrian
cuneiform texts ca. first millennium BC, applying Diltheian hermeneutics, phenomenology,
semiotics, literary criticism and historiography in a comprehensive, systematic approach to
understanding social discourse through textual exegesis in a tight sociohistorical context,
revealing deeper levels of meaning of social conflict and a sharper historical perspective of a
little-known, long-vanished society. The object was to establish a solid framework for a
breakthrough in psychosocial research in the present by demonstrating a methodology that,
able to achieve a new understanding of the far reaches of the historical past, could surely
achieve a critically more poignant psychosocial understanding of the individual in the
greater familiarity of our own time, culture, society and language through such an intense
analysis of the “texts” of human experience.
The dissertation, commencing 2001/2002, anticipated the formal emergence of the new
field of cognitive criticism (also referred to as cognitive literary criticism, cognitive poetics,
cognitive literary analysis, cognitive cultural studies, cognitive analysis of art and literature,
or cognitive literary studies) that, incorporating the principles and newest findings in the
cognitive sciences and neuroscience in literary criticism to understand the human mind
through stories, is today one of the fastest growing areas of research in literature and
literary studies.
In my work in neuroscience, founding the new field of applied social neuroscience (ASN) and
originating the modality of Cognitive Neuroeducation (CNE) for prevention of and recovery
from cognitive and behavioral disorder, following on from my dissertation I have applied
Diltheian hermeneutics, philosophical phenomenology and phenomenological psychology to
social psychology, physiological psychology/neuropsychology, evolutionary psychology,
paleoanthropology and psychological anthropology to understand the biological
predispositions in the formation of the realms of culture, language and society through
which meaning is uniquely individually constructed. In particular, in my emphasis on 1)
textual analysis, 2) texts as products of the mind and 3) stories as gateways to
understanding the mind, I will unabashedly admit that I have developed more insight on the
essence of being human and understanding the human condition from exploring novels and
stories with my students and with participants in the CNE programs than from all the
textbooks and research papers that I have studied over the years.
In joint dialog in conceptualizations, reactions to situations, beliefs, modes of social
interaction and interpersonal relationships, emotive contours, flights of imagination,
aesthetic visions, creative artistry and nuance, duty, purpose, sense of destiny, character
profiles, etc. in the stories of a wide variety of places and times, cultures and traditions real
and imagined that we read together, has enabled my students and participants in the CNE
programs to profoundly grasp the constructs of the mind and behavior, to empathize with
the situations and feelings of others, to discover themselves in learning about others, to
become more socially integrated and responsive, to be awed at the variety, beauty and
promise of endless adventure and mystery awaiting around the next bend in the road, and
to be instilled with motivation, critical thinking and analytical skills to find their place in the
wide world that beckons them.
I am the founder of the field of applied social neuroscience (ASN) and the originator of the
modality Cognitive Neuroeducation (CNE) that focusses on optimizing learning outcomes to
stimulate and expand cognitive acuity in cognitive rehabilitation and in prevention of and
recovery from cognitive and behavioral disorder. Currently I am the Chief Executive Officer
of the Center for Applied Social Neuroscience (CASN), an organization dedicated to
pioneering cognitive development and rehabilitation programs, and am serving on the
scientific board of the peer-reviewed start-up publication International Journal of
Psychology and Neuroscience (ISSN 2183-5829). My papers published online at Academia
( are consistently ranked in the top 2% or higher among the more than 43
million academics on Academia. It might well be asked, at this juncture in my career, why I
do not hold, nor have not held, a formal faculty position in an academic institution for the
last several years.
The problem is the current orientation of tightly defined discipline-bounded pedagogy in
academia that addresses questions in such a superficial manner as to omit the deep and
profound implications, critiques and nuances of a broad spectrum of ideational constructs
that lie at the core of exciting intellectual engagement constituting the real “meat” of
scholarship. This, I believe, does a great disservice, not only to the integrity of scholarship,
but an even more damning disservice to the intellectual and professional growth of the
student. Consequently, I have shied away from taking any faculty position in academia for a
number of years, since in teaching within the framework of such a constrained pedagogy I
would become a part of the very disservice that I condemn.
Knowledge is a curious phenomenon where in science, philosophy, and other intellectual
pursuits of understanding, while we seek to discover the absolute truths of life and of the
universe, knowledge itself is paradoxically composed of relative truths, as all things may be
understood from many different positions, starting points, frames of reference and personal
perspectives. Being relative does not make these “truths” any less real to the frames of
reference in which they reside. While this relativity may seem daunting, making any
understanding impossibly complex, it is, in fact, empowering, allowing any critically thinking
individual with sufficient academic training to develop a newer understanding of a particular
direction of study or reflection through a creative, innovative perspective. The full
recognition of this relativity leads to the undeniable, stirring realization that there are so
many more, endless things to discover, so many more, endless ways by which to view all
phenomena, so many more, endless ways to think about life and all its mysteries and so
many more, endless contributions to knowledge waiting for eager, imaginative, curious,
probing, questioning minds to reveal.
Spencer M. Robinson
Center for Applied Social Neuroscience (CASN)
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