Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Common Sense

Kia ora tātou – Hello EveryoneCommon Sense

In his book, Where Have All The Leaders Gone, Lee Iaccoca claims common sense as one of the Nine Cs of Leadership.

The Ninth International Symposium on Logical Formalizations of Commonsense Reasoning, Commonsense 2009, took place this year to explore one of the long-term goals of Artificial Intelligence, that of providing computers with common sense.

Stephen Downes claims common sense is what’s needed to avoid or prevent some Internet fraud.

In 1776 Thomas Paine published anonymously a best seller 48 page pamphlet, Common Sense, challenging the authority of British rule in America.


Have you ever thought about what makes up common sense?
Have you ever tried to explain what common sense is?

Seemingly, it’s an awareness, like the ability to judge temperature, recognise directions close to the vertical, or the talent for dress sense.

Difficult to measure

We hear a lot about common sense today. It’s something that every school teacher admires. Possessing common sense seems to be one of the key attributes for achieving success – in any walk of life.

Each of us has a quantity of it – some of us have more than others.
Yet it is extraordinarily difficult if not impossible to measure, let alone define. We are more often made aware of common sense as an entity by its absence than through its occurrence.

Intelligence & noticing the obvious


The brightest and most knowledgeable among us can succumb to a lapse of common sense. Even trainee doctors can suffer a lack of it. When it comes to recognising simple clues, it’s clear that what’s required is more than just expert knowledge or even skill.

One of the most celebrated American scientists, Linus Pauling, undoubtedly possessed a fair amount of common sense in his day.
His researches and passion for what is right earned him Nobel prizes in two disciplines.

Common sense drove him to pursue research into vitamin C and the common cold in directions that have since been proven unequivocally fallacious. This is not a criticism of Pauling. I have a huge respect for all that he did in his life. But his efforts show the illusive nature of common sense and how it can direct or mislead decision making.

Is it instinctive?


If common sense is innate, does this mean that it cannot be acquired by someone who begins life with a less-than-average amount? This idea suggests that it’s like the gene for eye-colour – you are stuck with whatever calibre of common sense you had at birth.

There’s a lot to suggest that common sense is instinctive. In action it tends to be intuitive rather than contrived. Generally the common sense decision is not brought about through a process or processes involving logical thinking strategies, though the use of these cannot be discounted when common sense is brought into play.

Can it be learnt?

If it isn’t an inborn trait, how can a person ensure that a useful amount of common sense is acquired?

I’m only too aware of the rhetorical nature of these questions,
but I’m going to ask them anyway:

  • Is it possible to teach/learn common sense?

  • Can common sense be assessed?
    If so, how can it be measured?

  • Should common sense be included as an essential part of the school curriculum, like literacy and numeracy?

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes

5 comments:

V Yonkers said...

These are things I'm interested in, especially now in my marketing class in which I have a number of students that appear to lack common sense.

I think though that there are a few things at play here. First, some personality traits point to being born with a bunch or a little common sense. Perhaps one of those traits is a willing to take risk, a willingness not to be perfect (two different types of people on the spectrum), and an ability to see the world in varied colors. I find that people with a lot of common sense tend to be very good observers also.

However, just like Gardner pointed out, these natural abilities (or "intelligences") may help in learning, but does not guarantee it. It also does not mean if you lack a certain amount of it that you can't have it developed to a certain point.

I find our educational system in the US (especially currently) so disregards common sense that if you have a lot of it you will not necessarily do well in school. Think simply of the multiple test questions on standardized tests. Common sense will throw out two of the answers, but seeing the shades of possibilities in the remaining two will have you doubting yourself. You are "wrong" if you see those shades.

Likewise, in the field of business and science, you rarely are allowed to go with your gut feeling. We drive out the "common sense" with education in these fields. Common sense requires the big picture and understanding of human behavior without evidence.

paul c said...

I am reminded of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink where one should take much credence in the quick decision. Common sense may be involved.

To me common sense involves a balance of knowledge, intuition, character, and conviction (values.)

To develop a rubric for these qualities would make a great graduate thesis.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā Korua!

Kia ora Virginia!

I am forever being impressed with the common sense held by people who are not at all educated in the traditional sense. So much so that I wonder if indeed education may squeeze out some of the common sense that learners are endowed with at the start. Who knows?

Tēnā keo e Paul

As I mentioned in my above response to Virginia, often those with a lack of knowledge still seem to transcend the need for this when it comes to common sense.

Fascinating stuff, the human brain!

Catchya later

Ken Stewart said...

I recall that throughout my years in school as a youth, I enjoyed art very much - specifically highly-stylized art such as comic book art and Don Bluth films (post-Disney). So in High School, it was an obvious choice to take Art I, then Art II, then Art III; I even earned college (university) credit for the work I did.

Everyone complimented my original artwork -and everyone knew my work when they saw it... it was highly stylized and "my style".

I started down this road because I greatly enjoyed the organic process and formation. I then began to understand the rich history of art history and the science of art itself. As I completed my final year of Art, I decided I didn't want to be an artist because it had become mechanical and unenjoyable.

As sad as that may sound, it was a valuable lesson for me. Passion is important, but more importantly when education is enforced for adherence and standardization rather than applied to kindle the small flame of passion - it simply smothers the natural giftings each of us carries within us.

That said, it would be my humble observation that common sense (or perhaps wisdom) is not possessed, but is observable. It is both learned and innate.

But the real key to wisdom is whether we are paying attention to our lives and the lives around us viewed through the lenses of our unique giftings (talents).

Very good questions.

Warmest Regards,
Ken Stewart

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Ken

I purposely didn't link to any authoritative definition of common sense in this post as it is such a movable feast. Yet one feature of all the definitions that I came across, and you have said it, is the mention of being observant. Without that, common sense, however little or whatever calibre possessed by its owner, cannot be used.

Clearly, being observant has to be one of the main components of common sense.

Catchya later