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HUMAN FUNCTIONS: THE SOURCE OF PSYCHOLOGICAL INERTIA

| On 15, Aug 1998

James Kowalick, TRIZ Master
Renaissance Leadership Institute
(530) 692-1944 ~ E-Mail: headguru@oro.net

Psychological Inertia (PI) as defined in the article by the same title in this month’s TRIZ Journal (see Psychological Inertia by James Kowalick) is based upon human functions, and in particular, is related to the functions of the human brain – human “intellectual” functions. A better understanding of PI can be gained through the knowledge and study of these human functions.

Contemporary science is still far from completely knowing about the anatomy of human functions (and particularly about the anatomy of intellectual functions). The functional traces from this anatomy (the human form) are much easier to describe, however. This article begins with a discussion of those functional traces. Fortunately, a major part of the introduction to human functions was already addressed in the May issue of The TRIZ Journal (Human Functions, Languages and Creativity: A Short Note on the Basic Human Functions, with Emphasis on the Human Intellectual Function, by James Kowalick, Renaissance Leadership Institute). In that article, a matrix of four basic human functions is presented and addressed (this matrix is reproduced below).

The matrix shows four human functional capabilities that are rather independent of each other, but which are also capable of cooperating in a coordinated way. The four functions are (1) Instinctive functions; (2) Moving functions; (3) Emotional functions; and (4) Intellectual functions. Because these functions are discussed in the referenced article, we will focus our attention directly to the intellectual function.

The “intellectual” function, shown in the last column of the matrix, is connected with thinking and with human capabilities associated with thinking. It is one sub-function of this (intellectual) function that the present paper is concerned with: the lowest part of this function called the “automatic intellectual function.” It is this part of the intellectual function that serves as the seat of what Altshuller calls “Psychological Inertia.”

As discussed in the referenced article from the May issue of TRIZ Journal, each of the four functions have three divisions (shown above as three rows in the matrix). These divisions are separated according to the level of attention that is required for them to operate. The lowest division of each of these functions requires no human attention to operate. It is the “automatic” part of the function – operating by itself, and having the purpose of “serving” the higher functions shown above it in the matrix.

Focusing on the intellectual functions alone, the automatic part of this function (i.e., the lowest cell in the right-hand column of the matrix) is responsible for some very legitimate functions. Actual “thinking” is a function of the highest cell in the intellectual-function column, but the lowest cell contains secondary functions that support thinking. These functions include:

    1. The registration of incoming impressions and the storage of information.
    2. Memories of information.
    3. The retrieval of information.
    4. Word associations (i.e., a relationship database).

This lower part of the intellectual system, with its several important information storage, search, retrieval and association functions, is critical to the overall functioning of the intellect. But when this same lower part attempts to replace the intellect itself, trouble begins. This part is incapable of thinking! It really was not designed to think.

So-called “thinking” at this low level is merely a relatively rapid, automatic response, based upon the storage of ready words and associations. Such responses pass for real human thinking most of the time. Unfortunately the type of “thinking” available at this level is not capable of effectively solving problems that have any degree of newness or complexity or difficulty to them. Such “thinking” is one form of psychological inertia. This type of “thinking” can be observed when several people are sitting together socially (or even in a business or technical situation). Their discussion – if it were really analyzed in depth – would be found to be very automatically “associative.” Here is a sample of a so-called “intelligent” discussion, using the automatic part of the intellectual function alone:

Person 1: “What do you think about the future of TRIZ?”

Person 2: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of TRIZ. What is it?”

Person 1: “It’s a new approach for solving problems that Jim Kowalick uses with his corporate clients, and it really gets rid of their toughest problems – fast!”

Person 2: “Isn’t he the guy that plays Chopin so well on the piano?”

Person 1: “I personally don’t like Chopin. I’m a Beethoven fan – did you know that his life was full of problems?”

Person 3: “We’ve got plenty of problems. Today, all day, we’ve been struggling with that same old defective chip.”

Person 2: “Is it an Intel chip?”

Person 3: “I don’t know, but Intel sure has a monopoly, don’t they?”

Person 1: “Just like Microsoft. The government’s trying to get after them.”

Person 3: “I think that the government ought to stay out of private concerns!”

Person 2: “Me too! I happen to like Bill Gates.”

When associative thinking attempts to replace real thinking, the results are based on the words and word associations that have been previously programmed in the mind’s storage unit. Such is the nature of “psychological inertia.” PI proceeds according to habit! It uses all the information that has been previously programmed – as well as word associations that have been previously programmed.

The word and word-association database that is “programmed” in this automatic part of a human being’s intellectual functions includes the following:

    • All words that have been learned over the lifetime of the human being.
    • All word associations that have been learned.
    • All of the cultural, national, religious, moral, etc., “shoulds” that pertain to human behavior.
    • All habitual concepts and procedures that are intellectual in nature.

Most people who are quite naturally “stuck” in this part of the intellect. Some of these may actually have quite an “encyclopedic” knowledge, with no, or only a little, capability for deep thinking. People who routinely “live” in this functional part of the human intellectual system are prone to respond to problems and design challenges in a very ordinary and traditional way – or they respond to questions with ready phrases or clichés. When they are operating in this “gear” of the instinctive function, they don’t have to “think” – everything is automatic, operating from a previously programmed intellectual database. It is difficult for a person under the sole influence of this function to adapt to a change in circumstances, so he continues to operate in the way that he always has been operating, or in the way that he started out.

When the automatic part of the intellectual center (the seat of Psychological Inertia) is masquerading as “the thinker,” trouble begins! Problems get solved on a very low level (if at all); improved designs are of low quality; new designs are overly complex, costly, and low in reliability.

As mentioned above, this part of the intellect works best when it serves, and contributes to, and is controlled by, the “whole” of the human intellectual system. It is meant to store registered input, and to produce the proper stored information (and sometimes, its association with other information) on an “on call as requested” basis. But when it operates with no such control or discrimination, this function gets “out of control.” For example, it would be wrong or improper (i.e., a harmful function) for this lower part of the intellectual function to reply to questions that are really addressed to the whole intellectual function of a person. This lower function is incapable of effectively solving complex, difficult or previously untried problems because, like a computer, it can never be equivalent to the highest functions of a human being (in spite of the so-called “success” of Big Blue at chess!). It is quite incapable of “deciding” anything at all, but it is always ready to “make decisions” based upon its current program, and it replies to questions in a narrow and limited way, with canned phrases, colloquial expressions, and “politically correct” slogans. These reactions are inappropriately accomplished because they are automatic.

Welcome to the “seat” of psychological inertia, which has its residence in the automatic intellectual functions, and which therefore requires no human attention to operate. As quoted in the referenced paper in the May issue of this Journal, the great majority of mankind live all their lives here, never touching other (higher) parts of the intellectual function. This part of the intellectual system is sufficient for the lowest level of “living.” It is through this part, working by itself, that the human intellectual function divides everything into two sides: “them and us;” “Republicans and Democrats;” democracy and communism; the rich and the poor. This automatic intellectual function is incapable of conceiving a third (or fourth or fifth, etc.) alternative. It is behind almost all, if not all, popular theories.

As discussed in the May article, this level of intellectual thinking has its own language: the relationship-based language of words. It is incapable of “speaking” in the higher languages of creativity discussed in that article. The words that it uses are associated with each other in various ways. The use of this language produces results that are not unlike the results of a search, using one of the search engines available on the world wide web. These “results” do not represent any final design or solution to a problem. They are merely a step on the way to a solution, or to a conceptual design. This associative language works rapidly – unlike true thinking, which takes considerable time.

This “lower” language is incapable of producing results that are creative – except by chance or accident.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

References

  1. Kowalick, James, Human Functions, Languages and Creativity: A Short Note on the Basic Human Functions, with Emphasis on the Human Intellectual Function, TRIZ Journal, May 1998 issue.
  2. Kowalick, James, Psychological Inertia, TRIZ Journal (This issue: August, 1998).
  3. 3. See References sited in Reference 1 above.