The World Beyond Your Head: Part 7, Enchantment Jigs

Another point of connection between Matthew B. Crawford's The World Beyond Your Head and Hunting Magic Eels comes from Crawford's discussion of "extended cognition."

To illustrate the idea, Crawford talks about the use of "jigs" in manual labor. For example, rather than separately measuring and marking multiple boards to be cut at the same length, a carpenter will cut one board to its proper length and then use that to mark or guide the cut for all the other boards. Those engaged in manual labor, of all sorts, routinely use "jigs" like this, creating objects or arranging their environment in order to simplify their work and make it more efficient. Jigs help offload cognition onto the environment. 

Jigs are an example of what is called "extended cognition," how we use our environment as an extension of our mind. Extended, or embedded, cognition is how we achieve practical wisdom and competency by relying on social, cultural, or ecological structures and constraints. For example, I have so many thoughts and read so many books that I cannot remember all the best bits. Consequently, I carry a notebook wherever I go. That notebook is an extension of my mind, my memory jig. This blog is another example of extended cognition, how I archive ideas and quotes here. I cannot remember everything I've written here since 2007. But I don't have to. I have the blog's search bar.

And beyond personal jigs, culture itself is a form of extended cognition, connecting time and minds. None of us, for example, invents our own language. We learn an existing language shared by others, and in learning that language we participate in extended, shared cognition. 

The connection here with Hunting Magic Eels is with Part 3 of the book, entitled "Enchanted Christianities," where I survey liturgical, contemplative, charismatic, and celtic Christian traditions. Christian traditions are forms of extended cognition, ways of knowing, remembering, and doing that are passed on from generation to generation. Like a language.

The trouble with faith in our modern skeptical age, where the ego is isolated and inward-looking, is that our search for God is an isolated endeavor. We try to find God all on our own. Consequently, it's not really all that surprising that we quickly run out of ideas. But if we attach ourselves to enchantment jigs, like the Christian traditions I survey in Hunting Magic Eels, we don't have to invent stuff all on our own. We can follow in the footpaths of those who have sought and found God before us. 

For example, as I share in Hunting Magic Eels, structured prayer is an enchantment jig. You don't have to figure prayer out all on your own, conjuring words out of thin air. There are enchantment jigs available to you. Pray the Psalms or use The Book of Common Prayer.

And beyond enchantment jigs, there are moral jigs as well. It would be highly inefficient if we had to think up wisdom and morality all from scratch as trial and error. It would be a poor way to explore life by needing to experiment with murder to see how that worked out for us in the long run. Best to start life with a moral jig like, "Thou shalt not kill." Generations upon generations of wise and tested extended social cognition in those four words.

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