Summary of the First Interdisciplinary, International Conference on Thinking, 1982

university-of-the-south-pacific

The University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji

In 1979, the School of Education at The University of the South Pacific voted to accept Professor William Maxwell’s proposal to host the International Conference on Thinking as a mechanism to encourage research. At that time, not one Pacific Island faculty member of the School of education had earned a research degree. The School of Education was comprised of 52 members of the faculties of English, Mathematics, Education, Home Economics, Industrial Arts, Psychology, and Music. The conference was called to encourage research by both students and faculty within the entire university. The faculty agreed that a problem that all faculties face was the falling IQ’s or thinking skills of students around the world, brought on in part by television and the breakdown of traditional family practices such as dining and consulting together.

The Vice Chancellor, Dr. James Maraj, immediately approved and allocated $2,000 Fiji dollars to the Conference.

Immediately, Professor Maxwell telephoned the world’s foremost authority on the deliberate teaching of thinking skills and the author of over 50 books on Thinking, Dr. Edward de Bono, MD, D.Phil., Ph.D., with doctoral degrees from the Universities of Malta, Oxford and Cambridge. Within 90 seconds of the call Dr. de Bono excitedly agreed to come at his own expense and to cover his own hotel and meal costs.

With that success, Professor Maxwell, telephoned the British Council, an agency of the British Government that supported higher education throughout the British Commonwealth. Again, the Director responded immediately, “Professor Maxwell, you are in luck. I looked at my budget yesterday and can afford to send three professors concerned with thinking, who do you want?”

“Richard Dawkins, the author of The Selfish Gene, is the only high level thinker in Britain whose work I know well. Can you identify two others?”

“Yes. How about Donald MacKay, a physicist from the University of London, who heads Britain’s first Brain Science Research Center at Keele University, and Margaret Boden, Professor of Psychology and Philosophy at Sussex University? She studied under Jerome Bruner at Harvard and is Britain’s number one authority on artificial intelligence.”

“Yes, of course.”

The next day the Director telephoned back to announce that all three were coming with the British Council covering all their expenses. A brilliant 12” x 18” full color poster featuring a typical scene, a blue lagoon and a palm tree, was printed and sent to every major university around the world. The poster and those four British scholars became magnets that attracted a total of 250 scholars from 41 universities in 14 nations. This was the largest academic conference ever held in the region of nine Pacific nations.

From the Foreword to the proceedings of the Conference, Thinking: The Expanding Frontier, (William Maxwell, Ed.), Philadelphia: the Franklin Institute Press, 1983. (The book is now out of print; but copies are available via Amazon.com):

“The primary goal of the Conference was to help accelerate the clearly evident trend toward giving more emphasis to teaching thinking skills . . . “, which, unlike many other skills, never go out of date. The focus was to orient teachers and professors toward teaching students “HOW” to think rather than “WHAT” to think.

The three-day conference inspired the premier cognitive psychologist in the world, Jerome Bruner of Harvard, to write an encomium to the event in a Preface: “It is an interesting twist of history that a gifted group of scholars should gather . . . in Suva, Fiji, to discuss the nature of human thought . . . The Fiji Conference was indeed about the nature of mind . . . I was not there, alas, and now that I read these pages am full of regrets.”

Almost every attendee declared this to be “The best I’ve ever attended,” in part, because this inter-disciplinary conference where rivalries and factions were not evident was the first for almost everyone present. The attendees agreed unanimously to continue meeting every 2 ½ years, alternating hemispheres. The second was at Harvard, the third at Hawaii, the sixth at MIT, the seventh at Singapore, the eighth at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, the Ninth at Auckland, the tenth at Harrogate, England, etc. The XIXth returns home to Fiji in 2019.

Four Highlights of the First International Conference on Thinking:

* ICOT I was the first academic conference to discuss Professor Edward de Bono’s breakthrough curriculum to improve the thinking skills of students, adults, and institutions, CoRT. The proceedings of the Conference, William Maxwell (Ed.) Thinking: The Expanding Frontier. Philadelphia: Franklin Institute Press, 1983, included three papers on the de Bono Method. (Thinking is now out of print, but used copies are available at Amazon.com.)

* An interdisciplinary symposium of Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, organized by Professor Victor Kobayashi of the University of Hawaii, illustrated that the causes of social maladies are multiple and require a multiple enquiry approach to be solved.

* Parents and educators were reminded by research conducted at the University of the South Pacific by Professor William Maxwell that babies begin inventing games shortly after birth as exemplified by “Peek- a-boo” which most babies invent a few hours or days after birth without ever having seen the game. Adults with high IQ’s invariably will have been introduced to dozens of intellectually stimulating fun games at each stage of development. For example, intelligent fathers will play the game of “toesies” with his baby around six months after birth, gently pulling and counting the toes out loud, delighting his baby almost to the point of hysteria, sometime. Both intelligent parents and the intelligent child continue almost weekly to invent new games with the baby being ready for logical and abstract reasoning games at around 3 ½ years. Professor Maxwell’s paper went on to invent a classification system for ancient games that have a powerful IQ effect. That breakthrough classification system which indicates when the child is ready for which, and which parts of the brain each game exercises has been ignored by developmental psychologists and educators up until now. An earlier version of that paper, “Games children play: How they increase the intellect?” was published in the British Journal of Educational Development 1(3):29–48 · January 1982.

* In an ancient academic tradition the Conference Keynote Address was opened to the general public without charge. Both daily newspapers in Suva carried full page stories of the Conference. There was not an empty seat in the university’s largest auditorium as Professor Edward de Bono held spell-bound the audience as he illustrated the most modern methods of problem solving with slides and his polished Oxford/Cambridge accent.

victor kobayashi of the university of hawaii
Victor Kobayashi of the University of Hawaii (left)
edward de bono of malta and england
Edward de Bono of Malta and England
William Maxwell
William Maxwell