Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Metacognitive Awareness

The taxonomic designation for humans is Homo sapiens sapiens. The second sapiens distinguishes humans today from our recent Cro-Magnon ancestors who have been given the taxonomic designation of Homo sapiens. Placing aside the species-centrism of the Latin nomenclature, the term sapiens was chosen because humans are one of the relatively few organisms that are sapient. Sapience is self-awareness or awareness of one’s ability to think.

Because we humans are sapient and aware of our own thought processes, we often use knowledge of our thinking—its trajectories, limitations, and strengths—as a basis for behavior. My wife told me to pick up toothpaste at the grocery store. Aware as I am that I respond poorly to aural or audio instructions I yet failed to take action to help me remember this instruction. I spent an hour at the grocery store, and, before leaving, I spent nearly five minutes reflecting over all that I had planned to procure. I left convinced that I had obtained all that would be necessary to fill our bellies and ensure the happiness of my wife. However, I forgot to bring home toothpaste.

How might I have used my sapience to prevent this from occurring? I know my limitations regarding aural instructions. I could have taken measures to prevent this oversight from happening. For example, I could have tied a string to my finger, or I might have made a list before leaving. Doing so would have been a good example of metacognitive regulation

Metacognition is awareness of one’s own thinking. Metacognitive awareness is the knowledge that one has about her thinking and cognitive processes. As illustrated in my personal anecdote, metacognitive awareness and recognition are behaviors that people engage in quite naturally. However, there are areas of metacognition that all too often evade the sapient today. In the next few days, I will illustrate examples of higher-order metacognitive awareness and how they relate to the trappings of non-critical epistemologies.


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