July 16, 2018

Inert Information & New Nurses

... except from Distinguishing Between Inert Information, Activated Ignorance, Activated Knowledge

It is impossible to reason without using some set of facts, data, or experiences as a constituent part of one’s thinking. Finding trustworthy sources of information and refining one’s own experience critically are important goals of critical thinkers. We must be vigilant about the sources of information we use. We must be analytically critical of the use we make of our own experience. Experience may be the best teacher, but biased experience supports bias, distorted experience supports distortion, self-deluded experience supports self-delusion. We, therefore, must not think of our experience as sacred in any way but, instead, as one important dimension of thought that must, like all others, be critically analyzed and assessed. The mind can take in information in three distinctive ways: (1) by internalizing inert information, (2) by forming activated ignorance, and (3) by achieving activated knowledge.

Inert Information

By inert information, we mean taking into the mind information that, though memorized, we do not understand - despite the fact that we think we do. For example, many people have taken in, during their schooling, a lot of information about democracy that leads them to believe they understand the concept. Often, a good part of the information they have internalized consists of empty verbal rituals in their mind. For example, many children learn in school that “democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people.” This catchy phrase often sticks in their mind. It leads them to think they understand what it means, though most of them do not translate it into any practical criteria for assessing the extent to which democracy does or does not exist in any given country. Most people, to be explicit, could not intelligibly answer any of the following questions:

  • What is the difference between a government of the people and a government for the people?
  • What is the difference between a government for the people and a government by the people?
  • What is the difference between a government by the people and a government of the people?
  • What exactly is meant by “the people?

To generalize, students often do not sufficiently think about information they memorize in school sufficient to transform it into something meaningful in their mind. Much human information is, in the mind of the humans who possess it, merely empty words (inert or dead in the mind). Critical thinkers try to clear the mind of inert information by recognizing it as such and transforming it, through analysis, into something meaningful.

Nursing Translation

So what does the above information have to do with nursing training and education? We must understand that new nurses do not know what they do not know. Just because someone passes an exam, doesn't mean they possess adequate critical thinking skills and are experts. Preceptors are there to train new nurses. Preceptors should expect many questions and some mistakes. Mistakes do not mean new nurses are weak, it merely means they are learning. No judgments should be made. We must understand their limited experiences and inert information regarding the nursing profession. We have to allow them time to develop their knowledge base. Critical thinking and knowledge activation take time, it's a process. Memorization from school doesn't automatically translate to understanding. It simply means they retained the appropriate amount of information.