Law in Contemporary Society

Insight and the Bramble Bush

-- By KrishnaSutaria - 14 Apr 2010

The Bramble Bush

On the first day of class, we discussed the need to grapple different disciplines simultaneously in order to form a consilient understanding of any legal problem. Eben hypothesized that creative thinking is generated through this challenging process, and embracing it would make us better lawyers who saw past the immediacy of the black letter law and thought deeper in time.

Despite my best efforts, I was struggling to apply those concepts to law school. I understood all the little bits and pieces of information as they flew at me, but the beast itself, the Law, was always out of my grasp. And how could I have comprehended the beast? As I discovered two days ago, I was deep in the thicket with both my eyes scratched out, and lacked both the sight and the insight to know what was happening to me.

Poetry for the Blinded

K. N. Llewellyn's chapter titled "And Law School Offers What?" from his book The Bramble Bush fell into my lap during a lunch event. Llewellyn opens his piece with a poem:

"There was a man in our town
And he was wond'rous wise;
He jumped into a bramble bush
And scratched out both his eyes.
And when he saw his eyes were out,
With all his might and main
He jumped into another bush
And scratched them in again!"

This odd, violent rhyme gave me something I had been longing for - insight into myself, and my condition. "Yes I am a lawyer. That is how I make my living, doctor. I make my living by committing acts of violence against myself and acts of violence against others." Until this realization, I was playing around with the inputs and plugging them into formulae expecting certain outputs, and every time the process failed me. Our legal system continued to make little or no sense and I felt helplessly lost. But how could I have known that I was supposed to embrace the feeling? "No cure for law but more law," as Llewellyn put so beautifully.

I understand now that I have to scratch my eyes back in again, and that involves a certain level of violent thinking.

"Rinse. Repeat."

Where Am I going?

The point of this long story is two-fold: First, this "Aha!" moment reaffirmed the importance of insight in any kind of significant change, personal or otherwise. Second, the moment revealed the lack of conversations about insight in our discussions about consilient thinking.

But why should consilient thinking try to accommodate something as amorphous as human insight?


The second part of this essay seeks to answer that question with this proposition: we are reaching a point in our evolution as a species at which our technological capabilities are far outpacing their utility and relevance to us. We have answers to questions today that we have not even asked. Sharpening our skills of insight offers a solution to that predicament.

Attempt at a Definition

First, what is insight, and how is it distinct from other processes we address in our class? Insight is the moment when the reality of the internal world aligns with that of the external, and in that fleeting space and limited time, the idea is truly born, real choices are made, and truth is seen. It is the gap preceded by biology and intra-psychic activity, informed by sociological, historical, economic and cultural influences, and followed by significant consequences, both real and legal. It is the moment of choice, when Meursault shoots the Arab, or when the Ladakhi says, "chi choen?"; It is the moment when the trickster crafts the first fishnet, and Jack declares, "something inside me snapped."

Insight and Science

The increasing importance of the need for human insight in the future cannot be overstated. We have created computers that can analyze complex sets of data in nature and produce the formulas for us. The Eureka system, for example, has been able to take data about the thousands of simultaneous biochemical changes taking place within a single-cell organism, and churn out two equations which can predict future biochemical processes within that cell with alarming precision. Unfortunately, we have no use for this ability without the insight needed to synthesize the equations, the inputs, and the outputs to explain why those reactions occur the way they do. We have the entire human genome at our disposal, but without the right question, without an understanding of the relationship between the raw science and the real world, we lack any application for the knowledge.

Douglas Adams was on to something - knowing that the equation to "Life, the Universe, and Everything" is 6 X 7 = 42 is useless without the insight to interpret its meaning and significance.

Insight and the Law

Theories about the external and internal worlds have come far in closing the space between thought and action. We have a workable, if not perfect system of understanding natural phenomena, including human behavior. However, we know little about that spooky place where synthesis happens, where connections between otherwise unrelated phenomena are made, and where insight occurs. If the need for insight is as real as the scientists at the cutting edge of technological innovation would have us believe, at the very least, we must begin the conversation about it in non-mystical, non-magical terms.

If insight is a moment of true nuclear randomness, I admit I have wasted everyone's time - the inputs and outputs are set, and we just have to wait for the right time and place for insight to strike. However, if insight can be better understood and unraveled like any other phenomena, part of the craft of lawyering should be to alter the variables in our lives to replicate these moments of profound clarity and inspiration. A truly consilient theory of the world would benefit greatly from understanding the mechanism of insight.

First, I really liked the first part of your essay; it was engaging and personal, and more importantly (if I understood your point correctly) it pointed out one of the main features of our legal system - it is fluid and constantly unfolding, and as lawyers we need to adapt to it and work within it with a consilient approach, in order to become a force to change it.

I was, however, a little confused about your main thesis - I was not sure exactly what your thesis is. It seems to me there are two themes loosely connected: 1. insight can be a tool to help us utilize and apply our knowledge; 2. it is possible to find a mechanism to generate such insight. I assume you are arguing that human insights are necessary to create consilient thinking, but I feel that was not properly expounded in your essay. This may be due to a disconnect between the "Insight and Science" section and the section on "Insight and Law." Perhaps I just don't understand "Insight and Law" section that well, but it seems to me you are making a huge assumption that insights can be created. A better way, to me, to formulate your argument is to say that human insights are integral to consilient thinking (not just one "accommodating" the other), and as lawyers, we analogously like scientists, ought to utilize our insights in order to perform consilient thinking.

Note: Sorry for the delay in edit - I will add more to this soon, but I would love to know whether if I am making the correct assumptions about your essay.


Webs Webs

r7 - 13 Jan 2012 - 23:34:36 - IanSullivan
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