Sunday, May 19, 2013


Creativity and Cognitive Dissonance

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE, the protostome-deuterostome missing link found

The insoluble clash of mutually exclusive ideas may trigger creative solutions.  This post was not edited from a previously written project as I intended to do for posts.  So it is subject to being posted with lack of checking on details.  But the term cognitive dissonance was one I learned of a long time ago in a workshop on teaching provided colleagues at Western Michigan University by Dr. Robert Travers and Dr. Greg Fisk.  They were emphasizing creative approaches to teaching.

The previous post on creativity was one I was pleasantly surprised at getting posted since I had been having problems doing so.  The morning paper inspired me.  In it were two columns using the term cognitive dissonance; a term I have only found in the newspaper a few times before.  One, on the first page of The Wall Street Journal Sunday inclusion within the business section written by Brett Arends (, even used a cartoon illustration to show stock prices and interest rates make the bull and bear riders an instance of being on the same financial roller coaster, hence a case of cognitive dissonance.  Stock prices and interest rates typically go in opposite directions.

My most enlightening case of cognitive dissonance was finding a worm that was put in two disparate parts of the animal kingdom.  The conventional view put them in the annelid line of animals.  A new view (Gans and Northcutt, 1983) put them in the opposite cluster of animals that humans are in based on their common embryology.  I knew the existing data meant they had to be annelids, the new study noted they were in the vertebrate line based on embryology.  I was somewhat irritated and distressed by what I knew, the new study had to be wrong.

As I thought how honest scientists have to be and how careful they are with their data I somehow thought the only way it could be true would be if the worms were an intermediate connecting link.  The eureka moment came almost instantly, blending knowledge of the old annelid theory that had been rejected with the new embryological similarity to the vertebrate line.  Differences were so great it had previously been thought to be necessary to go back to the flatworms to have a likely common ancestor for the annelid line and the vertebrate line.

The many other bits of evidence for the vertebrate line originating from the annelid level of animal development rapidly became apparent thanks to merger of disparate facts gained from others and from my research.

Gans, Carl, and R. Glenn Northcutt.  1983.  Neural crest and the origin of vertebrates: a new head.  Science, 220:268-274.  (15 April 1983)  Includes Pogonophora in the deuterostomes.  “. . .  the neural crest and the epidermal placodes for special sense organs and other neural structures.  These structures may be homologous to portions of the epidermal nerve plexus of protochordates.  The transition to vertebrates apparently was associated with a shift from a passive to an active mode of predation, so that many of the features occurring only in vertebrates became concentrated in the head.”  This article triggered my (1983 eureka event) awareness of the pogonophorans as the protostome-deuterostome link after initial disgust at their inclusion in the deuterostomes.

           Joseph G. Engemann   May 19, 2013 

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