At that time, when I was doing my PhD in Cognitive Science, I studied the work of the Canadian thinker, Bernard Lonergan. In 1979, in the New York Public Library, I read his big book Insight: a study of human understanding (1957).

It’s actually a major work on metacognition and (although he doesn’t use the word which came later) his work precedes Edward de Bono, Daniel Dennett and that of many others in the field of cognitive science. Lonergan has been recognised as one of the greatest thinkers about thinking since Thomas Aquinas.

Aquinas connected the dots between Greek thinking and Roman thinking: thinking inside the square. Lonergan connected the dots between Greco-Roman thinking and Darwinian thinking: thinking outside the square. My next personal choice in this ‘thinkers about thinking’ series was a trio: McLuhan, George Gallup and Berners-Lee who connected the dots between individual thinking and crowd thinking: thinking in the cloud.

The quintessence of Father Lonergan’s work was to draw attention to an iterative and repetitious  cycle or spiral of what it takes to become a dynamic and virtuoso thinker. There are four mindsets to (what I would call) the Lonergan metacognition spiral. These are:

experience > understanding > judgement > decision.

Lonergan taught that these four (thinking hats?) are all self-conscious mindsets that the thinker uses in a deliberate (metacognitive) way and in an ascending spiral, round and round, again and again, over the many years, to gain virtuosity in one’s thinking skill.

SDNT = Start > Do > Notice > Think

Lonergan’s is a big book (doctis, Iuppiter, et laboriosis) and if we wish to compare it’s metacognition with contemporary SOT brain software and apps:

the Lonergan metacognition spiral is similar to using SDNT as an ongoing process and all the original six thinking caps over a decade of 10,000 hours of PRR (practise, repetition, rehearsal) to acquire the virtuosity and wisdom of the seventh Grey Hat.

Although I have not done justice to his theology at all I don’t think that such an explicit explanation of his metacognition theory dumbs his great work down.

Lonergan also influenced his fellow-Canadian Marshall McLuhan who after reading Lonergan’s book on human understanding wrote his own celebrated work Understanding Media: The Extension of Man (1964).

Now here’s the interesting bit.

The reason I recall his book and draw attention to his work today is because Bernard Lonergan was an eminent thinker and also a Jesuit priest. His work has influenced much of American philosophy and theology and it is very likely to have influenced the new Jesuit pope, Francis, who at the very least will be aware of his work and possibly even familiar with it. This opens up an exciting prospect for thinkers about thinking.

Could Pope Bergoglio be an intellectual supporter for the worldwide development of metacognition?



(Boardroom Books, New York 1984)

by Michael Hewitt-Gleeson

Chapter Nine, Page 78

“… The cognos is the larger universe within which, at some point, exists the cosmos. Before something “pops” into existence in the cosmos, it exists in the cognos. We could say that the cognos is the “before” and the “cosmos” is the after.

“… Just as the cosmos is made out of atoms, electrons, quarks, etc., the cognos itself is made out of cogns (pronounced “cones”). A cogn is simply the smallest unit, or particle, that makes up the cognos. Cogns “pop” into existence in the cognos when we simply focus on them. When we think about an area of the cognos, it comes into existence as a result of our thinking about it. This is just like when we look at something in the cosmos, it comes into existence, to our attention, as a result of our looking at it. Look over your shoulder now and, by looking, whatever is there to be seen will pop into your attention.

Example: If I think about “socks made of glass” that idea has popped into existence in the cognos simply because I thought about it. The cogns that make up that part of the cognos which can be described as “glass socks” now exist simply because I thought about them. An object pops into existence in the cosmos as a result of it already existing in the cognos. Thus, if I want to think more about the idea of “glass socks”, I can examine it even more, focus on it to a greater depth, and eventually make a pair of “glass socks”. When I have done that, the glass socks not only exist in the cognos but also have popped into existence in the cosmos. Just as before America popped into existence in the cosmos, it first existed in the cognos through Columbus’ mind.

The cognos could be described as that larger universe, or meta-universe, within which exists the cosmos. How big is the cognos? Well, it’s hard to say, of course, but it’s certainly much, much bigger than the cosmos, which may only be a tiny corner of the cognos. Of what is the cognos made? The cognos is made of cogns which pop into existence when we think about them.”


DFQ: In cognitive physics the theory of the Cognos is not a theory of everything but a theory of anything. So, what is an important question that you would like to see explored in cognitive physics and by cognitive physicists? What is it about your question that makes it important?

Please add your contribution below …