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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Cognition, Law, Stories

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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Lorie Graham and Stephen McJohn’s Cognition, Law, Stories unpacks the linguistic concepts of Steven Pinker’s Stuff of Thought into a legal context. Or at least it begins to. Although they recognize – “Cognitive science will play an increasing role in the law, from litigation to refinement of doctrine to legal theory to legal education” – it leaves it the application a rather open question. Hopefully others will take them up on it.

For instance:

People do readily use complex concepts as fluidly as simple ones. But that arises through “chunking.” Once someone has learned a more complex concept, it can be treated as a single chunk, and readily used. We use “buy” as easily as “give” because it has become a single, chunked concept. Here, as throughout the book, the discussion of cognition lends itself quickly to law. Law school, in large part, consists of assembling chunked concepts. A tort, like battery, is composed of several elements, each of which breaks down into sub-elements. After enough practice, students and lawyers use “battery” as fluidly as “give.”

Consciousness of chunking would seem necessary whether you’re practicing in a courtroom, boardroom or classroom. Natural communicators recognize the elements necessary to convey understanding and build with these intuitively. For others, their existing understanding of complex concepts might block their ability to perceive potential confusion or fall back on clumsy analogies that are simplistic rather than simple.

The paper is being published in the upcoming issue of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science and Technology.

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