Developing the Art of Thinking
It might seem that powerful thinking should simply be logical,
and nothing more. The ideal thinker then might be the character
of Spock, the "Vulcan" in the "Star Trek"
television show and movies. Of course, if you have watched the
program or movies, you may recall that the humans aboard the
spaceship had most of the solutions and new ideas. Spock was
best at just analyzing things.
The most useful processes of thought need to be more than
mere logic. We are not computers. A computer (so far) analyzes
things and executes actions according to the instructions given).
But we give the instructions. For ourselves or our computers
we need to choose what to think about, don't we?
Even our best logical thinking comes from non-logical (but
not necessarily anti-logical) values and/or premises based on
observation and intuition. For example, it's logical to get a
degree in biology if you want to be a biologist, but choosing
that career is not entirely a matter of logic. The decision to
be a biologist is based on natural inclinations, suppositions
about what will make you happy and so on -- much of which is
outside of logic, or rather prior to it's use.
We also sometimes need new ways to think about things. These
tasks are not a matter of applying logic, but of choosing values
and pursuing them creatively. How many inventions have come from
a flash of insight following a period of playing around with
relevant concepts? This might seem logical after the fact, but
it is not a consciously logical process that leads to the insight.
I've had some good ideas from dreams (ideas that I used), and
dreaming certainly doesn't follow a logical path.
The art of thinking is developing and then balancing these
creative processes with the more logical ones. Here's a common
definition of art:
Disciplines, or those parts of disciplines, which do not
rely solely on the scientific method.
This includes economic forecasting and psychological therapy,
which might someday rely more on the scientific method, but for
now are largely arts pretending to be sciences. At the moment
neither these disciplines nor even thinking can be described,
taught, or practiced solely as a scientific method.
To understand this it might help to use another art as a metaphor.
Painting, for example, can shed some light on thinking. The goal
is to express something on canvas. You start with the paints,
brushes, palettes and other tools. But all the best tools aren't
You need to learn how to paint. You learn to draw, and perhaps
learn the geometry of creating perspective in a scene. You learn
how to mix the colors and how to show light reflecting. This
is the science of painting.
The tools and science still aren't enough, though. You need
to practice, so you paint again and again to learn how to best
get various effects. Then, with the tools, the knowledge, and
the practice, you are ready to create something new of your own.
Perhaps. Of course there is nothing in your painting books that
says, "This is what you want to say with your painting."
Here, the "art" enters. First, you choose according
to your values what you will paint. Then, you find a way to express
it creatively. Perfect science would get you nothing more than
a photograph - less actually, since even the art of photography
finds a way to show a subject from a new and creative perspective.
Instead, you're relying on your intuition to find a way to show
something new, some unique perspective.
How do you know how well you did? First, the painting either
makes sense to you or it doesn't. Second, it makes sense to others,
or not. Of course, some won't appreciate a good painting,
but if nobody sees the value in your painting, it isn't
likely that they are all aesthetically "blind."
Feedback matters, because painting is not just about expressing
yourself, but also about communicating your vision to others.
Painting with Thoughts
Want to improve your art of thinking? Start with better tools.
Just as a better paintbrush can help produce a better painting,
better reasoning skills, or more observation, or more experience
can lead to more useful, valuable, and even beautiful thoughts.
Your intuition, which guides you in the use of these other tools,
should be developed. But good tools are not enough.
You need knowledge. Knowing more things gives you more options
in combining those things into new ideas. Practice gives you
more skill in doing this as well. Expand the base of your knowledge
then, and practice thinking of new ideas. But tools, knowledge
and practice are still not enough.
Like a painter, you need to start with your values to decide
where to apply your thinking. What is worth thinking about? Then
you need to look at your thoughts and ask if they make sense.
You also need to throw them out there into the public sphere
- at least among friends - to see if they make sense to others.
Do at least some people understand the picture you are painting
with your words?
By the way, talking to others is a form of thinking (at least
it can be). Just as the communication between the various parts
of your brain creates new ideas, so does the interplay of two
minds in a conversation. Good conversation can be an important
part of the art of thinking.
What else? Like a painter, you should experiment. You should
mix those "paints" up differently from time to time,
just to see what you get. You should try a new type of canvas
(think on paper, in poetry, in stories?), or a new subject matter.
You should watch the process of your own thoughts, learn from
it, and adapt accordingly. Much of what you learn will be at
a level below consciousness. To use this, even as you guide your
thoughts consciously, you have to allow for the intuitive as
well. It is in this interplay between the conscious and unconscious
that the art of thinking really blossoms.