The skill of thinking

The skill of thinking

A boss of mine had a small marble stone on his desk. It had one word written on it: THIMK. The word faced the person sitting opposite him. It was meant to be a joke. Sometimes the reader looked at the message, then at my boss and wondered who it actually applied to. To be fair to my then boss, he was a good thinker – most of the time.

It’s well known that if you shovel poor quality food into your body day in and day out it will kill you. Less understood is what happens if you feed your brain mental rubbish. Initially it may give you a thrill of excitement, may even make you temporarily somewhat creative.  We have all experienced the frisson of ‘mental lightning’. It can be a delusive drug, one that seems to herald a new purpose. The strike fizzles out quickly leaving us exhausted and shattered.

Partly because of that disappointment and partly because we are lazy, we leave much of the thinking to others. It’s “their” job, we tell ourselves, it’s what “they” are paid for.  Time to start working out who exactly “they” are. In a Mirror Museum when young, I was caught by one of those opposing mirror traps – the sort that theoretically let you see infinity, or, as some would say, eternity. That’s when I realized “they” are me – at least to “them”.

You realized this ages ago. Did you go on to figure out what it meant for your ‘thinking potential’? First, you are dealing mostly with people of the same abilities and limitations as you, not with some superhuman, profoundly intellectual brains that can run rings around you. Even the brilliant are often flawed by their biases. Second, you have identical rights of intellect to theirs. Einstein might have rated them as less educated than you but it is the autistic who spot the typos and the ESN who can see through a maze of complexity. 

To think for joy, first observe – twice. First impressions are valuable and often right. Second impressions reveal the substance behind what you first observed. This is where you get the detail, devil and all. It is also where the gems are hidden. Brilliant observation is selective and comprehensive at the same time. It achieves that by constantly asking itself ‘what really matters?’ But is it necessary to ‘think for joy’? Actually, yes it is. A bias so common that it is almost universal makes us initially pessimistic by nature. We need to throw off the yoke of gloom if we are to think skilfully. 

At the heart of better thinking is to turn the answers we see, and are given, into questions. We can then provide the already given answers (no points) or make up our own answers (points awarded to reflect the creativity of them). It’s how all inventions come about. Here’s a quite complex example of a problem that is happening now. Germany is being reluctant to send tanks to the Ukraine to help them win the war with Russia. They have already sent more powerful armaments such as 30-kilometer range guns and pinpoint targeted missile launchers. Both of these are more destructive than tanks. So why the reluctance?

Tanks are like mobile dwellings. They advance people into the enemy’s territory. They represent ‘capture’ as opposed to ‘destroy’. An area razed by artillery is lost to both sides; one that tanks have captured is a win for one, a lose for the other. 

Putin is under pressure and perhaps mentally deranged. Nobody wants to push him into nuclear war for fear of the effect on humanity and the survival of the planet.  Would providing tanks do that? The German Chancellor doesn’t know so he wants to be as careful as possible. When enough other countries insist on his allowing German tanks to be given to the Ukrainians he will do so. The blame for excessive response, if it comes, won’t then rest solely with him. Sounds feeble? It’s politics. Politicians have much less power than we (or they) imagine. Speaking is their response when they are unable to do something useful.

Here’s one for you to try if you feel so inclined. A weather forecaster gets the next twenty-four hours totally wrong. He denies the approach of a hurricane in an area not normally plagued by them. Mayhem follows. Electricity and telephone cables are brought down, sewers overflow, trees block the highways, landslides disrupt railway lines and planes are grounded.  A resident even threatens to sue the meteorological office. If you are the head of that office, what do you tell your forecasters to say as a result of this catastrophe?

This isn’t a trick question, so you can easily work out the answer.

Your thinking skill is quite up to it.

Good morning

John Bittleston 

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They will presage a year of the skill of thinking.

23 January 2023