Two Kinds Of Thinking

Stripped of philosophical artifice, there are two kinds of thinking.

Some of you, I’m sure, can think of more ways to think or might not agree with my simple idea, but hear me out. The divide isn’t as nice and shiny as I write about here, but it’s a place to start.

One way is what I call scientific. By that, I mean that what you are thinking about is measurable, verifiable, falsifiable, and predictable. Questions like ‘How long is that 2×4?’ and ‘If you lick a battery’s terminals, will it shock you?’ fall into this category. So do ‘How do you make a gin-and-tonic?’ and ‘Does Bob drink gin-and-tonics?’ Most people are quickly bored with this kind of stuff.

The other way of thinking about things is with your gut. With feelings. With a sense of ‘but that’s not right!’ This is how we talk about important stuff like our kids and literature and politics and who is the greatest guitarist of all time. There are few rules here, and it gets really messy.

Unanswerable Questions

The problem that is not often identified is that the second way of thinking rarely offers measurable answers. This leads to all kinds of trouble from hurt feelings to religious wars. Who is the greatest guitarist ever? It’s a fun but unanswerable question. How should you discipline your child? Which one? And for what? What are the circumstances? Things get even messier when we start talking about right and wrong.

Think about this: why are most Indians Hindi? Why are most Americans Christian? Most Japanese Shinto or Buddhist? It’s perspective. It’s the prevailing thinking where they were born. It’s the space they fit into. Most people never look at these questions with a critical eye. Don’t feel bad about this. Our evolutionary past has molded us to be one of the group. It’s how we work.

So be more understanding. Listen more to understand the backstory. Don’t be so quick to judge. Don’t assume someone is wrong because they have a different idea. From where I sit, there very likely is no right or wrong. It’s a tough slog.


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For more in the Perspective Series go here.

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