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Thinking about Thinking

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"It is a good morning exercise for a research scientist to discard a pet hypothesis every day before breakfast. It keeps him young." [Konrad Lorenz] Naive Thinking



Thinking the Unthinkable

A.A. Milne on Thinking


Some Common Fallacies

The Power of Negative Thinking

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Naive Thinking

veryard projects > kmoi > thinking > naive

what is naivety possible advantages possible  disadvantages sources
. Childlike innocence 
. Commonsense
. Simplicity
. Independence from expert knowledge / opinion
. Reduced anxiety
. Fewer preconceptions
. Optimism
. Creativity
. Accept received wisdom / opinion
. Unaware of risk and opportunity
. Lack of critical distance
. Vulnerable to superstition
Karl Weick on being naive
Naive Physics

Naive Metaphysics

Naive Geography


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veryard projects > kmoi > thinking > superstition

We believe in magic because magic sometimes works. Primitive man believed that if you want something to fly, you attach a symbol of flight. So they tied feathers to their arrows. As luck would have it, this improved the aerodynamic qualities of the arrows, thus confirming their superstitions. But primitive man's superstitions are as nothing compared to the superstitions of the modern technology user. (Think of the 'magical' powers attributed to Bill Gates.)

In fact, primitive man was much more scientific than modern man. He was much more determined to find explanation for things, to look for causes and patterns. Perhaps his goat died, while his neighbour’s goat thrived. Or perhaps lightening stuck his barn. In the absence of any other explanation, he speculated that perhaps his behaviour, or the behaviour of his enemies (human or supernatural) had somehow caused his goat’s demise, or barn’s ignition. Whereas modern man will shrug and say: There is nothing to explain, it’s just random chance, bad luck.

If it happens again, the primitive man’s hypothesis is confirmed. (Primitive man was always ready to test hypotheses by direct experiment.) Sheer coincidence, says modern man. The primitive belief is not science but superstition.

But it is modern man who is more superstitious. The faintest whisper of unorthodox causal mechanisms provokes an irrational response. When a strange pattern is observed, he will often cling to the metaphysical hypothesis of ‘coincidence’. Or shouts fraud, or denies the pattern. From Sheldrake’s weird but scientifically scrupulous theory, to unorthodox medicine and weird phenomena, the professional ‘scientist’ adopts ad hominem arguments: If it is propounded by a crank, then it MUST BE unscientific.
more Technology and Magic 

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Polarized Thinking (Either/Or)

veryard projects > kmoi > thinking > polarization

The debate about genetic engineering is starkly polarized. Either you are an automatic enthusiast for Technological Progress, and believe that genetically modified crops should be disseminated as quickly as possible, as a solution to World Hunger, or perhaps to promote the political and economic interests of Our Farmers. Or you see genetic engineering as a uniquely terrifying innovation, set to reap Pestilence, Plague and Famine across the world.
Attitudes to technology generally polzarize into neophilia / neophobia, good magic / bad magic.

It often seems practically impossible to maintain any middle ground between two extremes, or to explore a Both/And position.

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Thinking the Unthinkable

veryard projects > kmoi > thinking > unthinkable

Thinking the unthinkable has become a fashionable assignment. In the UK, Tony Blair asked Frank Field to "think the unthinkable" on welfare reform - and then sacked him when he failed. Fashionable assignment - or poisoned pill?

But what exactly does the phrase mean? Are people attempting to transcend the constraints of logic, thinking impossible things before breakfast, like the Red Queen in Alice?

Or does the phrase refer to those thoughts that are logically possible but are inaccessible to us, thanks to some psychological or cultural blocks? There are many thoughts that we find impossible to bear, impossible even to formulate, which represent our confrontation with the Real. Each person, each organization, each society has a different set of these "unthinkable" thoughts.

But look where the phrase is used: party politics, journalism, many business organizations. These are places where thinking - any kind of hard thinking - is not highly valued. Thus thinking the unthinkable really means actually thinking (for a change). It means unthinkably thinking.
more Give and Take of Information
Contradiction, Inconsistency & Impossibility

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A.A. Milne on Thinking

veryard projects > kmoi > thinking > A.A. Milne

A third-class mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. A second-class mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. A first-class mind is only happy when it is thinking. 

[A.A. Milne]

We can interpret thinking the unthinkable on the basis of A.A. Milne's distinction. It is what the third-class mind supposes the second-class mind to be doing.

In general. Google is thinking with the majority.  But when I searched Google for "Thinking with the Majority" (in quotes), I only got three pages. A few people quoting A.A. Milne with or without further comment, with or without proper attribution.  Plus a couple of references to Camus. Searchdate: November 3rd, 2003.
more Google and God - Thinking with the Majority

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This page last updated on November 14th, 2003
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