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What is the art of thinking? Perhaps it seems that powerful thinking should simply be logical, and nothing more than that, making the ideal thinker Spock, the "Vulcan" in the "Star Trek" television show. But then, if you watch the program, you may recall that the humans aboard the spaceship had most of the solutions and new ideas. Spock just knew how to analyze and criticize things.
To be most useful, our processes of thought need to do more than run a "logic program." We need to choose what to think about, for example, and we sometimes need new ways to think about things. Such tasks are not a simple matter of applying logic, but of choosing values and pursuing them creatively.
This is when the art of thinking comes into play. Here is a definition of art: "Disciplines, or those parts of disciplines, which do not rely solely on the scientific method." Of course, this includes such arts as economic forecasting and psychological therapy, which might someday rely solely on the scientific method. But at the moment neither these disciplines nor thinking in general can be described, taught, or practiced solely as a scientific method. It is an art.
It might help to use another art as a metaphor here. Painting, for example, might shed some light on thinking. The goal of painting could be to express something on canvas. You start with the paints, brushes, palettes and other tools, but all the best tools aren't enough, are they? You have to learn how to paint, perhaps starting with learning to draw. You have to learn how to mix the colors and how to show light reflecting. This is still just the science of painting, however.
Tools and science aren't enough. You need to practice, to paint again and again and so learn how to best get various effects you want. Finally, with the tools, knowledge, and practice, you are ready to create something new - perhaps. But there is nothing in your painting books that says, "This is what you want to say with your painting." Here, the "art" of painting enters. You choose according to your values what you will paint.
Now you find a way to express yourself creatively. You rely on your intuition to show something new, some unique perspective that means something to you (and hopefully others).
How do you measure how well you did? To begin with, the painting either makes sense to you or not, and it makes sense to others, or not. Naturally, some won't appreciate a good painting, but if nobody sees the value in your painting, it isn't likely that they're all aesthetically "blind." This kind of feedback matters, because painting is not just about expressing yourself, but also about communicating your vision to other people.
Painting A Picture With Your Thoughts
Now to apply the metaphor to your thinking. To improve your art of thinking, start with better tools. Just as a better paintbrush can help make a better painting, better reasoning skills, more careful observation, or more experience can lead to more useful, valuable, and even beautiful thoughts. Intuition, which guides you in the use of these other tools, should be developed as well.
Of course, tools are not enough - you need knowledge. More bits of knowledge gives you more options in combining those bits into new ideas. Practice gives you more skill in thinking as well. Expand your knowledge then, and practice thinking of new ideas.
But tools, knowledge and practice are still not enough. Like a painter choosing a subject, you need to start with your values to decide where to apply your thinking. What's worth thinking about for you? Then you have to look at your thoughts and ask if they make sense. Throw them out there into the public sphere as well - at least among friends - to see if they make sense to others too. Do at least some people understand the picture you're painting with your words?
Talking to others, by the way, is a form of thinking (or at least it can be). The communication between the various parts of your brain creates new ideas, and in a similar way so does the interplay of two minds in a conversation. Conversation then, can be an important part of the art of thinking.
Like a painter, you should experiment in your thinking. Mix those "paints" up differently from time to time, just to see what you get. Try a new type of canvas (think on paper, in poetry, in stories, into a tape recorder?). Try a new subject matter.
Watch the process of your own thoughts, learn from it, and adapt. Much that you learn will be learned at a level below consciousness. Use this. Even as you guide your thoughts consciously, allow for the intuitive. This interplay between the conscious and unconscious is where the art of thinking really blossoms.
Copyright Steve Gillman. For more on How To Increase Brain Power, and to get the Brain Power Newsletter and other free gifts, visit: http://www.IncreaseBrainPower.com