What kind of a thinker are you?

Posted by David Eicher
on Thursday, April 28, 2011

Every day you are alive on planet Earth, there’s a big philosophical question you have to deal with many times. How do you determine what is the truth? What thought process or processes do you use to decide what constitutes reality? Do you use different kinds of thought processes for different areas of your life?

Photo credit: Andrew Horne/Wikipedia
Four broad types of thinking exist. They stretch over a spectrum from simple to complex, from primitive to sophisticated, from employing “gut feelings” to analysis. They are:

1. Intuitional methods. These are highly subjective and individual, and include supposition, imagination, speculation, and inference. Dreaming something and believing it to be a portent of the future is an example of intuition, as is just plain old “knowing” that something is true from an instinctual, gut feeling.

2. Authoritarian methods. The favorite of governments, churches, parents, teachers, and other authority figures, these include tradition, postulation, expertise, and precedent. Authorities tell you the way you should think because it keeps society functioning without chaos, keeps people in line without questioning too much, or maintains a smooth governmental or corporate system.

3. Rational methods. Ah-ha! Here we finally have a method that involves thinking on the part of the individual, with computation, a stochastic process, analogy, and logic being involved. Rational methods use the individual mind to determine what is true, but not yet in the most powerful sense.

4. Empirical methods. This is how science works. These methods employ observation, coincidence, experiment, and verification to create a long-standing record of events and data that, taken over time, put together a cohesive story of what constitutes truth.

Scientists prefer methods farther down the list, particularly in the collection of public facts by coincidental observation. “Truth” in science is, of course, always tentative and relative, and it undergoes continuous revision by intersubjective testing. Scientists prefer explicit definitions over implicit, operational definitions over canonical, and theoretical definitions over hypothetical.

Think about these processes and the kinds of decisions you make about what you believe. Are you more intuitional, authoritarian, rational, or empirical? Or a mixture of all of the above?

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