Ways to Think

In a recent conversation with my favorite intellectual co-conspirator, we realized that we have very similar ways of thinking. This doesn’t mean we always arrive at the same conclusions, but it does make it infinitely easier to understand each other’s arguments.

At first, I thought this was really cool — but then I was worried. I’ve been so focused on ensuring I’m open to challenging my ideas, that I never even considered challenging my ways of thinking.

I raise this point because I believe that the reasoning is much more important than the conclusion. So why have I only been questioning the conclusions?

My friend and I both have a deep technical background; we share a love for algorithms and pure mathematics. And so we approach idea investigation in a similar way. (1) Let us start by defining all the variables. (2) Then we must identify any premises and make sure they are appropriately justified. (3) And finally, we end with a thorough deep dive into the connecting logic, taking care not to skip any steps in getting from A to B and B to C. In uncovering these similarities we agreed that people with a non-technical background often skip steps 2 and 3, ignoring many initial assumptions and going straight from A to C. They understandably do not follow the structure of proof-based logic. But does that make their arguments any less valid?

When I was writing my senior thesis on the [very large] gap between machines and the human mind, my favorite definition of the mind was ‘a collection of ways to think’ (c/o Marvin Minksy). If these modes of thought are what comprise the human mind, then that makes them all the more worthy of my careful consideration.

But how exactly do I challenge my ways of thinking?