There are eight basic tools that we use in effective thinking. Four have more to do with processing data:
3) pattern discernment and recognition, and,
4) reason (including dialectic and the construction of hypotheses and counterexamples).
Four have more to do with generating the data to be processed:
3) experimentation, and,
Memory (or recall) is an essential element of all thought. It is also fallible. This fallibility is a perpetually recurring problem in all kinds of data processing.
The association of one idea with another, or one experience with another, is a key component in thinking our way from A to B. C.
Pattern discernment and pattern recognition, not only of visual patterns, but also of cause-and-effect patterns and structural patterns, are crucial to any effective problem-solving but are not always reliable. We can think that we see a pattern that isn’t there, or we can think we recognize a pattern that is different from the pattern that we see.
Reason is the tool we use to move from one idea or belief to another, not merely by association, but by “logical inference.” It comes in many forms (traditionally labeled deductive, inductive, analogical, and so on), always begins with presumptions. Reason includes dialectic, a device as old as the Socratic method but still vital in the volleying of hypotheses and counterexamples. It can be practiced in two-person dialogues or in soliloquy. Its “give and take” can check our flights of fancy but also stimulate us to get us out of our ruts.
Experience is the primary source of the raw material from which we draw our inferences and about which we construct our explanations. It comes in many forms and is sometimes quite unreliable but is the main (if not the only) thing that ties our thinking to anything “outside our heads.” It will be another primary subject examined in the lectures to come (especially in Lectures Five, Eleven, Twelve, and Seventeen).
Invention is the venue of creativity—not only of devices but of ideas. In thought, invention is particularly important in the construction of hypotheses, interpretations, and explanations. Alongside of reason and experience, it is the third important target for us here (especially in Lectures Fifteen through Eighteen).
Experimentation puts reins on our thought but also stimulates us to think in new directions. It is the fourth leg of modern rational empiricism (as will be seen in Lectures Sixteen and Eighteen). When experimentation generates counterexamples for our hypotheses, it is a form of dialectical reasoning.
“Intuition,” as discussed in the previous lecture, has several senses, including as a label for those thoughts that appear to be immediately, necessarily, or self-evidently true. Such thoughts are rare and problematic, as we shall see in Lecture Five. We shall keep intuition on our list, though there is not very much to say about it other than (a) those who have it are lucky and (b) when there’s work to be done, the work is going to be done in the laboratory, in the field, in experience, in reasoning, and not simply in waiting on an “aha!” moment.
These eight (especially reason, experience, invention, and experimentation) are our fundamental thinking tools—the ones we use to create our languages and make our instruments.
A. There is a “chicken-and-egg question” about thought and language. Even though our languages are our (or our forebears’) constructions, we have so made them our own that they seem part of us, and they shape all the thoughts that occur once they are in place.
B. It is clear enough, however, that our instruments and devices are wholly contingent on us. We invented the telescopes and computers, and—however much our thought employs them and is influenced by them— they remain clearly derivative.
Different tools have been emphasized by different historical thinkers, as we shall see in our examination of the ways in which the basic tools of thought can best be used—working toward an understanding of what I call modern rational empiricism.
A. In ancient times, Plato emphasized intuition, recollection, and reason (especially dialectical reason) (see Lectures Three and Four). In contrast, Aristotle made room for experiential data, but still kept reason at the center of things as he mapped out the beginnings of logic (see Lectures Six, Seven, and Eight).
B. In early modern times, Descartes made deductive reasoning from “self-evident” truths central, mistrusting sense experience altogether. In contrast, Hume emphasized sense experience and underscored the crucial role of association in inductive thought.
C. In more recent times, Mill gave special attention to how we can properly generalize the experiences that we have. Following Newton, modern scientists have emphasized experimentation and the importance of hypothesis construction, and inferential reasoning has been given more secure foundations in the form of modern logic.
D. It is no accident that development of these tools coincided with the time when Western science was coming into flower with a combination of observation, hypothesis construction, and testing.