One of the most useful tricks your mind has is the ability to produce instant gut reactions to things going on in the world. Understanding how your mind suggests things will allow you to know when its useful and when its dangerous.
Using Your Connections
When you experience and learn new things, connections are formed in your thinking. The more intense and frequent these experiences, the stronger those connections will become. So the first time someone asked you what’s up, you didn’t know what to say. You said “good,” realizing later how little sense that made.
You got use to it though. The more people that said it, the more you knew it was coming, and soon enough, you not only succeeded in not jumbling your words, you were even able to come up with crack remarks. “Your Mom,” you would say, and laughs would be had by all.
When the connections are strong enough, your stimulus ends up producing a habit. You don’t need to wade through the ocean of connections to get to the solution. When you first started, that lovely restaurant (the solution) was on the other side of town and you had to go through that weird neighborhood with the people who said things like “You sures look purdy.” After enough time though, that restaurant rewarded your frequent visits and opened up shop right next door.
Even when you have relatively little experience on a problem, your mind still musters up whatever it can. So when your two friends were talking about the Colts game and how Peyton Manning has the best awareness of any quarterback in the game, all you could think about was those Oreo commercials you saw him in.
The Mind Suggests
When your thoughts have this tendency, this is what the philosopher John Dewey described as a “suggestion.” In fact, he felt that the mind’s tendency to provide these suggestions is “the central factor in…thinking.”
This function by which one thing signifies another, and thereby leads us to consider how far one may be regarded as warrant for belief in the other, is, then, the central factor in all reflective or distinctively intellectual thinking. – How We Think
When we come across something that piques our curiosity, which proposes a problem, our mind begins thinking immediately. It suggests something based on the situation and based on our past experience. A water droplet hits our head and we think rain. We see a shadow in the air and think something is going to hit us.
This is the central factor in all thinking. Thus, thinking is the system by which things are signified by other things going on in our head or in the world.
Accepting Suggestions At Face Value
When we accept a suggestion at face value, we are taking a risk. While being creatures of habit has its uses, always relying on these habits can cause mayhem in our lives.
You get so used to saying “not much” whenever someone says whats up that when someone actually says something like “great morning” you still respond with “not muc….ugh….yeah, it is.”
Taking this idea further, if you tend to see a situation with a certain perspective, you may miss out on novel things going on around you. You carry on in your robotic way until you realize that your beliefs are so outdated they have crumbled and have become impractical for the problems of the day.
Counter With Reflection
When you don’t accept your mind’s initial suggestion at face value, when you churn it over in your mind, you have started reflecting. You take the suggestion and weigh it with other possible answers. You ponder over it and hold judgment until you have found something better.
When you conduct your thinking in this way, you remain open to novel possibilities. You are on the lookout for innovations going on in your particular field, and because of this, you are able to adapt to a world changing quicker than ever before.
- Producing suggestions is the central factor in thinking. When your mind encounters a curiosity, it yearns to explain it. It does so by initially connecting to some other experience with similar qualities.
- Reflection is the holding of judgment until the suggestion has been weighed and other suggestions have been weighed until a conclusion is reached.
- In order to have practical knowledge, you must rely on habit sometimes, on the connections your mind has made. These suggestions, though, should be backed up by prior reflection, so that they are founded on sturdy grounds, instead of mere accident.