At any point in the day random thoughts can flood our head. Thoughts of the past, of the future, of what we are going to eat for lunch. At any point we may come up with an innovative idea, and just before we can find a pen, we get distracted and lose everything.
Thinking, in all of its glory, can be so disconnected as to make it seem like you have no control of what jumps in and out of your cranium.
Thinking correctly involves focusing your attention and making real progress in a single area before moving on to the next. In other words, you need to cease being a stop-motion thinker.
Really He’s Not Moving
Stop-motion refers to a technique used by animators in which an object is moved a small distance at a time and photos are taken at each step. When the photos are compiled and played together it appears as though a film is played out, a story is told. It looks as though everything is moving.
When done correctly and with the use of a great amount of imagination, this technique can create pretty cool movies.
One of the things that make movies like this so amazing is that, really, we know these things aren’t moving. It just seems that way.
To think with a stop-motion point of view is to experience as though your thoughts move, as though they are fluid. Like the animations though, we know they aren’t really doing so. It seems as though they are connected even though they lack that connectivity.
What results through stop-motion thinking is not a holistic view about a topic, but haphazard thoughts that come together and make it seem like you’re coming to a sound conclusion.
Let’s think of a simple problem. You are asked to write a paper on what justice means. Upon sitting down you remember something your father had told you about it so you write it down. You remember a thought you had about a particular instance where something done to another was unjust and include that. Finally, you take a lesson from class on the topic and throw it in there.
Your answer to what justice means is a view incorporating these three things, but there is something missing. Connectivity.
Connect, Connect, Connect
Answering questions and solving problems is more than just coming up with an argument. The different elements of that argument must cohere with one another. Your father’s view may not be what the lesson in class was about. In fact, they might have used the same words in different ways! Their views may not even be close.
The stop-motion thinker does not care though. They are like a hungry man at a buffet, picking out points from what others have said or what they have thought and throwing them on their plate. Pretty soon they have a plate full of chicken, steak, macaroni and cheese, gummy bears, and a chocolate cake. They have their meal, their conclusion.
These stop-motioners also have a tendency to pull things out of context. They will take a single quote from an authority figure and build an argument around it, not realizing the original author had been sarcastic from the beginning!
To put an end to this tendency, you have to do two things:
(1) Cohere the different elements within your argument. If your view on justice does not cohere with your view on abortion, how can your conclusion about whether or not abortion is right make any sense?
(2) Understand how the author’s view is connected to his larger body of work. If you don’t understand the context of what someone was saying then your view will be skewed and your argument easily destroyed.
Build, Build, Build
The stop-motioner doesn’t stop there with his inability to think clearly. He continues this vice by his inability to build on thoughts or ideas that caught his attention. When he hears something important and comes up with his own idea, he just stops. He takes it as the conclusion and moves on.
His inability to build on this idea comes from a fear of falsity. In order for an idea to truly matter it must stand up to the tests of others’ thinking. It must stand up to scrutiny.
The stop-motion thinker comes up with something cool and stops there. He/she may even continue to base decisions on that idea, the one that has stood up to nothing.
To fix this they are going to have to:
(1) Be a courageous thinker. They can’t be afraid to scrutinize their own beliefs. Without doing so they risk those beliefs being extremely weak when the time to test them arrives.
(2) Seek to build on current ideas. Continually building up their ideas and backing those ideas with connected thinking, they build a strong system of thinking applicable to any situation.
Be Fluid, Not Clay
Good thinking is connected, flowing steadily towards a founded conclusion. Bad thinking is like a stop-motion film, choppy, and un-lifelike. Those chops, those jumps in the frames, they are disconnected ideas, they are blanks that the thinker failed to acknowledge in his pursuit of a sound judgment.
So force yourself to understand how your ideas and the ideas around you connect, not merely how they can be used as ammunition to finish an argument.
This will ensure that you really are moving, unlike the stop-motion thinker, who spends everyday stuck in the same spot.