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Different Types Of Thinking

The term think, or thinking, is employed in so many different senses
that it will be well first of all to come to an understanding as to its
various uses. Four different types of thinking which we shall note
are:[5] (1) chance, or idle, thinking; (2) thinking in the form of
uncritical belief; (3) assimilative thinking; and (4) deliberative

CHANCE OR IDLE THINKING.--Our thinking is of the chance or idle kind
when we think to no conscious end. No particular problem is up for
solution, and the stream of thought drifts along in idleness. In such
thinking, immediate interest, some idle fancy, the impulse of the
moment, or the suggestions from our environment determine the train of
associations and give direction to our thought. In a sense, we surrender
our mental bark to the winds of circumstance to drive it whithersoever
they will without let or hindrance from us. Since no results are sought
from our thinking, none are obtained. The best of us spend more time in
these idle trains of thought than we would like to admit, while inferior
and untrained minds seldom rise above this barren thought level. Not
infrequently even when we are studying a lesson which demands our best
thought power we find that an idle chain of associations has supplanted
the more rigid type of thinking and appropriated the field.

UNCRITICAL BELIEF.--We often say that we think a certain thing is true
or false when we have, as a matter of fact, done little or no thinking
about it. We only believe, or uncritically accept, the common point of
view as to the truth or untruth of the matter concerned. The ancients
believed that the earth was flat, and the savages that eclipses were
caused by animals eating up the moon. Not a few people today believe
that potatoes and other vegetables should be planted at a certain phase
of the moon, that sickness is a visitation of Providence, and that
various charms are potent to bring good fortune or ward off disaster.
Probably not one in a thousand of those who accept such beliefs could
give, or have ever tried to give, any rational reason for their point of

But we must not be too harsh toward such crude illustrations of
uncritical thinking. It is entirely possible that not all of us who
pride ourselves on our trained powers of thought could give good reasons
discovered by our own thinking why we think our political party, our
church, or our social organization is better than some other one. How
few of us, after all, really discover our creed, join a church, or
choose a political party! We adopt the points of view of our nation or
our group much as we adopt their customs and dress--not because we are
convinced by thinking that they are best, but because they are less

ASSIMILATIVE THINKING.--It is this type of thinking that occupies us
when we seek to appropriate new facts or ideas and understand them; that
is, relate them to knowledge already on hand. We think after this
fashion in much of our study in schools and textbooks. The problem for
our thought is not so much one of invention or discovery as of grasp and
assimilation. Our thinking is to apprehend meanings and relations, and
so unify and give coherence to our knowledge.

In the absence of this type of thinking one may commit to memory many
facts that he does not understand, gather much information that contains
little meaning to him, and even achieve very creditable scholastic
grades that stand for a small amount of education or development. For
all information, to become vital and usable, must be thought into
relation to our present active, functioning body of knowledge; therefore
assimilative thinking is fundamental to true mastery and learning.

DELIBERATIVE THINKING.--Deliberative thinking constitutes the highest
type of thought process. In order to do deliberative thinking there is
necessary, first of all, what Dewey calls a split-road situation. A
traveler going along a well-beaten highway, says Dr. Dewey, does not
deliberate; he simply keeps on going. But let the highway split into two
roads at a fork, only one of which leads to the desired destination, and
now a problem confronts him; he must take one road or the other, but
which? The intelligent traveler will at once go to seeking for
evidence as to which road he should choose. He will balance this fact
against that fact, and this probability against that probability, in an
effort to arrive at a solution of his problem.

Before we can engage in deliberative thinking we must be confronted by
some problem, some such split-road situation in our mental
stream--we must have something to think about. It is this fact that
makes one writer say that the great purpose of one's education is not to
solve all his problems for him. It is rather to help him (1) to
discover problems, or split-road situations, (2) to assist him in
gathering the facts necessary for their solution, and (3) to train him
in the weighing of his facts or evidence, that is, in deliberative
thinking. Only as we learn to recognize the true problems that confront
us in our own lives and in society about us can we become thinkers in
the best sense. Our own plans and projects, the questions of right and
wrong that are constantly arising, the social, political and religious
problems awaiting solution, all afford the opportunity and the necessity
for deliberative thinking. And unhappy is the pupil whose school work
does not set the problems and employ the methods which will insure
training in this as well as in the assimilative type of thinking. Every
school subject, besides supplying certain information to be learned,
should present its problems requiring true deliberative thinking within
the range of development and ability of the pupil, and no
subject--literature, history, science, language--is without many such

Next: The Function Of Thinking

Previous: Problems In Observation And Introspection

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