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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
r 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