Thinking sideways

Edward de Bono – the champion of lateral thinking. Every so often, when I am giving my brain a quick routine service, I ask myself how my skills of lateral thinking are working. I am cheating today by writing about it; it will force me to look at the issues.

De Bono once impressed me with a mental experiment. He said, imagine that you are drawing a squiggly circle on paper. Then go over it, again and again. With each drawing, following the line gets easier and easier. And that’s because the furrow made by your pencil gets deeper and deeper – making a convenient channel.

Our neurons work in much the same way. They learn the pattern of our thinking, and the more we follow the same path, the easier it becomes. And that’s very useful because it enables us to do our thinking quickly and easily by going the way we did before. But it does have a disadvantage: it makes it less and less likely that we get out of the furrow, and so less and less likely that we do original thinking.

De Bono fully accepted the value of ordinary thinking; it was necessary for most of the time. But he advocated lateral thinking as an important skill for all of us to use on a regular basis. Here are some of the techniques that I have found useful. You will see that they are designed to force the mind out of routine thinking.

Never take the first conclusion. When we face, say, a knotty practical problem we may well arrive at the solution. But put that solution on one side, and think of a second answer – and a third. Now you can choose the best of the solutions. Often you will find that it was not the first one you reached.

There is power in the use of absurdity. Suppose that you are thinking about parenthood. ‘Mothers love their children’ comes to mind. That’s straight thinking but it leads to nothing new. The lateral thinker might choose ‘mothers hate their children’ instead. Now all sorts of new ideas can come into mind: do they hate their children?, is it permanent or temporary?, what can trigger the feeling? – and so on. Now we are exploring some interesting properties of motherhood. The statement ‘God is a figment of the imagination’ might seem an odd place to start. But then it could occur to you that our concept of God is largely a figment of our imagination – so we’re already learning something new – about what we don’t know.

When I was teaching my young granddaughter and her best friend how to debate, we would settle on a subject first; for example: ‘The throwaway society is a good thing’, and they would prepare it for the next week. But they wouldn’t know whether they were going to be for or against – that would be decided by a toss before the debate started. So they had to prepare both sides. It was a splendid intellectual discipline. We have recently had much debate on the subject of climate change. I wonder how many of us took time to devise the arguments we might use to oppose the position we favour. I suggest that it was those who did this who thought much more deeply about the question.

The blank mind is often a problem. You want to choose a birthday present for a special person. Your mind is completely blank. I need to write a post for this blog. My mind is completely blank. So I will pick up a book, virtually any book, open it on any page and touch a random word. Surprisingly often that word, or something associated with that word, will trigger an idea. I tried that an hour ago. My pencil hit the word ‘ordinary’. Hopeless, I thought – but I played around with it: ‘extraordinary, everyday, not ordinary’ and then it clicked: ‘not ordinary thinking’ led me straight into ‘lateral thinking’. So that’s why you are getting this post!

So come and contribute your ideas and tips about thinking. That way we will all raise our game.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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79 Responses to Thinking sideways

  1. John L says:

    Is not “ordinary thinking” what one might expect of a bishop?

    • Alasdair says:

      No. Ordinary thinking is what ordinary people do on ordinary days. Lateral thinking is what ordinary people do rarely under emergency conditions only, until they read Edward de Bono’s confusing little book and forget how to do it.
      In my branch of the church we don’t have Bishops – no doubt a product of some historical lateral thinking. But if I may still be allowed to express an opinion – surely Bishops should be doing vertical thinking most of the time?

      • milliganp says:

        We are called to proclaim the Gospel afresh to each society and generation. With the exception of the Pope there is not much evidence of fresh thinking in the Catholic Church and the Church of England seems to have settled into genteel irrelevance. Perhaps we need a 21st century ‘reformation’.

      • Alasdair says:

        M,
        at first reading I thought you’d written “genteel irreverence” which would certainly be lateral thinking.
        I remember reading a piece by Fr Raniero Cantalamessa called “Faith That Overcomes the World”. In it he said (I think) “We need a new Luther”. I thought that was interesting coming from a Vatican heavy-hitter. So he’s up for a 21st century reformation.
        This time though, try to do it without splitting the church assunder – that could be a tall order.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Milliganp.
        One thing has always puzzled me and that is the Epilogue at the end of the Book of Revelation.

        It seems as though we ought to take the prophecies as being true, and not to change anything.
        How would you read it. It seems very frightening to me as if the end time is near.
        Is this century worse than others, have we evolved so far from God?
        Is that lateral thinking? .

      • milliganp says:

        St Joseph, I simply do not know enough about the Book of Revelation to make any meaningful comment. What I can say is that the general understanding of all the writings attributed to John is that they are written in a time of trial for the community in and for which they were written. The expulsion of Jewish Christians from the synagogues and other religious persecutions are the backdrop and the community is being reassured of final vindication after the coming of Christ. Entire books have been written trying to decode it and apply it to human history. I suspect in every age there has been someone who believed themselves in its end-times. However, we can all say with faith the prayer which is its penultimate phrase “Amen; come Lord Jesus”. Maranatha.

      • marywip says:

        Milliganp
        “we can all say with faith the prayer which is its penultimate phrase ‘Amen; come Lord Jesus’. Maranatha.”
        Perhaps you mean that we (Catholics? Christians? Second Sight Bloggers?) can all say these words — some with good faith and some with blind faith?

      • marywip says:

        Milliganp, again:
        “we can all say with faith the prayer which is its penultimate phrase “Amen; come Lord Jesus”. Maranatha.”

        Further to my last comment about this, I should also add that I see some truth in what you said…
        The WCCM (World Community for Christian Meditation) use the word “Maranatha” (or Ma-Ra-Na-Tha) as a mantra for interior recitation. This is called “the prayer of the heart”. One does not need to be a believing Christian to meditate/pray this way and grow in knowledge of God.

      • Alasdair says:

        St J,
        Are we living in the End Times? There is almost a whole industry in the US based upon this question (just Google the question and see). Is the Rapture about to occur and is the Antichrist already living among us, signaling the 7 year Tribulation before Jesus’ return? (Some of we) evangelicals waste a lot more time worrying about this than you Catholics do.

      • marywip says:

        Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book
        (Revelation 22:18)

        We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
        (2 Peter 1:19)

        [Do not] be quickly shaken… to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until/unless the rebellion occurs first and the man of lawlessness is revealed…
        (2 Thessalonians 2)

  2. overload says:

    See on youtube: J K Rowling Harvard speech
    This is a powerful speech, especially if we consider to whom it addressed!
    She emphasises the need to lead “good lives” and change the world, serving which she identifies the importance of two things (which, I think, are very much about how we think):
    1 Experiencing personal failure.
    2 Imagination.
    — a) to imagine something better/different.
    — b) to empathise with those whose experience we have never shared.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Milliganp
      Thank you.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Alasdair.
        Maybe it could also mean ‘ a definition of ones own ‘death’ in other words ours!
        If that makes sense..
        The Jehovah Witness seemed to prophesise end times in the past’

      • marywip says:

        If Mary is ‘co-Redemptrix'(?), then does this mean that, like Jesus, She must also accept to be murdered, and—Jesus said, “no one took it from me”—lay down Her life of Her own free-will?

      • St.Joseph says:

        Maryquip
        Our Blessed Mother gave Her life for us (although not as the Sacrifice of Jesus’s Crucifixion)
        but by sharing in it, when She through Her own free-will ‘Let it be done unto me according to Thy Word..
        What if she had said No’!
        I believe we as Christians share in this same sacrifice for the ‘worlds redemption’ when we say Yes’.

  3. St.Joseph says:

    Holy Mother Church would not do better than taking ‘another look at Humanae Vitea’ in the light of the world today and marriage,due to the ‘sex education’ in schools and same sex marriage,which will now soon be taught as necessary and parents will have no say in their childrens education even to catholics as young as 9yrs.
    Faith is slowly being driven underground.
    Perhaps we do need a new reformation! Start teaching the Truth of our faith!
    God will not be mocked!

  4. Geordie says:

    John L
    Do bishops think? It’s difficult to assess. They seem to have followed the zeit-gheist throughout history and then blamed the laity. They rarely step out of their comfort zone. Only one bishop refused to sign the Act of Supremacy so it’s best not to take them too seriously.
    Just a bit of lateral thinking.

    • St.Joseph says:

      John L.
      Bishops do think, ‘ not to think’ when it come to preaching about controversial issuses.
      Such as NFP and same sex marriage, and the meaning of ‘sacramental marriage’ and contraception.
      It seems the majority went along with the crowd-either for any easy life or they lost their faith, or lost their flock, who were already lost. spiritually.

    • John L says:

      Geordie,
      Reading the above I squirm at how my poor little joke has been laboured. It was merely a pun based upon the fact that our bishops are officially described as our local Ordinaries. I should apologise for trying to inject a sense of humour into our sometimes over-solemn proceedings. I did like Alasdair’s comment on “vertical” thinking, and I am entirely of your view expressed.

  5. Martha says:

    Doesn’t our whole Catholic faith depend on lateral thinking, Redemption through the Cross, the value of suffering, Our Lord’s teaching of the Beatitudes?
    As far as I know, Edward de Bono is an atheist.

    • Vincent says:

      In fact Christ was the great lateral thinker of the Church. Take, as an obvious example, his statement “love your enemies”. On the face of it, it’s an absurd remark behind which lies some very important truths. In fact much of the Sermon on the Mount (quite possibly a digest of his teachings on different occasions) is brilliant lateral thinking. St Paul doesn’t do too badly either, consider “If I give my body to be burnt and have not charity…” And his vivid questioning of the value of the Law.

      In fact the Church, having built itself as an hierarchical institution, has focused on structure, maintenance of authority, and statements which may not be questioned. So it is not by nature a lateral thinker. However it is looking up — with John XXIII, Vatican II and Francis.

      Francis is very much a lateral thinker, putting emphasis on the deeper demands of Christianity. No wonder he has plenty of enemies among the high clerics — whose stock in trade is never to have new thought. Whether this is a start to a revolution can only be judged in hindsight.

      • Martha says:

        The deeper demands are all there in the well known prayer of His namesake,
        Saint Francis.

        Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
        where there is hatred, let me sow love;
        where there is injury, pardon;
        where there is doubt, faith;
        where there is despair, hope;
        where there is darkness, light;
        and where there is sadness, joy.

        O Divine Master,
        grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
        to be understood, as to understand;
        to be loved, as to love;
        for it is in giving that we receive,
        it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
        and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

      • Vincent says:

        Your mention of the scientific method reminds me of the classical story of lateral thinking: Archimedes in his bath, his mind relaxed along with his body. And then his cry: ‘I’ve got it!’ when he suddenly sees the answer to his problem.

    • milliganp says:

      I am not sure counter-cultural is the same as lateral. The reality is that many religious people can have very closed minds – it’s part of the fallen human condition.
      As an act of lateral thinking we have a severe housing shortage and many homeless or in hostels and yet in every Catholic parish we will have dozens or scores of single elderly Catholics occupying 3 or 4 bedroom homes – if feed the hungry and house the homeless are Christian virtues why do we not help solve the problem?

      • St.Joseph says:

        Milliganp.
        Perhaps we could start the ball rolling with the parish Presbytery!

      • milliganp says:

        In my Archdiocese we have many large presbyteries (at least one with 6 bedrooms) with single occupancy, we also have an aging priestly population and are being asked to fund housing them in retirement in additional properties. It seems madness to me but priests have got so used to independant living that they don’t want to share accomodation.

    • Alasdair says:

      “1 Corinthians 1:17-31 (NLT)
      18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.” 20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe”.
      Is this about lateral thinking?

      • Nektarios says:

        Alasdair
        Could not be more correct. Is it lateral thinking? No, it is God calling man through his servants. Spiritual it certainly is, an we who truly believe on Him have believed the report given to us in the Gospels and the OT.
        And as Jesus says, Blessed are those whom having not seen,yet have believed their word.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Milliganp.
      A large parish near me, the PP has taken in a paid lodger! A young man.Single
      laity who buy a house for their future, it is asking a lot. they may have families coming to stay and parents. and friends.
      I would never see any one on the street. ! Did it for years.
      Maybe you could advertise it in your parish bulletin.
      BTW I was not being sarcastic with my comment, only emphasing a fact, that is to practice what we preach! It is a good idea,but has to start somewhere!
      Where I worship, it is a retreat house and practically full all the time with students and priest and laity and schools. etc..
      That is another alternative on a temporary basis. in the parish presbytery.
      I wish I was younger and in good health (good health would be a bonus its getting better) I would set the ball rolling !It woul be just up my ‘street’

  6. gdgarry says:

    (Formerly G.D. but couldn’t sign in! Thinking laterally I didn’t have a clue what to do so .. new account).
    Often find not thinking is a solution to developing thoughts. When thinking is suspended for a while eureka moments can fill the gaps and smooth the bumps.

  7. G.D. says:

    Often find suspending thinking can clarify thoughts. Not thinking allows eureka moments to come, or just a ‘new realisation’ gradually develops in the renewed thought process after.
    Also, similar to taking the opposite opinion, to allow random associations to flow from the original ‘problem’ under consideration. These are not always ‘thoughts’ but can present themselves as images, free flowing musings ….. akin to C.G. Jung’s process of ‘active imagination’ where a series of images will take of in a dream like development for personal development/realisation of unconscious material.
    Only musings are a series of free flowing ‘thoughts’, rather than images, not consciously generated.

    But the major way to ‘clarity’ for me, generally as well as in thought, is through silence. The deep silence of contemplation (usually aided by a repetitive phrase, or mantra) to gain access to the stillness beyond thought feeling imagination …..

    There really is ‘nothing new under the sun’.
    What we see as ‘original thoughts’ are mere reflections,
    forgotten solutions,
    surfacing in a mind free of prejudice;
    a soul open to selfless inspirations
    of the Original Creative Vision.

    There really is nothing new.
    There is only creation.
    Eternally waiting; with non-judgemental acceptance.
    Eternally patient; hoping in freedom.
    Eternally incarnate; through acceptance of
    Love.

  8. Hock says:

    Geordie says:

    June 26, 2015 at 9:16 am

    John L
    Do bishops think? It’s difficult to assess. They seem to have followed the zeit-gheist throughout history and then blamed the laity. They rarely step out of their comfort zone. Only one bishop refused to sign the Act of Supremacy so it’s best not to take them too seriously.
    Just a bit of lateral thinking.

    But wait ……….
    Just to point out the opposite perspective that not one Bishop would crown Elizabeth the First as Monarch They eventually found a ‘temporary Bishop’ to take on the task.

    • milliganp says:

      If we look at the Reformation era there were bishops on both sides who died for their beliefs – because they actually thought faith was a matter of life and death. Now we have a God who loves everybody and is capable of forgiving anything the imperative to hold to any particular tenet of faith is much diminished.
      My experience in the Catholic Church – and I suspect the same holds true for the Anglican Communion – is that Bishops adminster, hold meetings and dispense sacraments; faith leadership is a much rarer activity.

      • marywip says:

        Did God not love everybody before, and was He not capable of forgiving anything before?
        (Before what?)

      • marywip says:

        Does God love everybody now, and does He forgive everything now?

      • milliganp says:

        Marywip , today at mass we had Abraham’s negotiation with God over the destruction of Sodom, so God has always been a God of mercy. My point is that we have largely lost the sense of faith being something worth dying for and we believe God has very low expectations of us. Faith as the persuit of virtue and perfection has been relegated in the minds of many. But you are right, our God is a God of loving forgiveness.

      • St.Joseph says:

        marywip.
        God is a love of forgiveness,but I think we have to be sorrow for our sins,I believe He gives us warnings,through our conscience.
        The little story I told about God and His Blazng eyes, was very pertinant for me to understand I did wrong
        My friend and I were in the church next to the school eating our sandwiches(we were the only 2 in the choir on Sundays so we were allowed too instead of the fieldl)
        So we thought who could kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament the longest without laughing. How naughty was that!
        So that night in bed it happened, my guilt overcame me. I told my friend and we said we wont do that again. And promised Jesus we would never ever offend Him again.
        As His Father was angry with us Perhaps Jesus did not mind!!! but His His Dad did!!!!!.
        .

  9. John Candido says:

    There has been a growing interest throughout the world and especially within educational institutions in the subject of critical thinking. There are many systems of critical thinking that are available for people to help improve their train of thought. A system of critical thinking may involve a checklist of questions that act as a reminder of what to ask in making enquiries about a particular matter. Another system of critical thinking may employ a set of attitudes and skills that are helpful in arguing a point verbally or in writing, assessing someone else’s thoughts, or of helping one to learn more about a subject. Critical thinking is also referred to by the term ‘meta-thinking’.

    We need to be clear about what critical thinking is and what it can and cannot do for the individual. Critical thinking is a way of thinking about thinking itself, and therefore it is a form of self-awareness. It is also a set of tools that one has up one’s sleeve and can be a useful part of one’s personal habits. It can be employed as a form of self-improvement. All good thinking involves self-awareness, discipline and effort. Good systems of critical thinking assists individuals to be more self-aware, objective and disciplined. It will make the burden of good thinking more systematic and hopefully a little easier.

    When someone has learnt about critical thinking it becomes a useful tool that one can use for learning about a subject, assisting you to write better, to assess another person’s thinking or writing, and it may or may not assist you to solve one of your personal problems. It can help one argue a case and find resources to support one’s point of view, as well as many other methods and techniques that assist anyone to think more clearly, objectively, precisely, consistently, logically and broadly. Of course that is quite a tall order most of the time.

    Critical thinking may assist you to argue the opposite side of the argument and this is just as important as arguing your own point of view. Of course it means more work but effort that is rewarded by increasing your knowledge of the subject in question, as well as anticipating what your antagonist is going to argue against your position. Becoming aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your own position as well as the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent’s position is priceless.

    While critical thinking may assist you to be a better and more careful thinker there are limits to what it can do for individuals. Unlike mathematics, formal logic or peer reviewed science, critical thinking will not provide anyone with a single answer, or a set of answers that are equally valid, or ‘the truth’ to any proposition in religion, philosophy or any other discipline that falls within the arts or humanities. The reason for this is that any discipline within the arts is subject to the dispositions, starting points, preferences, beliefs, values and assumptions of any individual or any community.

    The same would apply to using critical thinking to a personal problem or issue. For example, several people could be very proficient at using critical thinking. If they were faced with the same issue or problem in the arts or in one’s personal life, the final outcome of thinking with effort, sincerity and clarity by one individual can be quite different to another person. Despite the use of critical thinking the different answers that each of these individuals ended with cannot at first glance be construed as illogical, incorrect, lazy, inconsistent or lacking in integrity.

  10. Geordie says:

    John L
    I got your joke but I thought I’d go off at a tangent. Sorry to make you squirm.

  11. John Candido says:

    The following question checklist & other resources are taken from the Queensland College of Teachers Research Digest, April 2013, which is a useful summary about critical thinking from an education journal:-

    https://www.qct.edu.au/Publications/Periodical/QCTResearchDigest2013-9.pdf

    These questions are a very handy checklist to have as a reusable resource to assist you to look at a problem involving thinking from a multitude of angles. They are sourced from:-

    Costa, A. L. (2008) ‘The thought-filled
    Curriculum’, in ‘Educational Leadership’,
    65(5), 20-24.

    Question checklist:-

    ** How can I draw on my past successes to solve this new problem?

    ** What do I already know about the problem, and what resources do I have available or need to generate?

    ** How can I approach this problem flexibly?

    ** How might I look at the situation from a fresh perspective?

    ** Am I remaining open to new possibilities?

    ** How can I make this problem clearer, more precise, and more detailed?

    ** Do I need to check out my data sources?

    ** How might I break this problem down into its component parts and develop a strategy for approaching each step?

    ** What do I know or not know?

    ** What might I be missing, and what questions do I need to ask?

    ** What strategies are in my mind now?

    ** What values, beliefs, and intentions are influencing my approach?

    ** What emotions might be blocking or enhancing my progress?

    ** How is this problem affecting others?

    ** How might we solve it together, and what can I learn from others that would help me become a better problem solver?

    The following attitudes and principles are a succinct summary of problem solving, life skills that assist one to effectively manage oneself as a responsible and rational member of society. The authors Costa and Kallick approach these skills through the following set of intellectual dispositions.

    Most of these can be characterised as common-sense. However, it is the person who makes a habit of doing this time and again who trains themselves to think with greater objectivity and care.

    ** Persisting

    ** Managing impulsivity

    ** Listening with understanding and empathy

    ** Thinking flexibly

    ** Thinking about thinking (meta-cognition)

    ** Striving for accuracy

    ** Questioning and posing problems

    ** Applying past knowledge to new situations

    ** Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision

    ** Gathering data through all senses

    ** Creating, imagining, innovating

    ** Responding with wonderment and awe

    ** Taking responsible risks

    ** Finding humour

    ** Thinking interdependently

    ** Remaining open to continuous learning

    The above list of points is sourced from:-

    Costa, A. L. & Kallick, B. (2001) ‘Discovering and exploring habits of mind’, Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

  12. John Candido says:

    Quentin mentioned Edward de Bono earlier and his idea of ‘Six Thinking Hats’ that can be used as a resource for both brainstorming in a group or for the use by any person working individually.

    There are six different tasks or lines of attack:-

    ** The White Hat calls for information known or needed. What are the known facts of the situation?

    ** The Yellow Hat symbolizes brightness and optimism. Under this hat you explore the positives and probe for value and benefit.

    ** The Black Hat is judgment, the devil’s advocate or why something may not work. Spot the difficulties and dangers; where things might go wrong. Probably the most powerful and useful of the hats but a problem if overused.

    ** The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition. When using this hat you can express emotions and feelings and share fears, likes, dislikes, loves, and hates.

    ** The Green Hat focuses on creativity – the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. It’s an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions.

    ** The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process. It’s the control mechanism that ensures the Six Thinking Hats guidelines are observed.

    The above resource is taken from:-

    de Bono, Edward. (1985) ‘Six thinking hats: An essential approach to business Management’, New York: Little, Brown & Company.

  13. John Candido says:

    Dennis Mathies’ ‘Full Spectrum Questioning for Critical Thinking’ provides a list of useful leading questions that can be applied to any context.

    ‘Full-Spectrum Questioning’ consists of:

    Who? What? When? Where? Why?

    Two useful questions can be added to this well-known list.

    Namely:-

    1. How? This usually refers to a discussion about a plan of execution.

    2. How Much? This usually refers to the material cost involved.

    There are five general categories for the so called ‘full-spectrum questioning’.

    ** ‘So what?’ questions

    ** Questions that clarify meaning

    ** Questions that explore assumptions and sources

    ** Questions that identify cause and effect

    ** Questions that plan a course of action

    The above resource is from,

    Mathies, D. (1991) ‘Precision questioning’, which is retrieved from:-
    http://www.indiana.edu/~icy/document/hallett2.pdf

    Postscript:-

    Anyone can cut and paste a list of questions and attitudes about critical thinking from the internet. Critical thinking done well is really hard at times and no one should lose sight of that fact. Along with self-awareness, objectivity, discipline, rigour, logicality, sheer effort, et al, becoming a better thinker is a useful goal that can span one’s entire lifespan. No one stops learning how to become a better thinker just because they have done it for many years in one way or another.

  14. John Candido says:

    Dr. Richard Paul of the ‘Critical Thinking Community’ has developed a checklist of questions. These can be employed to organise thinking. Paul tries to use questions that clarify matters, that probe assumptions, that carefully examine the evidence given in support of any proposition, that question viewpoints, that probe the implications and consequences of ideas, and even propose questions about the question itself that is put forward to introduce the topic. It is first used in tabular form.

    The protagonist/contrarian table:-

    The Proposition to be analysed is placed at the top of a ‘protagonist/contrarian’ table:-

    ** 1. Protagonist vs. Contrarian starting positions.
    Each person’s position is stated in ‘1’ above.

    ** 2. Protagonist argument A ➜ Rebuttal of Protagonist argument A.
    The first argument of the protagonist is rebutted in ‘2’.

    ** 3. Rebuttal of Contrarian argument A ➜ Contrarian argument A.
    In a circular fashion, the protagonist then rebuts contrarian argument A.

    ** 4. Protagonist argument B ➜ Rebuttal of Protagonist argument B.
    The protagonist’s argument B is then rebutted by the contrarian.

    ** 5. Rebuttal of Contrarian argument B ➜ Contrarian argument B.
    In full circle, the contrarian argument B is rebutted by the protagonist.

    This process is similar to that employed in a formal debate. Each argument and its rebuttal can be placed together in a final table that forms a useful summary of the entire argument.

    25 key questions that can be used to develop your thinking:-

    ** 1. What do these texts suggest about the issue?

    ** 2. How are the texts similar and different?

    ** 3. Which texts are most informative and convincing?

    ** 4. What does the data show?

    ** 5. What conclusions can be drawn from the data?

    ** 6. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the data?

    ** 7. How conclusive is the data?

    ** 8. What data is missing?

    ** 9. What data might challenge or contradict this data?

    ** 10. What other data is needed?

    ** 11. What claims are made in the text?

    ** 12. Is there a line of logical reasoning?

    ** 13. What generalisations can be made from these claims?

    ** 14. Are these claims reasonable or true?

    ** 15. What can be deduced from these claims?

    ** 16. What is assumed by this line of reasoning?

    ** 17. What view is presented in the text?

    ** 18. What is the purpose of the creator?

    ** 19. What basis or support is offered for the view presented?

    ** 20. What values are explicit or implicit in the text?

    ** 21. How is the text structured?

    ** 22. Why is the text structured as it is?

    ** 23. How does the text position the interpreter?

    ** 24. How do my views and values relate to those of the text?

    ** 25. What are the explicit and implicit values of the creator?

    The following three questions can also assist one to delineate one’s thinking.

    1. How does this material relate to the issue?

    2. What line of reasoning does this material suggest about the issue?

    3. What might each piece contribute to a Protagonist/Contrarian table of the issue?

    The above resources emanate from these two monographs,

    1. Paul, Richard. (1992) ‘Critical thinking: What, why and how’, in ‘New Directions for Community Colleges’, 1992(77), 3-27.

    2. Paul, Richard, & Elder, Linda. (2008) ‘Critical thinking: The art of Socratic questioning’, in ‘Part III. Journal of Developmental Education’, 31(3), 34-35.

    • Peter Foster says:

      The critical thinking movement is the culmination of a long period of decline in subject teaching in England. This started in state schools in the 1960s with a rejection of traditional reception teaching as indoctrination; and an enthusiasm for discovery learning whereby the teacher organises an environment in which the students discover facts and concepts for themselves; the teacher facilitator. This proved to be an inefficient way of conveying the hierarchy of concepts and facts underlying subject matter, as noted in James Callaghan’s Ruskin speech in 1979. “Myth 7: teaching knowledge is indoctrination” in Seven Myths about education by Daisy Christodoulou, Routledge 2014 surveys this field.

      However, discovery learning prevailed, subject teaching was devalued and a relativism developed which saw no need to attend to the recruitment of qualified subject teachers. At present 50% of mathematics courses and 80% of physics courses are given by teachers without the respective degrees.

      Last year, John Humphrys chaired four radio programmes on teaching. He abandoned his usual forensic style of questioning to let pass a concluding statement: “We don’t know what to teach because we don’t know the future. All we can do is to teach students how to think.”

      The principal difficulty with this approach, as the faculty psychologists (a movement in the1930s) discovered, is that critical thinking ability can be enhanced only within the context of a specific discipline”. Ausubel et al. (1978)
      AUSUBEL, DAVID P., NOVAK, JOSEPH D.and HANESIAN, HELEN (1978) Educational Psychology, A Cognitive View(New York, Holt Rinehart and Winston).

      • John Candido says:

        ‘The critical thinking movement is the culmination of a long period of decline in subject teaching in England.’ (Peter Foster)

        ‘…critical thinking ability can be enhanced ONLY (my emphasis) within the context of a specific discipline’

        I have no special qualifications or knowledge in educational issues so I cannot claim to be able to argue knowledgeably with someone who has devoted his/her life to teaching. Having said that, I think that I can make a good defense of critical thinking that is explicitly taught as a subject on its own.

        By definition, critical thinking is at the basis of every discipline and subject. Learning to think clearly, how to write better and how to assess someone else’s thinking, i.e. becoming a more independent thinker can be attained through the explicit teaching of critical thinking. There are lots of good courses and books on the subject of critical thinking that are available for members of the public to enroll in or purchase. These courses and books are not a waste of time.

        Of course teaching critical thinking can be done implicitly or indirectly such as through the teaching of a particular subject but it can also be done on its own. What is the harm in doing so if you can learn something that has many applications? The key to using and remembering this explicit set of skills is to apply it intelligently in a myriad of contexts.
        As a consumer that tests the claims of advertising or the market place. As a citizen who has to make an assessment of any politician’s rhetoric and make a judgement of newspaper articles or current affairs programs. Or as a student writing a better essay or delivering a better speech in debates, or writing better reports. All of this work is based on more organized thinking, relevant sources, greater effort, and the effect of better thinking.

        Regarding the claimed linkage between a ‘student led’ facilitation and the teaching of critical thinking as an explicit subject, is this a fact or an assumption? I have my doubts that there is any causal relationship between explicitly taught critical thinking and the alleged or actual effects of a ‘student led’ teaching style. I would tend to think that you could potentially point to a ‘student led’ teaching style as a possible ‘culprit’ of any observable or alleged negative educational outcomes, without reference to critical thinking as a standalone subject at all.

    • milliganp says:

      The main argument I would give against your thesis is that in much of professional development and in-career training the instructors are often professional instructors rather than experts on the subject matter. You don’t need a maths degree to teach trigonometry or a history degree to teach the sequence of English monarchs. As someone who went through the tail end of the old Grammar school system my constant sadness was that we were never expected to think, nor did we need to. I have a History O level on the basis of knowing Henry VII was a good king and a few details about Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. I learnt nothing about critical analysis of sources; if it’s in the history text book it’s all you need to know.

  15. John Candido says:

    The philosopher Stephen Toulmin developed the idea of what he called ‘practical arguments’ as a way of substantiating conclusions. His model sketches the relationship between a claim & the grounds offered for the claim. Finally, an assessment of the extent to which the linking of the two is warranted.

    Widely used for writing arguments in preference to the normal configuration of a very short three or five paragraph ‘essay’, consisting of an introduction, a main body and conclusion.

    The Toulmin Model of Argument:-

    1. Claim. A conclusion whose merit is to be established.
    2. Ground. (Evidence or Data) Fact or evidence offered as a foundation for the claim.
    3. Warrant. A statement authorizing the relation of the claim and the ground.
    4. Backing. Reasons offered to justify the warrant for a claim.
    5. Rebuttal. A consideration of possible challenges or counter claims.
    6. Qualifier. An indication of a degree of strength or certainty.

    The above resource emanates from:-

    Toulmin, Stephen. (1958) ‘The Uses of Argument’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Candido
      While what you have posted is useful for mechanistic, repetitive thinking in the sciences and various other disciplines, Try as I might, I cannot see where faith and the nature of faith fits in? Faith is different from the linear view of things and thinking.

      • John Candido says:

        Thank you for your comment Nektarios. I agree with your proposition that ‘faith is different from the linear view of things and thinking’ if what you mean by ‘faith’ is a simple and uncomplicated understanding of belief. ‘Faith’ in that sense is our starting point or a shared assumption if you like of the truthful basis of our universe.

        However once one talks about faith and its relationship to human beings, faith and theology, faith and scripture, faith and philosophy, faith and the Roman Catholic Church, faith and its relationship to ecumenism and non-Christian religions, faith and its relationship to science, faith and its relationship to art, music, liturgy, prayer, et al, would be where people would have to employ rational thought.

        In the application of rational thought to these many subjects one would by necessity need to be able to justify one’s opinions rationally, either verbally or in writing, using all of the principles of clear thinking. The very same skills are needed to fairly and dispassionately assess someone else’s thinking or justifications for their points of view. It is easier said than done.

      • Nektarios says:

        John Candido
        Scripture puts the question rhetorically, ` Can a man through sitting down and taking thought, find out God?’ It would seem obviously not.
        The Faith, is seen by the RCC, many Orthodox and liberal protestants too, not to mention all the other religions as simple statements of belief – belief being what thought makes of that Revelation of God concerning Salvation in Christ.
        But that is to approach God, from our very limited standpoint and at a linear level, rising no further than that.
        But that is not the gift of God to His people – faith is only understood correctly at the spiritual level, for it is spiritual in nature.
        Of course there are many areas where mere thought can be used, the psychological, sciences, mathematics, the repetitive, the technological and other areas, but like I have said, these are all at the linear level.

      • milliganp says:

        Nektarios, it has always been the teaching of the Catholic Church that God can be known through the light of reason. As the psalmist says “The heavens proclaim the glory of the Lord” and Romans 1:19-20 “T- since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

    • milliganp says:

      John, I do wish Quentin would take you to task. The principal behind limiting post sizes is to help with clarity and to ensure the blog is a discussion – not a series of personal statements. You have posted a short essay rather than a specific, meaningful, contribution to the discussion and all it does is fill up the screen with stuff most people don’t want to be forced to read.

      • Quentin says:

        I see this blog principally as a way of examining issues through thoughtful exchanges. This frees me to express my own ideas since I can look to contributors to spot my mistakes or query my arguments. And I am happy that from time to time we slide off the point, provided that we keep this under reasonable control.

        The best discussions are those which read like intelligent conversation. They tend to address one point at a time – knowing that a blog allows one to make further points in further contributions. My guess is that any contribution over 200 words is likely to be ignored – unless it is very well written. I believe that debate by the use of internet links is self-defeating. Quotations of any length should be used sparingly – it is only too easy to debate with the weapon of ‘copy and paste’, and pretty easy to ignore the result.

        The rules are few. And I am not keen to extend them. 600 words is the maximum for a contribution. More than two internet links passes the contribution to me for approval. Sometimes this is justified, but I have to judge. The most important rule is courtesy. It is not only required for its own sake, but because we have tens of thousands of ‘occasional’ visitors. I would like them to recognise that we have as much concern for those with whom we disagree, as we do for the others. Our discussions are much enriched by those of other denominations and none, but the blog is bound to be seen as the Catholic Church on display. Let’s hope they see us at our best. ‘Look at these Christians, see how they love one another!’

      • Nektarios says:

        Milliganp
        So what has man done with it? Ignored God and his manifestation of something of His glory. What has man with his reason done with it? Exactly the same. Reason puts man at the centre of all things, he becomes the authority, his own little god if you like.
        So his reason in its Fallen state, with the limitations on it, man has not seen or glorified God, but led him astray, deluded him and the end of the day, left him without excuse.

      • milliganp says:

        Nektarios, your response is incoherent; I can’t even begin to reply.

  16. St.Joseph says:

    John Candido.
    That sounds very comlicated to me,!

  17. St.Joseph says:

    Quentin.
    The statement you made’ God is a figmant of our imagination. But then it could occur that our concept of God is largely a figment of our imagination.’
    I undestand. what you say, but not the definition of ‘imagination’. Is it not something that we have no conscious of. A door etc know what it looks like, etc. Imagination is I believe something that is not real or we have not seen!
    However we have seen God,because we have seen Jesus, as Jesus said when asked that question. ‘You have seen me ,therefore you have seen the Father.So in a sense God as the Father is not a figmant of our imagination.
    We have not seen Jesus but know that He exists,
    The Holy Spirit would probably be a figment of our imagination, as He (as described as a Dove or tongues of fire) we can imagine Him through the good works we do.
    Does this make sense, is it thinking sideways?

    • Quentin says:

      “Jesus said when asked that question. ‘You have seen me, therefore you have seen the Father. So in a sense God as the Father is not a figment of our imagination.”

      Yes and no. You might realise that the concept of God as eternal spirit is something that you cannot imagine. So following Jesus’ words you look at him to get the best human idea of what the Father is like. You can, if you wish, make a list of Jesus’ qualities as the New Testament describes them – knowing that these qualities which the human mind can imagine are extended infinitely in the nature of God. For example you might note love, mercy, forgiveness – but also (darn it!) challenging demands.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Quentin.
        Thank you, however God spoke to Moses and Abraham and the prophets, I see it He must be a ‘person’ the first Person of the Blessed Trinity. who has no beginning or no end. This take us into the Heavenly beings, Angels and Arch Angels.before Adam and Eve,I know we dont use our imagination through this because we have had the paintings describing this centeries ago.
        But when we hear the visionaries account of Jesus and Our Blessed Mother,and St Michael , St Padre Pio who has appeared- I believe too that we ‘can’ see God as the Father of Jesus and of us,as a person with white hair, and can appear as He wishes!
        I think I may have said this before, but when I was about 3 and learning to say my prayers, for my father (before he came home from the war) I used to post a letter to him and kiss it for my ‘father’.
        When my father did come home I would not go near him as I cried and told my grandmother and mother ‘He is not my father, he lives in the sky and has long grey hair and a white beard.’ I will say also. I saw the same image when I was about 8or 9 one evening in bed and saw His angry blazing eyes. I was not dreaming!
        I think most people will see Him lke this. The first person of the Blessed Trinity.

      • Quentin says:

        Of course many people get consolation from imagining God as an old man with white hair. Nothing wrong with that. But, because we are concerned with truth, we should keep in the back of our mind that the divine nature is wholly spiritual, and cannot in fact be grasped through human senses. However we have, as you have pointed out, Jesus to tell us all we need to know.

        If we happen to have a vision of an angel, that would be a temporary manifestation provided by God for his purposes. But, again, an angel is a spiritual being in itself. Spirits don’t have wings!

  18. St.Joseph says:

    Quentin. thank your for your reply.
    We learn as a child that we are made in the image and likeness of God in our souls.
    I could go round and round in circles thinking about that, then come to a ‘dead end’!

    • milliganp says:

      My penny catechism said “This likeness to God is CHIEFLY in my soul”; because of the incarnation, God becoming man, we can say that we are made in the image and likeness of Christ who is fully divine and fully human.
      There is a wonderful hymn containing the words:

      “in his own image God created man,
      and when from dust he fashioned Adam’s face,
      the likeness of his only son was formed:
      His Word incarnate, filled with truth and grace.”

  19. milliganp says:

    We always seem to rapidly drift off-topic on these blogs – but I don’t think it is lateral thinking as we keep returning to previous topics and personal hobby horses. The ability to think differently is, surely, essential to faith given that human falleness has the tendency to take us in the wrong direction. Exploring alternative possibilities, of itself, can never be harmful to faith as long as we apply our faith to the results to test them. Thus, after Vatican II, we recognised that all faiths contain a search for truth and that this search for truth is itself a Divine gift to all faiths.

  20. milliganp says:

    I had a friend many years ago who might be considered a permanent lateral thinker to the extent he would never accept the obvious solution to any problem -but this has its drawbacks. He was the sort of person who, if a fuse blew, would go to the fuse board and immediately decide that it was inadequately designed and so, instead of repairing the fuse he would pontificate on the absurdity of relying on a thin piece of wire evaporating to provide electrical safety and the poor maintainability of the system (the fuse board is always in a dark, inaccessible place etc.) I felt sorely for his wife as his house was a graveyard of unrepaired items in need of redesign. If I fast-forward most houses now have circuit breakers and, no doubt in a decade or two, we’ll have electronic fuses that you repair from your iPad – or better, repair themselves by isolating the faulty appliance.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Milliganp.
      I wish my computer would tell me when its not working right, so that I could just press a button and it would tell me what to do..
      It is doing its own thing at the moment since BT did something which is supposed to be better,I have been on to them and asked to go back to the old way,all they did was to take off all the one second adverts It is fine on the blog it is the e.mails.,.

    • Martha says:

      O dear, very trying for his family, much worse even than a perfectionist who finds it hard to take any short cuts!

      Lateral thinking seems to be very popular in detective stories too, so much so that the reader automatically discounts the obvious answer, and then sometimes finds that was correct in a complicated double bluff explanation. I encountered this many years ago in G. K. Chesterton’s Fr. Brown tales, and he is well known for his writings on the paradox of Christian belief, which I am afraid I find rather hard to read

      • Peter Foster says:

        John Candido: the link, which you query, between the decline of subject teaching and the critical thinking movement is that the latter replaces the former.
        While some simple heuristics are a useful aid; that is all.
        They do not constitute a body of knowledge, a structure of facts and concepts such as we see embodied in subjects such mathematics, physics, language, music and literature; and essentially are the basis upon which further thought is built.
        Recall, Diana Laurillard, head of the e-learning strategy unit at the Department for Education and Skills told John Humphrys “We don’t know what to teach because we don’t know the future. All we can do is to teach students how to think.”

        In the limit students will have lists of heuristics and nothing to think about, other than trivia. This view may seem harsh but it is deserved by the seriousness of the problem.

      • milliganp says:

        Peter, your post implies that you consider subject teaching to be irredeemably broken. Does this extend to A levels, ‘the gold standard’ and university education? Britain still ranks highly in university education, so it can’t all be bad, surely?

  21. G.D. says:

    Peter, (not sure i grasp your point but) isn’t it ‘critical thinking’ (and lateral thinking) that enables one to grasp the contents of knowledge and develop them? And so order knowledge to reveal the, as yet, unknown truths within them?
    { (heuristic def.) a common sense rule (or set of rules) intended to increase the probability of solving some problem}
    Any ‘thinking’ person applying critical thinking is surely able to structure facts and concepts just as much as one who has learned by assimilating fact and concepts purely from taking on board subject knowledge by rote and reasoning?
    Aren’t both needed for the progression of knowing ‘more’?

    • Peter Foster says:

      G.D. To teach people how to think a priori is a seductive idea; but we are revisiting an issue which has been well explored:

      “Once the heuristics of discovery are mastered, they constitute, according to Bruner (1961, 1974) ‘a style of problem solving or enquiry that serves for any kind of task one may encounter’. (He proposes in effect that students can be taught “how to think” with universal application.) The principal difficulty with this approach ….. is that critical thinking ability can be enhanced only within the context of a specific discipline.

      Grand strategies of discovery, like scientific method, do not seem to be transferable across disciplinary lines – either when acquired within a given discipline, or when learned in a more general form apart from specific subject matter content. This principle has been confirmed by countless studies and is illustrated by the laughable errors of logic and judgement committed by distinguished scientists and scholars who wander outside their discipline.”
      David P. Ausebel, “The Psychology of Meaningful Verbal Learning”, Grune and Stratton, 1963.

  22. Peter Foster says:

    Milligamp. We can see some symptoms:

    (1) 93 per cent of children are educated in state schools yet they struggle to gain half the places in the top four internationally recognised universities in England in spite of enormous pressure on the universities.

    (2) In the OECD Pisa tests:
    The UK has failed to make any progress in catching up global rivals in school tests taken by teenagers in maths, reading and science – and is no longer in the top 20 for any subject.

    If you have more than a passing interest I recommend you read an analysis by a practicing school teacher: Seven Myths about education by Daisy Christodoulou, Routledge 2014.

    • milliganp says:

      We are caught up in the classic correlation vs causation fallacy. The number of state educated children attending the ‘top four’ universities has increased over time while – by your measure – education rigour has fallen (and this presumes private education hasn’t change its methods over time). The PISA test is about innate (but developed) skills rather than specific learning, it also appears to directly relate to cultural expectation (Asia trounces Europe and the Americas). If we make an EU comparison the UK came 7th of the 26 EU states reported in the PISA test. None of this is cause for complacency but it is easy to rubbish the efforts of those currently engaged in educating our children by unreasonable or innaccurate comparisons.

      • Peter Foster says:

        Milligamp: It troubles me that you accept that the independent sector is an amazing 13 times more effective than the state schools in subject teaching. Do you think that 50% of mathematics courses and 80% of physics courses being given by teachers without the respective degrees is relevant?

      • milliganp says:

        Peter, it is surprising that you don’t address the issues I have raised but merely regurgitate points already dealt with; perhaps that what is wrong with reception teaching –regurgitated facts are not the same as knowledge or understanding.
        I’m not defending the status quo but pointing out the faults in your logic and that matters aren’t as dire as you present. Your thesis that the independent sector is 13 times as effective as the state is not only an entirely meaningless measure but is also not born out by the number of students from Catholic schools achieving high grades in A levels. The nuber of students going to 4 universities is not the sole measure of educational achievement.

  23. John Candido says:

    Not everyone believes in critical thinking as a standalone subject or course. Here are two titles that may be of interest to some of you.

    ‘Logically Fallacious’, by Bo Bennett PhD, 2015, published by Archieboy Holdings, LLC.

    ‘The Oxford Guide to Effective Argument & Critical Thinking’, by Colin Swatridge, 2014, Oxford University Press.

    I usually buy eBooks from Amazon Australia for my desktop Kindle reader. When I am buying a physical book I tend to use a site called ‘Booko’. Put the title you are looking for in Booko and it will quickly find you the bookshop that offers the title with the cheapest price.

    This is the United Kingdom site for Booko: https://booko.co.uk/ . You can change the country orientation of the site by clicking your nation’s flag on the top right hand corner. The site can be used in 17 different countries. Happy hunting!

    • Peter Foster says:

      Milligamp, I am sorry not to have found any point of contact upon which to build a discussion. I suppose this is a weakness of the blog format where there is no time to read and digest references when contrary minds collide.

      John Candido, I will buy your second reference so that the next time the blog comes to skirt such matters we will be in a better position to interact fruitfully.

    • Peter Foster says:

      John Candido. I have now read your recommendation:
      Oxford Guide to Effective Argument and Critical Thinking by Colin Swatridge, OUP 2014.
      I found it interesting but only in a trivial way is it concerned with thinking. It comprises a classification of the structure of types of arguments with examples and assessments of their validity.

      It is not a key to unlock the hierarchy of facts and concepts in subject matter or replace subject matter as envisaged by Diana Laurillard, head of the e-learning strategy unit at the Department for Education and Skills, who told John Humphrys “We don’t know what to teach because we don’t know the future. All we can do is to teach students how to think.”

      A good test is the question: had this book been available to Paul Dirac how would it have helped him in his thoughts on quantum theory and anti-matter?
      “The Strangest Man, the hidden life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius, by Graham Farmelo, Faber and Faber, 2009.

      • John Candido says:

        If we both had lived in the 17th, 18th and possibly the 19th century Peter there would have been a risk that this sort of low level public hackle raising would have led inexorably to pistols at ten paces. Sorry, but I have absolutely no interest in these sorts of ‘my honour is at stake’ contests online with anyone. It is why I absolutely detest posting on Facebook. There is no adjudicator/journalist such as you will find on televised debates on Facebook.

        We both differ on the issue and that is the end of the matter as far as I am concerned. I would have the same attitude for any other issue with anyone else on SecondSight. The days when I would get red under the collar on SecondSight over a comment by anyone else are well and truly over. These sorts of debates are destructive and serve no real purpose other than to gleefully drive your opponent into the ground, massage your ego and claim victory. Etiquette is everything.

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