Cogitology, The Art of Thinking

I wrote an essay on thinking. When I showed it to Musea columnist Gregory K.H. Bryant (see this section) he wrote back – great idea and here are some more tips to add to the list. Then I added some, and he added more, etc. We even came up with a name for this science of ‘mental hygiene, (nothing serious MIND you) that we call “COGITOLOGY”. Here then is our growing list of suggestions for you to improve your processes of thinking beginning with the essay “ON THINKING”. (Those with ‘th’ at the end are by Tom Hendricks. Those with “GKHB’ at the end are by Gregory K.H. Bryant.)

Start with the phrase, ‘wish I’d thought of that first’. To me that’s like saying – (go back in time with me. We’re at the parlor of the French composer Ravel. He’s just put the final notes on his composition, Le Tombeau De Couperin, – which by the way is one of my favorite piano pieces, and who can argue with that! I can just hear the sprightly notes flowing like a rush of crystal clear, icey cold mountain water falling in countless mini falls – but I digress – He, Ravel, for you and me, plays his new composition from start to finish. We’re astounded by it’s ravishing beauty. But then you rashly blurt out) ‘Wish I’d composed that first!’) Ravel and I, both know you’ve never played the piano in your life and we’re taken back by what you said. And rightly so because – unlike you, dear reader, are thinking now – great thinking requires the same skills as great composing/piano playing. And that is: some natural talent, plus a lot of practice and training.

IT’S A WIDESPREAD MISCONCEPTION THAT GREAT THOUGHTS AND IDEAS JUST POP INTO RANDOM PEOPLE’S HEADS! But nothing could be farther from the truth. Thinking is like muscle building, you must train and train and train, 40 hours a week or more! So, brain builders, here’s a regimen for you:
1. CONSTANT INPUT: You must continuously gather information – read everything – listen to everyone – ask questions, etc. Look around you and pick up everything.
2. REFLECT: Take time to think without any distractions. This is probably the most neglected excercise, but also the most important. Take a walk, or go into a room with no stimuli (radio and TV off and no people) and just think, reflect, meditate. An hour a day is the MINIMUM. Days on end are better, and I’m serious. You must THINK, THINK, THINK, without any distractions for hours and hours, days and days.
3. EXPERIMENT: Try some ideas. See if they work. Correct or discard what’s wrong & try again. Rinse and repeat! I often say ‘I never make a mistake, I make ADJUSTMENTS.
4. GET ADVICE AND RESEARCH: Take what you’ve thought up and get other opinions on it. Listen well, and think about what others are saying. (Sometimes I think just about every problem has already been solved by someone. Our job is to find that answer and put our spin on it to further it along.)

Also important is the WAY we think:
1. DON’T LEARN INFORMATION, LEARN THE PROCESS OF GETTING INFORMATION: Example: I have 2 hours. I can either learn 5 new vocabulary words or I can learn how to use a dictionary and know the meaning of every word in the English language.
2. PRACTICE: Let’s pretend you’re president of a unified world. What’s your agenda? In other words, you’ve now got the power, solve the world’s problems. What specific things would you do to solve the world’s problems? I’m serious now. Give serious answers to ending major problems. Then get some other’s perspective on your solutions and make those adjustments and try again and again.
3. LEARN HOW TO USE MACHINES: At this point in time, the big split in the world is not so much between rich and poor, or left and right, but between machinists (people who are trained in using technology) and non-machinists (people who are not). Great thinking in this day and age HAS to contend with the technology explosion. you must know how to work machines – everything from car doors, to computers.
4. LEARN PROBLEM SOLVING: Our most revered thinkers are those who solve real problems. (which, strangely enough, is a skill hardly any public school addresses AT ALL) Relationship problems, money problems, health problems, etc.
5. ON THE OTHER HAND, RANDOM KNOWLEDGE: what is seemingly meaningless now, can be the last piece of the puzzle (or the jab that puts the last piece into place). Learn everything in every field. Never limit your scope to a specific field. If you do, you’ll lock out the answers!
6. LET THE NEURONS MISFIRE A LITTLE: When someone asks me to say what first pops into my head when I hear the word shoe, I say blue. Here’s why. I see a shoe in my mind. Actually its a pair of work boots painted by Van Gogh. They’re in a field of a brilliant blue. My neurons are not going in the ‘proper’ order (whatever that may be) but what I end up with is still logical in a very creative (instead of linear) way. Let your mind out of a 2 + 2 must be 4 logic system. (In a 3 instead of a 9 number system 2 + 2 = 10!) When I was trying (very trying) to unscramble math equations, the trig teacher would say, ‘start from the back and work forward.’ When you’re faced with a problem, start from the solution and work back or start from the middle and work out, or the upper left quadrant, or…

Well that’s enough exercise. (It’s time for the rest and reflect mode). And… as you can see, reader – THINKING IS TOUGHER THAN YOU MAY HAVE THOUGHT!

One final note: If your parents and/or your school teachers destroyed your love of learning, none of the above will work. I pity the cruel twist of fate in your life. It was all so senseless and stupid.

Cogitology Part Two

FLOWS OF THOUGHT: Pay attention to (your) flow of thought – impulses, half-formed ideas, not-quite-yet thoughts, are all running though our brains with every instant. Most of us who have been socialized into living a community have learned or taught ourselves to ignore the passage of this flow of thought, and to deny many of the unacceptable thoughts that flow through our brains. That is why James Joyce met so much resistance to his work – people were so conditioned to the conventional telling of stories that the flow-of-consciousness writing that Joyce pioneered (and which is much truer to ‘reality’ than the contrivances of fiction) that they simply couldn’t make sense out of what they were reading, thought they were doing precisely the same thing every day and were more intimately familiar with the flow if consciousness style of word-making than any other. (GKHB)

WALK IN NATURE: For some inexplicable reason, a simple long walk in a quiet woods does wonders for creative thought. And it’s not only the great poetry of a Wordsworth, there’s Beethoven figuring out a symphony passage, Newton getting the point when an apple falls on his head, and Robert Bruce earning a lesson in courage from the 7th attempt of a spider to build its web. (th)

ASK A CHILD OR AN IDIOT: By posing your dilemma to somebody totally uninformed about any aspect of the problem, you’ll get a totally fresh opinion that may, just may spark the answer you’ve been looking for. (th)

LEARN HOW TO RID THE MIND OF WORDS: Most of us have a voice talking talking talking in our heads ceaselessly. Most people assume that it is impossible to turn this voice off, and that is only because they have never really tried. In fact, it is not that hard to do at all, though it does require some practice. Being able to remain in a wordless state for extended periods produces a wondrously cleansing and liberating effect. Everybody should practice wordlessness at least once a day. GKHB)

The 30’s GATE: no matter how precocious you are, the undeniable fact is that the serious, earth-shaking, thinking almost always comes in your later years. And there’s something about that age from 28-30 that is a gate or hurdle to profound thought. If you are over that age, you’ll note that that was a passage of serious growing up when (for who knows what reason) we are tested with tough enough times, that those experiences knock out what is false and start us on a lean path to real knowledge. Check out your favorite famous person and see if their notable achievements didn’t really start forming till those groundbreaking years 28-30. (th)

SEE IT: Visuals stick in the memory quicker than just about any other form of learning. (th).

ADVICE OF THE WHITE QUEEN: A good principle is the advice of the White Queen who undertook to believe a dozen impossible things, every day before breakfast. Whatever the exact wording was. Our dogmatic rejection of things on the grounds that they are ‘impossible’ does much to stifle the development of thought. Ever hear somebody respond to an idea ‘it can’t be done’? This is a universal response to creative ideas and it is almost universally wrong. Edison heard it, Tesla heard it, Ford heard it – but not one of them believed it, meaning they chose to believe in the impossible. (GKHB)

REPEAT AND REPEAT AGAIN: When it comes to teaching our subconscious mind (the mind that works the body) nothing works better than repeat, repeat, and repeat again. habit and repetition can make virtually any tough task stick. Ask that concert pianist why he’s repeating and repeating and repeating again. And as a a bit of serendipity, the endless repeats bring about tiny refinements that over time turn a rand amateur painter into a master. (th)

HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR: After all, humor is a mental activity, and every joke and witticism carries a seed of Zen, and we laugh at a joke as our response to sudden enlightenment. (GKHB)

DON’T LOOK JUST WHERE THE LIGHT’S BETTER: A guy is looking for his lost keys under a lamp post. Another asks ‘where did you lose them?’ The 1st guy points to a dark area along the sidewalk. “Well why are you looking here?’ The 1st guy replies ‘The light is better’. Right now, for example, almost all mainstream medical research is in the area of drug therapy for curing diseases. that’s where the light is, but is the next great innovation in health going to be in that research line? The light is better but the keys aren’t there. (th).

DON’T IDENTIFY SO STRONGLY WITH YOUR THOUGHTS: Thinking is hard for many of us because we identify so strongly with our thoughts. Many people believe that salvation or damnation depends upon what we think (I think there may be some truth to that, but it is not so rigid a truth as we believe). We have too much at stake, for our sense of who we are depends so much on what and how we think. Why do we treat intelligence as if it were a virtue? It isn’t. It’s a capacity like running, or swimming – some of us are naturally good at it, some of us are practiced at it, but whether we are good swimmers or good thinkers, both these matters are completely irrelevant to whether we are good or decent people. When we remove the phony moral elements from it, thinking becomes fun. Thinking is FUN! (GKHB)

USE FACTS AS A STEPPING STONE: Case in point. In Art Surfing, I reported that the Personal Library Series has put 1,896 classic works on CD-Rom. Using that as a stepping stone, I envision a website on the internet with ALL LITERARY CLASSICS on it that can be sent and downloaded via the internet to ANY university, school, business, or home, thus making the library of humankind available to all. (th).

LET YOUR KIDS GET BORED: Perhaps nothing, I repeat NOTHING is as important to mental development as boredom! Let me explain. Have you seen those poor kids that are dragged from music lessons, to scouts, to school, to soccer, to church activities, much like a deer caught in the headlights. When we allow our children to 1st catch up to all that’s swirling around them, and then allow them to be so caught up with the stimulation overload to be BORED, then what do they do? They begin creating their own diversions, and stimulating themselves in just those areas that interest them. Their learning skyrockets as their own creativity builds. Nothing insures brilliance better! (th)
COGITOLOGY PART 3
Here is Musea’s 3rd installment of its growing list of suggestions for you to improve your processes of thinking. Those with ‘th’ at the end are by Tom Hendricks, those with ‘GKHB’ at the end are by Gregory K.H. Bryant.

WORK ON THESE STEPS AHEAD LIKE CHESS PLAYERS. Get into the habit of thinking of an action, then the reaction, and you’re re-reaction. Pus the boundaries forward of how far ahead you can imagine. Don’t stop at thinking at the first action. See your hand through the board like they do in Karate. th.

GET HEALTHY. Don’t project your psychoses on the world and call it scientific fact or indisputable philosophy. Resolve your own inner conflicts and don’t let them muddy your perceptions. th.

FACT AND OPINION. I think very important for clear thinking is making the distinction between ‘fact’ and opinion. It is in doing this that science is so powerful. Of course, the fundamental distinction between the two is endlessly controversial, and in some senses, there is no real difference- by my personal definition, a ‘fact’ is simply an opinion that you can get most people to agree to. But all this is very much by the way – whatever conventional criteria we use to distinguish between the two of them is not so important as the fact of making the distinction and applying it consistently. GKHB.

LOOK FOR THE THEORY THAT MAKES ALL THE PIECES FIT. Darwin’s theory on Evolution worked everywhere in every situation. in trying to solve life’s mysteries, look for the solution that makes ALL THE PIECES FIT. If your theory needs countless exceptions, addenda, and endless smudging, go back to the drawing board. th.

VIRTUE OF REPETITIVE AND MINDLESS TASKS. These mindless tasks: washing dishes, scrubbing toilets, planting potatoes, and so on, keep our bodies active, and simultaneously free the mind to think. Washing dishes is very Zen, and enlightenment can easily be found in a sink full of dirty water. Enlightenment will be found wherever it is we happen to look. If we cannot find wisdom mopping floors, we don’t have it in us to find it anywhere. GKHB.

WISDOM AND ENLIGHTENMENT ARE NOT STRICTLY PURITAN CONCEPTS. We can find wisdom (as Bukowski did) at the bottom of a beer bottle, or as Burroughs did, withdrawing from heroin. We can find wisdom in an orgasm, in a life devoted to alcoholism, even in a life devoted to crime– Jesse James and Al Capone both had little kernels of wisdom to offer up. There is no single road to wisdom. all roads lead there, if only we follow them where they all inevitably lead. If we have failed to find it upon the course we have taken, it means that we haven’t yet got there. We still have further to go. GKHB.

WORK YOUR BRAIN LIKE A MUSCLE. You wouldn’t exercise 16 hours a day. Same with heavy duty thinking. A couple of hours of hard work, then rest, switch to some light repetitive simple work. What seems to work best for most is a total 4 hours a day max. Another case of less is more– much more gets done, solved, realized. th.

WISDOM THROUGH LIES AND PHONY TEACHINGS. The fact that a teaching happens to be false does not mean it has no wisdom to offer. It only means we have to take care in extracting its fruit. We learn much wisdom from Aesop, though animals don’t really talk. His biology is false, but Aesop’s ethical teachings are profound. And so it is with everything we study. The idea for us is to learn the wisdom behind the statements, not dogmatically or pendantically, but conditionally. GKHB.

DON’T STUMBLE OVER THE OBVIOUS WHEN THE LIGHT IS ON. Look back over the great discoveries of the past. To us don’t they seem so… obvious. Yet to all the contemporaries of those geniuses, the obvious was not obvious at all. Don’t over-think to the point that you miss the obvious. th.
COGITOLOGY PART 4
Here is Musea’s 4th installment of its growing list of suggestions to fine tune your processes of thinking. Those with ‘GKHB’ at the end are by Musea Columnist, Gregory K.H. Bryant. Those with ‘th’ at the end are by editor Art (Tom Hendricks).

BE LUCKY: In the sci-fi classic Ringworld, one crew member is chosen because in the evolutionary process she has the trait of GOOD LUCK. Just think what Da Vinci could have done with an electric motor, but he was born too soon so most of his brilliant ideas were parlor tricks to his contemporaries. It took some 400 years to bring them to fruition. th.

WHY AM I BORED? Boredom almost always comes about because whatever it is we are doing at the moment, we would prefer to be doing something else. Which means that our minds are not here and now our minds are elsewhere, but our bodies trapped here. this disconnect between body and mind is a painful thing, and we often seek to avoid it reflexively, without giving any thought to what our state of boredom indicates about ourselves. Boredom gives us a chance to learn about ourselves. If we study our own sense of boredom, we will learn many useful things. If we avoid it, we learn nothing. GKHB

LESSER SENSES: Don’t forget the lesser senses. Expand your wisdom with not only experiencing sights and sounds but with tastes, smells and touch. Widen your thoughts and feelings on the world around you by noting all the smells, tastes, and textures etc. Each is another full world in itself! th.

BIBLE RISING: When you feel the bile rising in your throat, when you feel that irresistible impulse to interrupt the other speaker with loud shouting and name-calling, stop it and ask yourself honestly, ‘Why am I getting so angry?’ Nine times out of ten, you’ll find that the anger arises either because you take disagreement as an assault on your own sense of self-worth, or because the disagreement causes you to feel fear. If your beliefs are so delicately poised that a single doubt may bring them to ruin, then you ought to seriously reconsider those beliefs. If you argue to yourself that the different point of view is dangerous, (or that it may seduce other, not-so-sophisticated people into evil, and should be suppressed), then you are admitting your own fear. Stifling expression of thought because we fear it is intellectual cowardice. GKHB.

STRESS-TEST YOUR THINKING: We build a new technology, and find that it works. But that is not sufficient. Before we market our new technology, we subject it to stress-testing, to find our when, and under which conditions it will break down. We also want to find out specifically the kinds of break-downs that will occur. We ought to do this with our own thinking. My present beliefs work for me now, and under these present conditions. Now let me find out whether these beliefs will stand up to other conditions, and let me actively seek out the conditions under which my beliefs are untenable. GKHB.

THINK PATTERNS: Recognize that everybody has different think patterns. A child’s is different from a teen, or someone in their 20’s, 30’s,…80’s, etc. Men are different from women, Asians are different from Africans, and our thinking now is different from 500 years ago and 500 years into the future. To understand anything or anybody, recognize that they will probably NOT be sharing your think patterns, (i.e. the way you thoughts and feelings) th.

THE UGLY TRUTH: The ugliest truth is always better than the prettiest lie. But it is a temptation to fill our heads with pretty lies rather than face these ugly truths. Resist this temptation. We so often try to drown out the voice of truth in our own heads because it is telling us things we don’t want to hear. GKHB.

DESTROY ALL RATIONAL THOUGHT: This is the call to arms given us by William S. Burroughs. The point here is that a narrow insistence upon rationality ignores 99.9% of human existence, and the nature of reality. It is nonsense for us to expect that all our experience should conform to the limited applications of rationality. Give up all fear or the non-rational and the irrational. GKHB.

READ: 15 minutes a day for 4-6 years is a college education, and if you choose a little bit of everything from economics to Chinese poetry, it’s a very GOOD college you went to. th.

DON’T PUSH IT: If it’s not working today, go fishing– give up– take a walk. There are days when it just rolls oh so well, and others when everything you try is blocked. There’s a weather to everything, included thinking. th.

WHAT A THING IS AND WHAT I THINK OF IT ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS: As a rhetorical device we often deny that a thing is what it is because of some quality we do not approve of – “He is not a man!”, “No self-respecting individual would do a thing like that,” Thinking gets confused when we promiscuously throw fact and opinion together into a single vat- it is also a technique of the sophists (read politicians) to confuse the difference, treating opinions as if they were facts, and facts as if they were nothing but opinions. All we do when we make these meaningless assertions is to confuse our own thinking. GKHB.>

GAZE AT THE MOON: Builds up ‘reflective’ thought. th.

COGITOLOGY PART 5

1. CREATIVITY HELPED: Creativity is sometimes HELPED not hindered by these 3 things: structure (must fit the format), competition (pushes you to excel), and stress to complete on time (forced to be brilliant). So consider: sonnet forms, art contests, and deadlines, as all sometime-pluses.

2. LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT: If you love what you’re learning, you’ll learn it – absorb it like a sponge and go for more. If you hate it you, like the horse, won’t drink the water!

3. PUT IT TO THE TEST: Put your ideas to the test. That’s the philosophy of science and it’s made an incredible impact on human knowledge. You can ponder all day, but sooner or later you have to look/see!

4. DON’T JUMP – SLIIIIIIDE! Move from one layer of the onion to the next until you get to the core of the problem you’re trying to figure out. No major discovery was ever jumped to. They all required little steps; but, amazingly the little steps keep moving you forward until you reach marvelous and incredible endings.

5. DISCUSS WITH EVERYONE: Problems are often already solved or led to solution by something someone else says. Listen and learn.

6. NEVER OVERLOOK THE EXCEPTIONS The rules should cover the entire waterfront. Exceptions are the key to why a rule isn’t the final answer. Pay special attention to exceptions, they often lead to amazing discoveries in human thought.

7. DON’T LOCK INTO A PREDITION: Go into any problem open-minded. Let the facts show you the truth instead of you trying to force the facts to suit any predisposed ideas.

8. MUSE FACTOR Pray for inspiration. STOP LEARNING. When you graduated from high school, you thought the junior high kids were morons. When you graduated from college 4 years later, you thought the high school grads were morons. Now imagine what someone who continues learning every day after college for the next 30 years thinks of those who never cracked a book after graduation day – moron squared! Moral being – keep learning.

10. DO WHAT’S RIGHT If you’re searching for wisdom to do the right thing then the entire universe is behind you. If you’re searching for wisdom for wickedness the entire universe is against you. Go with good.

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One Response to “Cogitology, The Art of Thinking”

  1. musea Says:

    This essay was also included in my sci-fi book Writings in Science in a slightly updated version.

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