Modes of thought

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A writer quickly learns that he must think in a new way: a way that prioritises creativity at the expense of accuracy and technical completeness. When you are learning a new skill it seems obvious that you must improve your technical knowledge. But if continued ad infinitum this leads to a kind of paralysis.

Imagine that you are a general the night before an important battle. It is essential that you gain as much information as possible about the enemy – his position and weaponry, his likely strategy given the lay of the land between you, the weather forecast, the lines of supply you might cut, your own logistics requiring protection. As the battle begins this information demand goes into overload. The changing conditions mean that all information you gathered the day before is now out-of-date and needs constant refreshing. As the battle evolves some information becomes critical and other information becomes superfluous, distracting even.

We can extend this idea to life in general – how often do we get trapped in the past, or see others living as if nothing had changed in the last ten years? We are constantly in a mismatch between our expectations and reality, and this can be the cause of a great deal of unhappiness.

The problem is that there is too much information for the conscious mind to compute. However it has been shown that the unconscious part is far better at processing large amounts of information and coming up with the answer required. But even this has limits.

Consider the magic number seven. Our telephone landlines were traditionally only 6 or 7 numbers because any more than 7 and the mind has trouble remembering the digits. The point is that it is essential not to overburden the mind with too much information at one time.

For this reason, when Word highlights an error as I type I do my level best not to go back and correct it. If I did that my train of thought would be broken, and the destination that I have in mind (0f which I am largely unaware of), would be lost. This is very difficult, but the mode of thought I am trying to access operates only at high speed. Thinking out each word before you write it will never produce the creativity I am talking about. This is a creativity not owned by you or me: small cogs in the great machinery of the world, but is a creative mode of thinking that plugs into the whole world at once. It simultaneously knows the weather and the lay of the land between your army at that of your enemy. It produces what is needed at the time. Sometimes even it may be overwhelmed, then it is the job of consciousness to decide what information to look at; what to feed unconsciousness. Then this unconscious, non-personal way of thinking can learn to do better next time.

You will not see this at work as it happens, but you can be witness to the results and undeniably it does work. Its mode of thinking is a brilliant addition to the slower learning mode. Both are needed – for when I check this though I know my writing will be full of errors. But I also know it will contain ideas I didn’t know I had.

It took only about six or seven minutes to write the basic outline of this piece, and well over half and hour to edit it. This is the proper balance of time between the two phases. It is in the first phase that all the magic happens.

Applied to life as a whole, using this way of thinking can help you stay closer to the calm at the centre of the storm that is life, and keep a little more in touch with how things really are. Some loss of control must be acknowledged in the exact manner of expression and a technical minutia, for it is no longer the little ‘you’ that is doing all the thinking and making the decisions. But then it never really was, was it?

Letting go of our imagined control over the massive number of elements that make up the present moment is, in my view, one of the key requirements for a happier life. It certainly makes for better writing.

Insights on personality

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Carl Jung (26 July 1875 – 6 June 1961), whose ideas modern personality tests are based on, believed that in addition to our conscious persona – the mask we wear to conform with our own and society’s expectations, there also exists a large unconscious element, which itself has several layers. It was vital, Jung believed, that the separate conscious and unconscious parts of a person were integrated into a whole and complete individual, though he admitted the process was not easy.

During his extensive clinical experience he identified four main functions of personality, an observation he discovered was in agreement with many philosophers before him (think: air, fire, earth and water). Of these four functions, two he termed irrational – based on our perception of the world, and two he called rational, based on how we judge the world around us.

The two perceiving functions are: Intuition – this kind of person sees the big picture, the concepts and possibilities, and Sensing – where the person tends to be more precise, practical and present orientated.

The judging functions are: Thinking – where the person prefers to base their decisions on detached reasoning and logic, and Feeling – where the person is more informal and prefers to rely on empathy and association with others.

These descriptions are of course highly simplified but they can give good guidance and all fit together within a specific personality. To see how let us imagine a cross, with one line having a perceiving function at each end, and the other line having a judging function at each end.

The function at the top of the cross is called the ‘superior’ function, with a corresponding ‘inferior’ function at the bottom of the cross. So if a person is a Thinker, their so called inferior function will be Feeling, or if a person is a Sensor their inferior function will be Intuition. It is the superior function that this person will be most comfortable using and will do so consciously whenever they get the chance. It is the inferior function that they will have most difficulty with, and will often be completely unaware when this function comes into play or should be used. Imagine someone who is extremely logical and analytical. To them what is right is right, and it will often not even occur to them to consider how a particular action will affect others’ feelings. This is because the Feeling function is unconscious.

It now becomes obvious that in order to be a complete and well rounded individual they must address this ‘blind spot’. This goes for all the personality types, I have just used the Thinker as an example.

We have mentioned the top and bottom of the cross, which correspond to the conscious ‘superior’ function, and the unconscious ‘inferior’ function, but not the other line; the horizontal beam of the cross. In our particular example this would refer to the perceiving functions of Intuition and Sensing, which in this example play a supportive role. These may be partially conscious or unconscious depending on the person. For example our thinker may have a fairly strong sensing function, but a weaker intuitive function or he may have access to both or neither.

Finally to complete this rather sketchy outline of Jungian Types, we must mention a person can also be a Extravert – more focused on objects in the external world around him or her, or an Introvert – more focused on internal goings on within themselves.

If you are interested enough to investigate this further try out the very simple test at the following website. It may not be entirely accurate, but it should give you an idea of which is your superior function. Try to answer the questions quickly and without thinking too much about them.

There is no right answer! All types are as ‘good’ as each other. What matters is that we are interested in developing in all areas, and becoming an individual who can cope in all avenues of life;  someone who is not afraid to step outside their comfort zone once in a while to find out who they really are.

(C) Copyright Mark B Williams 2014 Registered & Protected