Edward De Bono has serious insight into why we think the way that we do. I'm currently reading Edward De Bono's I Am Right – You Are Wrong, along with two other books written by him. De Bono is mostly known for having coined the term “lateral thinking,” which is a mode of thinking that can be used to generate novel solutions to sticky problems.
Several people had recommended De Bono to me in the past couple of years, but I wrote him off as a corporate-type self-help speaker. In fact, he has a deep understanding of how we think, and how we might improve our thinking.
One of his primary points is that Western culture has given in to the tendency to use “critical thought,” which takes the form of argument and oppositional analysis. The legal profession is obviously a heavy consumer of the point-counterpoint mode of analysis. But he points out that this mode of thinking is pervasive across many other parts of our society:
“We love argument and we have been told to love argument. Our political system, our legal system and our scientific system are all based directly on it. From where did this love of argument come and how is it sustained? How is it that such a very inefficient system should have so captivated our intellectual energies?
The kindest thing that can be said about argument is that it is a motivated exploration of a subject….The unkindest thing that can be said about argument is that it occupies a great deal of time and gives moderately intelligent people a sense of useful intellectual activity….So we like argument because we become intellectually busy.”
He's totally right of course: debating legal, social and political issues is wonderfully stimulating, but it's possible that our “critical-thought” mindset is not always the best way of understanding the important issues of our time. But, to use an analogy, if your expertise is “hammering” then when you see a screw you are likely to pound it as if it were a nail.
If you are growing dissatisfied with the increasingly pervasive talk-radio style debate that innudates us then you might consider reading De Bono. His view of why our minds are pre-configured to favor this sort of thinking is fascinating. [Ernie the Attorney]