Exploration: Modes of thinking

Triggered by an ultra brief exchange with Ken Liu (whom I did not know until then with me living in a cave for 10 years). The subject was “binary thinking”.

It has not left me and as per usual I decided to write a short and quick post on modes of thinking (instead of editing one of my stories).

Modes of thinking

A “mode of thinking” is a very unspecific way to describe your “approach” to thinking. To give you an idea from lazy googling:

Based on sense (from “Social Engineer“) I quote:

The world is brought to our brain by our senses. We interpret those senses to give us our perception of reality. In the traditional classification there are five senses:

  • Sight
  • Hearing
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Taste

This classification was attributed to Aristotle. As time has passed, an additional five senses have been added:

  • Equilibrioception (balance)
  • Nociception (pain)
  • Kinesthesia & Proprioception (acceleration and joint motion)
  • Sense of Time
  • Thermoception (temperature differences).

Then there are thinking models as touched here.

  • Reactive Thinking (reaction)
  • Reflective thinking (reviewing)
  • Strategic thinking (setting direction)
  • Lateral thinking (opportunity spotting)
  • Imagination or creative thinking (innovation and ideas)
  • Critical thinking (problem solving)
  • Judgmental thinking (quality appraisal)
  • Holistic thinking (environment scanning)
  • Systems thinking (design and relationships)
  • Chaos thinking (handling ambiguity)
  • Decision thinking (action)
  • And finally, Metacognition (thinking about thinking).

I want to focus on a different set of thinking.

  1. Models of exclusion
    1. Binary thinking
    2. Linear thinking
  2. Closed models
    1. Circular reasoning
  3. Open models
    1. Spiral reasoning
    2. Associative reasoning/Associative networks
    3. Pattern recognition

Models of exclusion

1: Binary thinking

Binary thinking assumes  a hard separation by definition. One thing can not be another. A is not/cannot be B. If C is like A then C is not like B.

An example (and yes: this kind of flawed examples can be defended if needed and I can hijack the system by dismissing your ideas. See my final part).

A fish is not a dog. A frog is like a fish (as they both have water as their main living environment.) Therefore a frog is not a dog. A cat has four legs. A dog has four legs. Therefore a cat is like a dog. A cat meows. A dog barks. Therefore a cat is not a dog.

Aristotle is considered to be “the father of western logic” as he is considered to be the one to give logical thinking and systems of logic: “a fundamental place in philosophy” (WikiPedia).

Binary thinking assumes something is either true or false, either right or wrong. There is no place for ambiguity. It is either/or. In “modern” thinking this is — for instance — reflected in “You are either with or against us” (see more about that here).

Binary thinking polarizes. It helps to separate things. Occam’s razor is one of the uses:

It states that among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected.

Abusing binary thinking

Binary thinking — due to its “absoluteness” — is a perfect tool for abuse. As it uses “logic reasoning” and binary statemets (A is/is not B, therefore..) you can create a set of questions and reasoning (see “you are either with or against us” above) to create a “reality” that is not there and force a person into coercion.

For example:

“Do you like Communistic ideas?”

“I kind of sympathise.”

“Do you understand countries with Communist ideas are our enemy?”

“I do.”

“Communism is the mindset of the enemy. Therefore communists are our enemy. Therefore people who sympathise with communist ideas are at least suspect. Do you understand this [resoning]? Do you understand that when you say you ‘sympathise’ with communist ideas, we assume therefore you must be a communist and thus the enemy?”

“I do.”

Are you a communist?”


This is a waek example, but gives the idea. See: McCarthyism

McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. It also means “the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.”

The kind of binary thinking/reasoning in which there is no middle way is very common in Western thinking. As said, it is a powerful tool for abuse as — to oppose the binary reasoning within that same model — you need to be able to oppose each and every statement with a counter-statement.


Binary thinking and “truth seeking” have a long term relationship.

Mental prison: what is inside the mind is more true than reality

Binary thinking can be used as a mental prison to subject people. How do you fight against: “If […] then […] concluding in […]” if and when you are unknowledgable? How do you fight: “it sounds reasonable, so it must be true” if you lack both language and education?

From Wikipedia:

Correspondence theories state that true beliefs and true statements correspond to the actual state of affairs. This type of theory posits a relationship between thoughts or statements on one hand, and things or objects on the other.

Korzybski: “The map is not the territory”

Alfred Korzybski, with “Science and Sanity” and his “General semantics” tried to break this line of thinking in the early 1900 as he believed that Binary thinking and “equalizing” (See: McCarthyism again) was the cause of many griefs, including the first world-war.

One of his main ideas was to move away from absolute statements and be more specific on what we are connecting and comparing, also clarifying the relativity in possible connections between A and B.

An example:

“Communism is the mindset of the enemy. Therefore communists are our enemy. ”

Becomes — when specified according to  — more like:

“Communism is a theoretical model that is currently promoted by several governments we are currently in conflict with. Out of safety precautions we are considering the possibilities that some people who sympathise with communist ideas might be sympathetic with those governments.”

If and when you are a totalitarian state, the “vagueities” of “Korzybskian” reasoning lacks any polarizing or potential to demonize specific groups. Making the suppression of specific groups harder.


Aristotle is master in binary, closed and circular reasoning.

Here is one example of binary “truisms”, from this article (which is not really nuanced, but gives you some cute handles on other stuff as well.)

Hence we see what is the nature and office of a slave; he who is by nature not his own but another’s man, is by nature a slave; and he may be said to be another’s man who, being a human being, is also a possession.

In short:

Since I “proved” to you that A equals B and that C is like B, C must be like A as well. Therefore C is like A and can be considered equal to A.

It is the kind of absolute reasoning that makes it possible to condemn and persecute people based only on ideas and not on reality. It is also the kind of reasoning that makes it possible to make people defy and deny reality while that reality is all around you.


Inclusive thinking

Inclusive thinking assumes “one thing” is actually many and “truth” is to take all possibilities into equal consideration, including seeming contradictions.

2: Linear thinking

Linear thinking assumes everything follows a logical chain of events. Cause and effect are closely related.

Online dictionary:

a process of thought following known cycles or step-by-step progression where a response to a step must be elicited before another step is taken

In other words:

From A comes B. From B comes C. From C comes D. D can not come from A.

Again “truth” is at stake. “Truth seeking”. Investigation. “John is dead! What are the chain of events leading to his death?”

Closed models


While Binary thinking and Linear thinking CAN lead to closed models, they do not do so “per definition”.

1: Circular reasoning

Circular reasoning is a way to “seek truth” by closing the line of reasoning with the begin statement.

A is followed by B is followed by C, which clearly leads to explain A. As this reasoning is closed, it therefore must be true.

An example from Aristotle, on the “naturally justness of war”. He starts by stating everything has a logical order. “Plants exist for their sake”. If nature is perfect, then war must have a natural place as well. Since we eat and we need to hand and war is similar to hunt, war (against barbarians, who are much like slaves and animals and thus by nature intended to be governed) is naturally just.

In like manner we may infer that, after the birth of animals, plants exist for their sake, and that the other animals exist for the sake of man, the tame for use and food, the wild, if not all at least the greater part of them, for food, and for the provision of clothing and various instruments. Now if nature makes nothing incomplete, and nothing in vain, the inference must be that she has made all animals for the sake of man. And so, in one point of view, the art of war is a natural art of acquisition, for the art of acquisition includes hunting, an art which we ought to practice against wild beasts, and against men who, though intended by nature to be governed, will not submit; for war of such a kind is naturally just.

The “proof” of the truth of the statement is verified against the beginning of the reasoning. “There is a natural order” and “there is a natural justice”.

In the case of Aristotle, the idea that all people are equal, regardless of class and whatever is all reasoned out. The reality in this circular reasoning is that “since all man ere NOT equal we can hunt and kill SOME people”.

Open models


Open models of thinking do not assume a closed and “perfect” result. On contrary. The goal is to get to an “as good as is possible now” result.

“We can not explain everything yet, but this is for now the best we can do.”

They assume that reality and “truth” is much more complex than we can imagine and the “seeking for truth” will not end when we have found a circular explanation that seems logical and closed. (“God made the universe. As god made the universe…”)

If you like the existing definitions, research these methods:

  • Reactive Thinking (reaction)
  • Reflective thinking (reviewing)
  • Strategic thinking (setting direction)
  • Lateral thinking (opportunity spotting)
  • Imagination or creative thinking (innovation and ideas)
  • Critical thinking (problem solving)
  • Judgmental thinking (quality appraisal)
  • Holistic thinking (environment scanning)
  • Systems thinking (design and relationships)
  • Chaos thinking (handling ambiguity)
  • Decision thinking (action)
  • And finally, Metacognition (thinking about thinking).

The importance of inclusiveness

Binary thinking assumes:

  1. Either or — One thing CAN NOT be another. But what if it is both? And neither? Sometimes one, sometimes the other?

Inclusive thinking assumes

  1. One thing… and probably more — What if it is also something else AND three others that you would not have realized otherwise?
  2. Might / might not — “Associative thinking” assumes possibilities. “It might”. “It might not”.
  3. Probabilities — “Likely”. “Possibly not”.
  4. Shades of grey and shades of color — Instead of black/white, red/green, things can be inbetween
  5. Flux/change — Things can change. What seems “true” now might not be later.


I am bound to time-constraints in writing this specific post. So I will make a shortcut here.

Emergence and “Emergent thinking” is one of the aspects I believe of all open models of thinking.

You start with a specific question and by different approaches a specific answer emerges from all collected data. Something you did not know before. Were not aware of before. Might have been aware of before, but ignored.

Id, Ego and super-Ego, where is the thinking?

Freud assumed (Wikipedia):

 the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the ego is the organized, realistic part; and the super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role.

On thought, the most general idea is this (WikiPedia):

Thought generally refers to any mental or intellectual activity involving an individual’s subjective consciousness. It can refer either to the act of thinking or the resulting ideas or arrangements of ideas.

1: Spiral reasoning

I made this term up, to short-cut my writing a bit. Think with “Spiral reasoning” of springs. Instead of closing the circle, we move one step down and repeat that circle over and over again, each time with a slight change in one of the first questions.

For instance, step 1:

“God made the universe. If god made the universe…”

Step 2:

“God might have made the universe. If god might have made the universe…”

Step N – x:

“God did not make the universe. If god did not make the universe…”

Each successive step in the spiral reasoning follows the same pattern, but the content and the possible answers change due to the change in the first (set of) questions. Each next change is instigated by the results of previous steps.

2: Associative reasoning/Associative networks

I make a shortcut here.

Associative reasoning/associative networks are two terms I use and I do not have time .

The idea is this:

  1. Starting point — You have a starting point
  2. Association — You start connecting other things to that starting point. Anything and everything that seems to make sense.
  3. Weighting — You weight all results from “most …” to “least…”
  4. Research — You research each possibility moving from from “most…” to “least…”
  5. Elimination — You eliminate all elements that seem irrelevant, lees relevant, unlikely, unuseable, false.
  6. Result — The result is your best guess at that moment for that situation or problem.
  7. Repeat — When needed, repeat the process. (See spiral reasoning)

One of the results is an associative network. A network of connected ideas that supplement, reject, even “contradict” each other.

The value of contradiction

One of the ideas/assumptions (I take) is that “contradictions” just show a lack of knowledge on that point.

  1. Lack of knowledge — In some cases “contradiction” reveals another point of view AS VALID AS all other assumptions.
  2. Revealing faults/faulty assumptions — In other cases, contradictions can reveal faults in previous assumptions. Coming back to Aristotle. In brief: “Slaves are not people and should not have equal rights”. But what if slaves could be people? ARE people? It would destroy the validity of several previous assumptions leading to new insights.

3: Pattern recognition

I assume pattern recognition is one of the main tools of the mind. From memory to learning to language to “thinking”.

Due to lack of time I limit myself to this. Sorry.

  1. Brainstorming — When brainstorming, you associate things to other things, sometimes seemingly not related, but sometimes/usually leading to new insights. One looks like/feels like/sounds like another. Other related
  2. “Unconciousness” — The unconciousness (Freud) is the part of the mind “you are not aware of”.

Cultural influences


It is unclear to me how specific ideas do and do not shape societies due to lack of research and historical insight on my side.

Dictatorships, slavery, systems of equal human rights and democratic models have been everywhere and science has developed in both binary and non-binary-thinking societies.

  1. Aristotle, Plato, Socrates — Three Greek philosophers credited for their influence on the shaping of European society. Especially Aristotle is the man of centric, closed systems, “The ultimate one truth”, “all comes down to” and binary thinking. 
  2. Dao/Tao — Credited to Lao Tzu. As far as my understanding goes, Taoism assumes human perception is per definition limited, “truth” does not exists, everything is relative, there is no center. Basics to avoid lazy thinking: contradictions. Where Aristotelina logic states one thing CAN NOT be another, Taosim seems to assume one thing CAN and CANNOT be another thing  both AT THE SAME TIME. Very much: Schrodingers cat.
  3. Buddhism — Buddhist thinking — to me — has many relationships with Taosim. It is non-centric. It assumes to assume all assumptions are false. To percieve the world WITHOUT assumptions (as Taoism seem to support as well). To consider each and every assumption to be  flawed.

While Buddha stated: “discard all religion. Do not be dependent. Find your own path. Do not wait for others to give you answers or meaning,” Buddha has become a demi-god, appearing to true believers. Buddhism is considered to be a religion.

Taoism, with all its beautiful contradictions is and can be used to oppress and imprison people’s minds as Aristotelin thinking does.

“Action through non-action” can be bent to: “do not resist what happens to you” and used to sabotage any initiative. Labor strikes are “action though non action”.

People, power, hijacking and truth bending

Whatever mode of thinking exists and whatever awesome power that mode of thinking has to offer, can be hijacked.

Hijacking is bending specific key elements of a belief or natural behavior into something it is not.

Binary thinking is the key-element in computer programming. Binary logic makes it possible to create programs that reflect certain models in reality using simple rules with clear outcomes. Binary thinking can lead to laws and just legal systems. It can liberate people by taking any situation and define “truth” and “falese-ness”, leading to free minds and free thinking.

Both binary and non-binary thinking can become a prison.

Non-binary, open thinking, as promoted in Taoism can be bent to cover everything in vagueness, riddles, letting chance and manipulation be the deciding factors instead of clear rules. “It can rain, it can storm, it can be sunny”. It can take away a solid basis for decision making, making everything fluid, giving power to the biggest bully.

To understand why any model of thinking collapses into a perversion and why systems of freedom turn into systems of oppression, you need to incorporate human nature.

  1. Power — The need for power
  2. Sociopathy and functional mental illness — To suppress and abuse people requires a very specific type of mind.
  3. Cultural bending — To make the ideas of one person into a culturally ingrained cultural system requires power, propaganda, murders and other systems of suppression. Then replacing existing systems for new systems or perversions of old systems.

Using dismissal to keep a broken system running

To defend flawed logic and flawed systems, the most powerful system is dismissal. Two of many

  1. Denial of agency — “You do not have the knowledge.” “What do you know?”
  2. Denial of voice — “You are not allowed to speak about this” “We will ignore you and your statements”

Understanding societies

To understand a society it is not enough to understand the modes of thinking. Also relevant is to understand what the mode of power is. What personal goals people power have. What kind of “real” society is hiding under the surface of what we are told to have.

What has been warped? What has been mutilated in models of thinking that are – in principle valid?

With this I close this hasty post.


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