I used to enjoy philosophy discussions with a buddy of mine, who taught philosophy at a major Bangkok university. He was able to articulate many schools of ideas. Surprisingly he seemed unable to synthesize a bigger picture using the ideas of two or more systems; each system remained distinct and isolated. As if each system of thought were a separate book, each book with its own table of contents, bibliography and index. He didn’t pull various views from several books at once – if he was pulling ideas from one book, they came together only with other ideas from the same book.

So he could read and comprehend and parrot, but not synthesize ideas. He couldn’t think. Thinking is taking information and relating it to other information to come up with a new idea applicable to a new situation, or applicable in a new way. Thinking is inherently creative and involves synthesis.

I’ve known of and known many people who read a lot of books and can explain them, who don’t bother spending a proportionate time on their internal google search algorithms.

Alex commented on philalawyer.net: In a dichotomy of learning, the ability to read and draw from the reading the explicitly conveyed detail, the exact things that were written is the lowest and most common form. The ability to draw an idea implied but not explicitly stated is more rare, and the ability to find multiple ideas and connect them within that writing (and possibly other previously read writings) even more so. The highest form is to draw from those connected ideas a new idea. A new idea that is typically reached by asking questions of oneself.

A mark of someone who can comprehend, but not think well, is holding to the idea that subjective realities are different yet equally valid. Or the idea that two people with different views who disagree are necessarily talking past each other. This is a flat view – that viewpoints are so context bound as to be distinct, that there is no depth that can embrace views in understanding while at the same time disagreeing.

It is straightforward that scientific materialism embraces more of perceptions without internal contradiction than does any religious view that relies on a text. A scientist can talk to a religious nutjob and understand most of what the nutjob is trying to say, but the reverse is not true. Systemic thinking that can synthesize has a similar relationship. It is superior and can embrace a rationality that sees one viewpoint at a time, and considers viewpoints as distinct and equally valid within their distinct realms.

Because realms overlap. And intersect. And weave. And express fundamental patterns. And mirror each other in unexpected and useful ways. And inform unrelated notions in ways that spark useful novelty.

The fabric of our universe demands the thinker who wants to understand this world to creatively work at making connections between what, to her, are as yet unrelated. Thinking is superior to comprehending.

Some graphic maps of relations between ideas:

amaznode.jpg amaznode.fladdict.net ‘s visualization of relations between books on Amazon.com

tao-asstypes.jpgTypes of relationships between ideas.


Relationship Among Scientific Paradigms : This map was constructed by sorting roughly 800,000 published papers into 776 different scientific paradigms (shown as pale circular nodes) based on how often the papers were cited together by authors of other papers. The map view can be enlarged to make the text labels on the map readable.