Saturday, May 05, 2012

Weekend Post - Two types of thinking?

It’s been said that there are two types of people: those that divide humanity into two types and those that don’t.

Crudely dividing humanity into “types” is always a very dangerous pastime. Despite what some will say you can’t divide humanity into black and white, straight or gay or even male or female. In all cases there are people in between. One of the most ridiculous books in recent years was entitled “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” by “Dr” John Gray. To my shame I have a copy of this fatuous book beside me as I write this. No, I didn’t pay for it. Nor did I steal it.

I put the “Dr” in quotes for the simple reason that he doesn’t have a real doctorate. His obtained his PhD from Colombia Pacific University, a now closed diploma mill. I know I risk being accused of an “ad hominem” attack but can you trust the work of a person who buys a fake degree and who got his first two degrees from that fabulous old fraud, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?

Whether you can or not you can certainly reject his ridiculously simplistic, crude and wholly unscientific idea that men are basically cavemen and women are conversationalists and that the way they communicate is radically different. Some may argue that I’m also being simplistic but too bad. Simplistic ideas can only be described simplistically.

Of course I’m not going to deny that there are differences between women and men, between girls and boys, of course there are. No matter how strong our liberal convictions may be, anyone who’s had kids knows that at least part of the nature of girls and boys is biological. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give them all equal opportunities and expose them to the same experiences and influences, but it genuinely helps to understand the differences that affect them.

I suggest that instead of reading fake, pseudoscientific claptrap like Gray’s book you read instead a book by Steven Pinker called The Blank Slate (available in all good book shops or online). My favourite quote from the book (also beside me as I write and this one I DID pay for) discusses the differences between men and woman and goes like this:
“So men are not from Mars, nor are women from Venus. Men and women are from Africa, the cradle of our evolution, where they evolved together as a single species.”
The evidence is that the differences between the minds of men and women are trivial at most and are only based on averages. Although men tend to be slightly better at three-dimensional reasoning than women this is only on average. There are plenty of women who can easily reverse a car, just slightly more men. There are plenty of men who demonstrate empathy, just more empathetic women. The most interesting difference is that on many measures men are more varied than women and are more often found at the extremes. Male mathematical geniuses outnumber their female counterparts but there are also many more men and boys with autism than girls.

A recent study, published in Science, and conducted by the University of British Columbia in Canada looked at the two types of thinking that humans demonstrate. The first is intuitive, the other analytical. The intuitive process makes snap judgments based on “mental shortcuts”, the analytical process is the one that takes longer to consider things in a more “reasoned” manner. The Los Angeles Times gave one of the questions the study had used as an example. See how you answer it.
“A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”
Most people intuitively respond by saying the ball costs 10 cents but it’s only when they think analytically that they realize their mistake. The answer is 5 cents. Go back and think about it again if you doubt this.

We all have both of these thought processes and each of them has their role to play. When our distant ancestors were in the bush and they heard a rustling sound from behind the grass they had to act intuitively. They didn’t have the time to think analytically, it could be a lion, they had to act intuitively. Analytical thinking in those circumstances only benefits the hungry lion. Analytical thinking is good when you have the time to indulge in it.

The focus of this study was controversial to some. It looked at religious belief and found that people who think more analytically were less likely to be religious. Religious belief was much more often found in people who thought more intuitively.

What this means for religious belief I’ll leave up to you. It doesn’t mean religion is right or wrong, it just helps us to understand where beliefs based on faith come from. It’s clear that they certainly don’t come from reason.

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