Thinking - Types and Tools

About Thinking

List of thought processes

This is a list of thinking styles, methods of thinking (thinking skills), and types of thought. See also the List of thinking-related topic lists, the List of philosophies and the Portal:thinking.



Abductive reasoning

Abstract thinking


Adaptive reasoning



Association of Ideas



Autistic thinking see:Glossary of psychiatry








Chunking (psychology)



Cognitive restructuring

Cognitive space

Cognitive style

Common sense




Concept map

Conceptual metaphor

Conceptual thinking

Concrete concepts


Constructive criticism


Creative thought processes


Creativity techniques

Critical thinking

Decision making

Decision-making processes


Deductive reasoning


Dereistic thinking see:Glossary of psychiatry

Design (and re-design)

Diagrammatic reasoning



Distinction (philosophy)

Distributed cognition


Entrained Thinking (See Wiktionary[1]

Emotionally-based thinking skills







Extension (semantics)

Forward thinking

Fuzzy Logic (Fuzzy Thinking)


Gestalt psychology

Heuristics in judgment and decision making

Higher-order thinking

Historical thinking




Inductive reasoning







Integrative thinking





Kinesthetic learning


Lateral thinking




Logical argument

Logical assertion

Meaning (linguistics)

Meaning (non-linguistic)

Meaning (semiotics)


Mental calculation

Mental function

Meta-analytic thinking

Metacognition (thinking about thinking)



Methodic doubt

Mind's eye

Mind map



Morphological analysis

Multiple intelligences


Natural language processing (NLP)


Object Pairing

Organizational thought

Parallel thinking

Perceptive processes

Personal experience


Philosophical analysis

Philosophical method






Problem finding

Problem shaping

Problem solving






Recognition primed decision






Semantic network





Situational awareness

Six Thinking Hats


Stream of consciousness


Suspicion (emotion)

Substitution (logic)



Synthesis (synthetic)

Systems thinking


Thought sonorization see:Glossary of psychiatry


Thinking Processes

Thinking outside the box



Thought experiment

Thought disorder

Trial and error


Unconscious mind


Vertical thinking

Visual thinking


Working memory


Different Types of Thinking

All minds of the autism spectrum are detail-oriented, but how they specialize varies. By questioning many people both on and off the spectrum, I have learned that there are three different types of specialized thinking:

1. Visual thinking - Thinking in Pictures, like mine

2. Music and Math thinking

3. Verbal logic thinking


Three Types of Thought

Some thoughts on thought follow. The way of viewing thoughts here is not identical with discussing the different functions of parts of the intellectual center, nor is it identical with the idea of true vs. false personality. I'll try to be more clear as we go on, but if in the following you read something that seems to contradict the basic "Psychology", pursue it a little further—different maps show different things.

We think in one of three possible modes: "pathological", "logical", or "psychological".

Pathological thinking does not see itself. When it starts to see itself, it dissolves, like a witch in water. Pathological thinking is mixed with emotion, and it is the (unrecognized) emotion that directs it.

Logical thinking works without emotion. It works by comparison, yes or no, either/or. It seeks conclusion, decision between two opposing choices. It is impartial, non-subjective. It works like a computer, composed of bits, dissecting but never understanding.

Psychological thinking is intellect in harmony with emotion. It is aware of itself. When that awareness vanishes, so does the cooperation of thought and feeling. Thought then becomes logical, pathological, or disappears entirely.

Psychological thinking can be inductive or deductive, logical thinking is inductive, and pathological thinking is only destructive.

Pathological Thought

pathological thought cannot see itself

Pathological thought does not see itself, cannot see itself, and cannot see other types of thought.

The term "pathological" is used to designate thinking that is imbalanced by emotion. The emotion in pathological thinking is not necessarily "negative", although, say, anger or jealously are probably the most obvious examples of emotions that disturb thought. More apparently positive emotions such as "hope" can also influence thought and direct it to such an extent that they subvert the progression of a thought and lead to desired rather than reasonable conclusions. Pathological thought is well illustrated by a recent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study in which members of two different political parties were presented with the same ideological message and yet reached opposite conclusions. The MRI results indicated parts of the brain corresponding to emotion were activated instead of reasoning parts of the brain. But I should hope we can see this without the need of an MRI.

But certainly, pathological thinking is most obvious when it is mixed with a negative emotion, say anger, and is expressed vehemently, rapidly, and with, perhaps, intent to injure. If one listens patiently to a pathological tirade and does not respond in kind, it often forces a self-awareness which may derail the momentum of the speaker, leading to a more reasoned discussion. (A perceived smug silence, however, may enrage it further.) A thoughtful unemotional response may prove far more effective in bringing the discussion into the light of reason and thereby transform pathological thought, which can only exist in the darkness of no self-awareness.

It should be recognized that the words spoken by pathological thinking do not mean what they say, that is, the words do not stand for their ordinary and simple meaning but rather serve an underlying emotion which may even be exactly the opposite of what is said. This can lead to endless confusion unless the difference between intent and verbiage is recognized. (This confusion is not necessarily only in discussion, but can also occur within us, when we are thinking about some situation. It is just more easily seen in another person, hence in conversation). If we listen to our own inflections when speaking, and the inflections of others, we may begin to recognize certain tones, also a certain speed and other characteristics that accompany the expression of pathological thought.

We are all subject to all three types of thought. We think we are not subject to, or only rarely subject to, pathological thought, but that is only because by its nature it is not observed. Pathological thought does not see itself. But why is it not seen when someone points it out to us? Maybe because often that person has ulterior motives in pointing it out, for example they are mad at us, and what we see instead of our pathological thought is their pathological thought and we wonder that they cannot see it.

It is possible, if working with a group of people who know about pathological thought, to be shown moments when we are in it. And to show them when they are in it. This requires a certain finesse by the person showing us, requires a common group aim that overrides personal discomfort, and may be aided by choosing a term with a less disturbing connotation than "pathological". (I use it here to make clear the relationship with the two other types of thought to be discussed.)

The emotions mixed in pathological thought are the goal of that thought. The purpose of pathological thought is to justify and express those emotions. The purpose is not to think, but to use thought as a tool for ends that it is not designed for. Thought, used by the emotions.

At its worst, pathological thinking steals energy from the sex center and leads to a variety of personal and social difficulties. We would do well to be wary of it.

Logical Thought

logical thought can see only itself

Logical thinking is not as common as it might seem at first glance. In general, we think logically only when we are presented with some new difficulty. For example, if we were to answer the question 'What is two plus two?' with 'four', quite probably we did not think logically, we did not think at all—we simply retrieved a pre-established response when we were asked. We may at one time have had to work that out with logic—find an example of two things and added two more things to them and see that we consistently arrived at four, or we may simply have memorized some addition table like a parrot at school; at any rate, the answer is now automatic and logical thinking is not required to supply it. There is nothing wrong with this—we surely don't want to have to work out two plus two every time it comes up, as the answer doesn't change, only we should not confuse automatic retrieval of stored information with logical thinking.

Logical thinking is a process that requires some attention to be directed to each step of the process. When a step is skipped, it has been filled by some assumption, desire, fantasy; but each step in which logic is applied requires an effort of attention.

Logic is like finding one's way through a maze, a maze whose end is the same regardless of the hopes and fears of the person negotiating it. A particular turn is objectively right or wrong, that is, it leads more quickly to progress toward the end or it doesn't. And the end is pre-determined, fixed, and immutable. The end is also unknown, or there would be no point in pursuing the thought to find it, unless one were interested in the steps, say, to design a computer program. What logical thought cannot do is pursue an initial intent other than the intention to follow its course to wherever it leads.

Computers follow logical thought, and may be capable of piecing together pieces of logical thought to create new pathways, but that is as close as they can come to thought, having no attention. They are incapable of intending it, just as they are incapable of pathological or psychological thought.

Logical thought lacks scale, lacks hierarchical ordering by quality. It can only compare like things quantitatively and then apply pre-established rules to produce a result or decision. It is a powerful tool in its sphere, but its sphere is limited and completely uncreative.

Psychological Thought

psychological thought always sees itself

Psychological thought must see itself, and can also see logical and pathological thought.

Psychological thinking is self-evaluating—it progresses by reflection. It has as a goal understanding, and evaluates each step in light of that goal.

A sort of quintessential goal of psychological thought might be the understanding of psychological thought. A more commonplace goal might be understanding a personal relationship. Let us take the latter as an example of how to think psychologically:

I wish to understand why I am upset by R.

Why do I wish to understand this?

Because I am having difficulty in my relationship with R.


I wish to understand the causes of my difficulty with R.


I want to work productively with R, and this difficulty is inhibiting my work.

Why, what exactly inhibits my work?

R has information I need to draw on and yet I so dislike our interaction that I do not draw on this information as often as I need to.

And so on. So already there is progress in psychological thinking. By reflecting on each statement, asking 'why?' at each step, I arrive at a more succinct understanding of the nature of the difficulty.

The example sounds not unlike the typical description of the therapist responding to someone on the couch. In one sense, it is not unlike that, this is after all psychology. But in many ways it is very different. First of all, the questioner has access to the subject's very thought and feelings directly. That is, I watch myself formulate my wish, I watch myself pursue it. And I tailor the questions by keeping in mind—really in feeling—what it is I wish to accomplish or discover. This requires active reasoning and divided attention. We have to watch our feelings as much as our thoughts, watch them interact and influence each other. Keep to the aim and yet learn from the deviations, and we often learn the problem was not exactly as expressed but coming from somewhere else.

Of course, psychological thought goes well beyond the possibilities of this poor essay. Thought, conscious of itself, becomes emotional, applies logic objectively, and so on. But we need to harness a finer energy to proceed.


Critical thinking is the mental process of objectively analyzing a situation by gathering information from all possible sources, and then evaluating both the tangible and intangible aspects, as well as the implications of any course of action.

Implementation thinking is the ability to organize ideas and plans in a way that they will be effectively carried out.

Conceptual thinking consists of the ability to find connections or patterns between abstract ideas and then piece them together to form a complete picture.

Innovative thinking involves generating new ideas or new ways of approaching things to create possibilities and opportunities.

Intuitive thinking is the ability to take what you may sense or perceive to be true and, without knowledge or evidence, appropriately factor it in to the final decision.


Expanding Dooyeweerd's ideas, Roy Clouser, in his book THe Myth of Religious Neutrality; An Essay on the Hidden Role of religious Belief in Theories (1991, Univ. of Notre Dame Press), highlighted three types of thinking that are involved in all our ways of functioning in the aspects:

Everyday thinking (and acting, living) - integrated and often tacit

Lower abstraction - awareness of distinct aspects around us

Higher abstraction - scientific or theoretical thinking


Creative thinking - a general term for the ability to develop fresh perspectives and new ideas. There are many specific techniques available to aid the creative thinking process. Our most popular creativity course is called Creativity for Logical Thinkers - although in reality it is highly relevant for all thinking types who need to be more creative.

Lateral thinking - this is the term used popularised by Edward De Bono to describe a non-linear mode of thinking. De Bono's Lateral Thinking courses are less popular than they were, but they remain an effective way to learn how to think in order to systematically generate new ideas.

Critical thinking - this term is used in many different ways. Perhaps most commonly it is used to denote thorough or exhaustive thinking. Our structured and critical thinking training course makes use of a number of models and templates as an aid to thorough thinking - ensuring all angles are covered.

Logical thinking - the process of progressing a thought process in a linear way. It is probably the dominant thinking process in western society - and many others too.

Parallel thinking - this is the process of avoiding group conflict by all adopting the same mode of thinking at the same time. The best known example of parallel thinking is De Bono's Six Thinking Hats. Each metaphorical (or physical) hat represents a different type of thinking.

Structured thinking - another way of describing critical thinking; using templates and models to think exhaustively about something.

Positive thinking - although often referred to as an attitude rather than a distinct thinking process, the inclusion of techniques such as CBT - cognitive behavioural thinking - adds weight and structure to positive thinking training courses.

Strategic thinking - a widely used term and therefore one that is used in many different ways. Typically it is used to refer to the sort of thinking required by organisations to set direction rather than individual tactics to deliver results.

Divergent thinking - in the creative thinking process, divergent thinking refers to the thinking required to generate an unfiltered pool of ideas.

Convergent thinking - once ideas have been generated, they need to be assessed and developed into workable proposals. This process is often referred to as convergent thinking.

Associative thinking - the process of linking one thought or idea to another. Associative thinking can be used for creative thinking purposes and has a key role in most memory techniques.

Radiant thinking - this is a specific form of associative thinking where the thinking radiates out from a central idea. Tony Buzan's Mind Mapping is a good example of radiant thinking. Mind Mapping training is available from Illumine as face to courses or through our online Mind Mapping course.

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