July  2009     Edition 51
Critical Thinking without Words

Can you describe the taste of garlic without

making an analogy to another taste? How about describing pain without referencing something that was painful?  How would you convey the smell of a rose without referencing another smell, or the color of green to someone who is blind?

Not all thoughts can be put into words

. When thinking critically, you ask many questions and examine the details of the answers, but sometimes those answers come back as “I can’t describe it”, “it’s a feeling”, “I sense it”, “It’s my intuition”.    Pushing back hard on this response often yields the words to describe the thinking, but sometimes there are no words that can be used.

Some people are more visual then others

and this too generates thinking without words.  The “visuals” that join ideas together and give you a sense of completeness in understanding is far beyond the use of language.

Incorporate the “senses” in Thinking

When it’s a “feeling” that you’re trying to describe, use analogy.  Most people possess the senses of smell, touch, hearing, taste, and sight, so use these to explain your thinking.

Draw – Instead of writing or speaking words, draw pictures and diagrams.

Even though you might be able to use words to describe your thinking, create an artificial world where problems, strategies, decisions and ideas have smell, taste, sound, color and texture.  Try describing them this way and compare notes with others.

Consider new dimensions. Like sight or taste, could there be other “senses” that exist that help us think?  Consider our ability to recognize patterns; or our memories that allow us to associate a place and time when we hear an old song.  How about our ability to almost instantly recognize symmetry?  Ever hear someone say “Something is out of whack here”, or as Indiana Jones would say “I have a bad feeling about this”. 

Are they using their pattern recognition sense to anticipate a problem?

The Takeaway
: Sometimes words alone cannot describe a situation, a problem or idea.  Use all of your senses, including some of the more cerebral ones, such as your ability to recognize patterns, symmetry, association and even your sense of time.

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