Showing a fish the water in which it swims is difficult. The water is so basic to the fish that it does not notice it. Showing humans deep thinking is difficult for the same reason. As William Byers (Byers William, 2014) writes:
Deep thinking is something that is difficult to get a handle on, not because it is complex, but, on the contrary, because it is so basic.
I agree with Byers that deep thinking is basic and thus difficult to notice. I also agree with his claim that central to deep thinking is that it produces an “aha!”-experience. Although our reasons differ. Whereas Byers credits this experience to creativity, I describe deep thinking as revealing something. The former is a more ontologically nominalistic description. The latter is more realistic: Instead of deep thinking creating something new, it unveils that which was already there.
Thus, the quick and simple practice of thinking deeply of something is to just think about it. It falls naturally to the human mind, and I find that the more I think deeply about various topics, the more my deep thinking manages to reveal to me[i].
But this quick answer is not particularly satisfying. Thus, let us try to illustrate deep thinking on the example of climate change.
The big forums attended by the leaders of the world that aim to solve climate change are often economical. The COP forums and The Davos World Economic Forum are two popular examples. Policies and economic strategies that may solve climate change are discussed in these forums by the world’s most powerful people informed by the latest and soundest science. However, there seems to be a problem: Why have these powerful people still not solved the issue?
To answer this question, let us get some help from Aristotle. He invented the idea of categories, which can be described as assortments of different things based on similar characteristics. The idea of categories is useful to solving problems as it helps us to think about problems appropriately. It teaches us that a mathematical problem should be solved mathematically, a medical problem medicinally, and so on. One does not solve a medical problem by philosophising about it. From this we can make a rule: If the solution to a problem should be appropriate, then it must be within the problem’s category. With this in mind, let us now put the problem of climate change into a category.
Climate change is very well assorted into the category of “natural phenomena”, as it really is just a description of nature. More specifically, it is a description of the weather and how it changes. In order to know more about things in the category of natural phenomena, we should study them by means of observation, and build theories that describe these observations. This is exactly what the natural sciences do: physics and chemistry are excellent at describing climate change because they abide by the proper categorical rules.
So, what about the forums? As already stated, they are mostly economical and political, which are not considered to be strictly natural. A simple (and perhaps crude) thought experiment explains this: wipe away all of humanity and its activities, and what is left is what is natural. Here, it is easy to see that the climate and the weather are natural things, because they do not need human activity to exist. Political and economic forums on the other hand are part of human activity. Thus they do not belong in the same category as climate change. Rather than belonging in a category of nature, they belong in the category of “social phenomena”, as this describes both the political and the economic aspect of the forums. And especially considering that forums are just people discussing.
Deep thinking has helped us categorise these things. And this begs the question: Why are we attempting to solve a problem from one category with the means of another category? As stated earlier: Mathematical problems ought to be solved mathematically, medical problems medicinally, and thus this problem of nature ought to be solved with natural means. One way of doing this was uncovered in the previous essay, namely “reversing the process”.
This insight, which hopefully gave you an “aha”-experience, is the product of deep thinking. It is not so technical as it may seem: We do not have to use categories. They are just one example of how simply thinking can reveal something about a topic. Categories are difficult to describe theoretically, yet everyone understands and uses categories all the time. Deep thinking shares this feature: difficult to describe, but easy to do.
This is part of the wonderful faculty of deep thinking. It falls naturally to us, and as such it is developed across all subjects. I believe that this description of deep thinking shows us how well-educated people can still produce good thinking on problems outside of their specialty. A physicist can produce some above-average thinking on social issues, simply because she is trained in deep thinking, an deep thinking is universally applicable. Though, while all subjects develop deep thinking, none do it quite as appropriately as philosophy.
Byers William. (2014). Deep Thinking: What Mathematics Can Teach Us About The Mind. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Company. https://doi.org/10.1142/9247#t=toc
[i] One recent example of this is teaching my native tongue. As I teach it and my students ask me about why the language is so, I am forced to think deeply about it in order to explain it. This is something which I have not had to do before. As long as I know the “how” of using it, then I can get by. Now though, I am forced to think about the “why” of the language. This addition from strictly methodical use of the language to also thinking of the rules and causes of it is deep thinking revealing the language to me.
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