My favourite model for a thinker is that of the carpenter.
Carpenters do things.
Carpenters make things.
Carpenters do things step by step.
Carpenters deal with the physical substance of wood — so we can see what they are doing.
The basic operations of a carpenter are few and we could summarize them as three:
Cutting means separating out the piece you want from the rest.
As I shall explain later this corresponds to the thinking operations of: extraction, analysis, focus, attention etc.
Sticking means putting things together with glue or nails or screws.
The corresponding thinking operations include: connections, linkages, synthesis, grouping, design etc.
Shaping means setting out to achieve a certain shape and comparing what you have at the moment to what you want.
In thinking this corresponds to: judging, comparing, checking and matching.
So the basic operations of a carpenter are quite few (actually there are some others like drilling and polishing) but with these few operations a carpenter can make complicated objects.
In practice the carpenter uses tools to carry out the basic operations.
The carpenter does not just say, ‘I want to cut this,’ but picks up a saw and uses the saw.
These tools have been developed over the centuries as effective ways of carrying out the basic operations.
So we have saws, chisels and drills for cutting.
So we have glue, hammer and nails, screws and screwdriver for sticking things together.
So we have planes and templates for shaping things.
In exactly the same way we can have tools for thinking.
Some of these tools (like the PMI) will be presented in this book.
The carpenter builds up skill in the use of the tools.
Once the carpenter has acquired the skilful use of the tools, they can be used in different combinations to do different things.
A saw is something quite definite.
In the same way the thinking ‘tools’ are also definite and need to be treated in this manner.
When you use a saw you use a saw and not just a ‘method of cutting.’
There are times when the carpenter needs to hold things in a certain position so that he or she can work upon them.
For example you need to hold the wood steady in order to saw through it.
You need to hold the wood steady so you can drill the holes where you want them.
For this purpose there are vices and work-benches.
When the carpenter wishes to glue certain pieces together he puts the pieces in a sort of holding structure called a jig.
This is a supporting structure which enables him to carry out his construction.
In exactly the same way there are thinking ‘structures’ that will be presented in this book.
These are ways of holding things so that we can more easily work on them.
A carpenter usually has some background attitudes towards his or her work.
The attitude may be one of always seeking simplicity.
Another attitude may be an emphasis on durability.
Strength is a background attitude for all carpenters.
In the same way a good thinker has certain background attitudes which are always present in his or her thinking.
Attitudes are more general and principles are more specific.
Often the two overlap.
A carpenter will also build up a number of guiding principles of things to do and things to avoid.
These principles might include: Go with the grain of the wood.
Arrange the maximum sticking surface for all joints.
Use a thin layer of glue.
In the same way there are certain basic principles which guide thinking.
For example, good thinking will always want to examine the specific circumstances in which a statement is true.
A carpenter develops certain work habits.
These may not come naturally and the carpenter may have to keep reminding himself or herself of the habit until it does become automatic.
Such habits may include: Always replacing a tool in the rack immediately after use.
Regular sharpening of the cutting edges.
Frequent checking of a shape against the template.
Sometimes the habit may consist of the automatic application of a principle, so the distinction between the two may not always be clear.
The important point is that habits are routine procedures.
In the same way there are routine habits which a good thinker seeks to build up.
For example, as a matter of routine, a good thinker will always pause to see if there are alternatives at any point.
There may be alternative ways of looking at the situation, alternative explanations, alternative courses of action, alternative values etc.
So the model of the carpenter provides us with all the elements of thinking skill that I shall be describing in this book.
ATTITUDES: The attitudes with which we approach thinking.
PRINCIPLES: The guiding principles that make for good thinking.
HABITS: The routines we seek to make automatic.
BASIC OPERATIONS: The fundamental operations of thinking.
TOOLS: The thinking tools we practise and use deliberately.
STRUCTURES: Formats in which we hold things for convenience.
Always keep in mind the model of the carpenter as he or she goes about constructing things.