26 June 2019
I’m re-reading a book by Otto Laske on dialectical thinking. It is a challenging book but worth the effort. One of the major ideas in it is that our “inquiring system”, or the way that we inquire into ourselves, others, and the world undergoes change across our lifespan. He argues that dialectical thinking represents the most advanced form of thinking that we are capable of. Advanced in the sense of being most able to grasp the dynamics of reality.
“Realize that your present level of thinking is a particular developmental achievement that reveals only a part of the cognitive resources likely to emerge in your consciousness over its lifespan”
- Otto Laske
He suggests that what dialectical thinking does best is understanding transformations. A transformation is, literally, a change in form or structure. It doesn’t take a lot of observation of reality to see that it is continuously undergoing structural change. This change takes place across all timescales like the formation of canyons and valleys, the disruption of industries or the aging of our bodies.
I tend to be most interested in the time horizon of an individual life, but it is a potent cognitive ability to be able to reason across varying time horizons. It is a prerequisite for being a high-functioning executive or leader. We want to be able to see various systems we are embedded in and sense into how they are evolving across time.
Laske is offering a path for maturing in our cognitive development. A path to honing our ability to inquire into the world and produce meanings and understandings that allow us to solve problems and realize our goals.
The book emphasizes how we think over what we think, and describes “thought form structures” that we can observe in our own thinking. These thought form structures include things like “Patterns of interaction” or “Limits of system stability”.
When it comes to how we think, most of the time, most of us are like the fish that says “what is water?”. We are so immersed in it that we are not able to see it objectively.
We may be aware of what we are thinking, but it requires deliberate cultivation to notice the structures we think within.
While there are inherent limits to our ability to represent reality with language (the map is not the territory), there is still value in honing our representational skills. This book offers valuable scaffolding for developing a more robust “inquiring system”.
Given that we are almost constantly engaged in one form of inquiry or another, whether it is deciding what type of milk to buy or whether or not a new friend is trustworthy, it is worthwhile to improve our ways of inquiring.