Black And White: The Limits Of Logic.

The Limitations Of Rational Thinking

Can monkeys type?

There is a logical proposition that if you take an infinite number of monkeys and tie them to an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite number of years, you will eventually have the complete works of Shakespeare.

Which of course is absurd. It is the farcical consequence of over-egged logical thinking. The logic has just one flaw that sets off an explosion of consequential errors.

First I would like to you one question: how much time would it take to read through all those pages to find the correct typescript? How many times would you come across Joyce’s “Ulysses” with one spelling error? How many times would you have the complete works of Oscar Wilde written in reverse or snatches of Jane Austen mixed into the Bible along with hints of Conan the Barbarian? In amongst pages and pages of scrambled jumbles of nonsense.

Whilst the logical proposition is clear, the reality of dealing with infinities makes a complete ass of logic.

This is not off-topic by the way, it is one demonstration of the limitations of logical thinking. A gentleman countered me a while ago and said “if you break everything down into yes or no answers, you will get a result”.


Take any question and reduce it to its constituent parts, as “yes” or “no”. Even with relatively simple arguments you can wind up with piles and piles of yes-no questions once they have all been dissected. That’s when we have our problem our mountain of typescripts: when they are all black or white, which are the important ones??

You have to start going through all those yes-no decisions and sorting them according to priority. But wait – that means they are not all yes-or-no decisions! That means that some “yesses” are more of a “yes” than others. Having spent all that time reducing our complex argument into bite-sized chunks, we have increased our work, not decreased it.

Moving Mountains With Logic

There is another dimension to this too …

Don’t forget that his idea of what is a “yes” may not agree with what mine is. Just because he has a circle of friends all of whom agree that Manchester United are better than Coventry City only goes to indicate that they like Manchester United better than Coventry City. It is a personal choice. It is unlikely that someone who likes Coventry City FC will find their company very pleasant.

You can begin to see that there are some very real restrictions on the use of logic. Yes, it has a place, but it is a place that is taken only after certain other assumptions have been made. The point is that for a “logical thinker” these are usually so habitual that they are not conscious that they are making them.

Real logic only has power when these assumptions have been made in the full light of day. That is when a yes or no decision can move mountains.

If you are going to harness the power of thinking in your head, you have to start by looking at everything at once. Take the whole stinking mess and just sit down and look at it in its entirety. Forget about trying to solve the problem: just look at the problem. Observe it. Regard it. But do not make any assumptions about it, because you will immediately start to make errors. Which means you cannot start making your logical arguments: they are infested with assumptions after all. You have to phrase your arguments in a way that takes everything into consideration.

You have to start by using terminology that describes wholes, not parts. A manner of thinking that encompasses, encloses and includes. It is the polar opposite of logic, which dissects, divides and excludes.

Describing the whole needs a thinking – ideas – that are unfixed and fluid. Put more carefully, dynamic.

Logic is constrictive. It nails things down. Which is fine if you can catch the thing you are chasing. But what if the thing you want to nail down is the chase itself? That is when you need to have a style of thinking that can keep up with the chase, indeed a style of thinking that becomes the chase.

Working With Conceptual Thinking

If you start by including all your assumptions, you are in a better position than if you start assuming they have no value at all (or that everybody shares them, which is worse). Suddenly all the things you never thought of become immediate. Describe your problem in terms of wooly thinking – or more correctly put, in terms of feeling, and you begin to describe it as more than it is. Sure it can get out of control, but that is where your judgement comes into play. It is, by the way, your judgement, not some arbitrary logical decision. If the concept is too big, too broad, just throw some of it out. Literally. Take the concepts that mean something to you. Your judgement here is paramount. You are, after all, part of the problem in a very real way.

After all, if you weren’t, it wouldn’t be your problem, right?


The thing about characterizing problems in this way is that it gives you control.

You decide what you want.

You have the dials.

If it doesn’t work, take one of the things you threw out, re-examine it. Perhaps after considering the others, you will see it in a new light.

Unfocussed Thinking

Anyway, what is all this “it” business anyway. Well, of course that is the hardest thing to describe. (Which is why this will be re-written sometime). “it” is a feeling associated with the problem. It is wooly, unfixed – and dynamic. It’s unfocussed. It’s that very fluidity, that lack of focus that gives it its power. Being able to lessen your focus means that you can see the bigger picture. You can’t see all the details now, you don’t have to consider each and every detail before taking a step forward.

Lacking focus means the red telephone box in the picture becomes a blob, the buildings in the background become browns and greys. The big red patch shows itself as being important and the dull browny-grey background can be left for later. That’s when you can zero-in to the things that are important – and leave the rest.

Because that’s the real power of Wooly Thinking: its very lack of focus, intensity allows you to generalize your problem. Organizing a few things is a lot easier than arranging thousands. You are able to discern the important elements in very short order, and then taking that one area for further investigation. That’s when you can apply the intensity of rational thinking – whose power lies in small areas. Correctly used it is amazingly powerful. A balance between these strategies will increase your powers of decision making dramatically.


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