AdamM

How to Improve Someone's Thought Clarity

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I’d like some opinions on a topic that I haven’t seen discussed previously. Someone I know is not a clear thinker. That is to say, when attempting to come to conclusions, she is thwarted by what I believe is an inability to think in terms of essentials and bind together like things into groups. It gives me the opposite of the relaxed, pleased feeling I feel when I read a well-constructed line of logic – it is frustration because I have to do extra work to comprehend what she is saying and to make sense of it and draw conclusions.

Perhaps an example will illustrate it best: The other day, we were discussing a problem she was having. She began discussing the issue, as she often does when talking about complicated issues, in a slow, unfocused manner – not that she was distracted, but her sentences were not very relevant to one another; it’s more like a grab-bag of differing thoughts and facts churned out at random. So after a couple of minutes of this, I reorganized what she had said into a sentence or two and she seemed relieved that I had been able to label it and identify the problem as I had. That is to say, she recognizes that her muddled thinking is a problem for her, but she doesn’t know what to do to fix it. It reminds me of a car running at a very high RPM which needs to be shifted into a higher gear to speed easily along – thinking is very hard for her, and it takes her a long time to come to any conclusions. Frankly, I feel bad for her because she appears to REALLY want to be able to think the way I can.

Any suggestions on how she could improve the clarity of her thinking? It seems that whatever solution there may be, it will be a slow process and will depend on using her mind over a long period in greater and greater capacity -- but where to begin?

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I’d like some opinions on a topic that I haven’t seen discussed previously. Someone I know is not a clear thinker. That is to say, when attempting to come to conclusions, she is thwarted by what I believe is an inability to think in terms of essentials and bind together like things into groups. It gives me the opposite of the relaxed, pleased feeling I feel when I read a well-constructed line of logic – it is frustration because I have to do extra work to comprehend what she is saying and to make sense of it and draw conclusions.

Perhaps an example will illustrate it best: The other day, we were discussing a problem she was having. She began discussing the issue, as she often does when talking about complicated issues, in a slow, unfocused manner – not that she was distracted, but her sentences were not very relevant to one another; it’s more like a grab-bag of differing thoughts and facts churned out at random. So after a couple of minutes of this, I reorganized what she had said into a sentence or two and she seemed relieved that I had been able to label it and identify the problem as I had. That is to say, she recognizes that her muddled thinking is a problem for her, but she doesn’t know what to do to fix it. It reminds me of a car running at a very high RPM which needs to be shifted into a higher gear to speed easily along – thinking is very hard for her, and it takes her a long time to come to any conclusions. Frankly, I feel bad for her because she appears to REALLY want to be able to think the way I can.

Any suggestions on how she could improve the clarity of her thinking? It seems that whatever solution there may be, it will be a slow process and will depend on using her mind over a long period in greater and greater capacity -- but where to begin?

She might study Lionel Ruby's "Logic, An Introduction".

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Great topic. The problem is psycho-epistemology, rather than simply learning to communicate more clearly. If she isn’t “storing” concepts by their essentials, then she can’t recall them that way. Now obviously the best way to fix this is for her to learn from the master, Ayn Rand. I wasn’t just inspired by Miss Rand’s ideas, I think studying Objectivism actually made me smarter. It took years of integration, but gradually not only could I express myself more effectively but I found it easier (like you have) to understand others. I don’t really mean that you should directly pitch Objectivism to her as the answer, but if she likes the way you think and she is asking for your help, then definitely a book recommendation from you would carry a lot of weight. Pick something you think she would like, and maybe that will hook her. That’s a long-term solution.

 

The short term really depends on how serious she is about this. I think there are exercises you could organize. For example, pick an article from the paper for both of you to read, and then talk about it with each other. She will learn first hand how you deal with new information, and should start to adopt those methods. And definitely keep working with her on introspection. Gradually she should be able to work on this more independently. I agree it’s not the kind of thing with an easy or quick solution, but it sounds like a pretty exciting opportunity to me

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So after a couple of minutes of this, I reorganized what she had said into a sentence or two and she seemed relieved that I had been able to label it and identify the problem as I had.

[...]

Any suggestions on how she could improve the clarity of her thinking? It seems that whatever solution there may be, it will be a slow process and will depend on using her mind over a long period in greater and greater capacity -- but where to begin?

You ended up doing the first thing I would suggest that she do: "One-Sentencing."

Whenever she has something to express, she should try to put her thoughts into one sentence. This focuses her mind on what she talking about (the subject of the sentence) and what about it is important (the predicate). This makes her think in essentials because whatever doesn't fit in the sentence isn't the most essential.

The second thing is to take that sentence and analyze it causally by asking why it is true. What observations support it? What characteristics of the subject of the sentence give rise to the actions or characteristics in the predicate.

For example: All men are mortal. Why?

Observations: Everybody past a certain age you know of has died.

Characteristics: Life is conditional on proper functioning of an organism's body but organs can malfunction and eventually wear out.

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I’d like some opinions on a topic that I haven’t seen discussed previously. Someone I know is not a clear thinker. That is to say, when attempting to come to conclusions, she is thwarted by what I believe is an inability to think in terms of essentials and bind together like things into groups. It gives me the opposite of the relaxed, pleased feeling I feel when I read a well-constructed line of logic – it is frustration because I have to do extra work to comprehend what she is saying and to make sense of it and draw conclusions.

Perhaps an example will illustrate it best: The other day, we were discussing a problem she was having. She began discussing the issue, as she often does when talking about complicated issues, in a slow, unfocused manner – not that she was distracted, but her sentences were not very relevant to one another; it’s more like a grab-bag of differing thoughts and facts churned out at random. So after a couple of minutes of this, I reorganized what she had said into a sentence or two and she seemed relieved that I had been able to label it and identify the problem as I had. That is to say, she recognizes that her muddled thinking is a problem for her, but she doesn’t know what to do to fix it. It reminds me of a car running at a very high RPM which needs to be shifted into a higher gear to speed easily along – thinking is very hard for her, and it takes her a long time to come to any conclusions. Frankly, I feel bad for her because she appears to REALLY want to be able to think the way I can.

Any suggestions on how she could improve the clarity of her thinking? It seems that whatever solution there may be, it will be a slow process and will depend on using her mind over a long period in greater and greater capacity -- but where to begin?

I teach fourth grade language arts. Teaching students to think critically and organize and communicate their thoughts is what I spend my days doing. My advice comes from my experiences at my job.

First, I would say that she might not want to think logically. Many people don't want to think that way and would rather be guided by emotions or mystical associations.

So, given that she actually wants to improve her ability to logically think, I recommend writing as the best training tool. Daily journaling as well as targeted problem solving writing is one of the things I use to assess my students logical reasoning abilities and to guide them and direct them. When we write down our thoughts, they are there for us to look at and can't morph into something else before we grasp them.

Something you could use, if you wanted to take a more active role in helping her develop her thinking abilities is a dialogue journal. I often do this with my students. One person writes and the other person takes the journal and reads and then responds in writing to what the other person wrote. Then the first writer takes the journal for a day or two and reads and responds, continuing on until the goal is achieved. It's kind of like a message board, in a way.

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Another tool that I use to help my students learn and think in different ways is with "Thinking Maps". This is a published system of graphic organizers. Each has a different purpose for use in a different aspect of thinking. Here is some info:

http://www.thinkingmaps.com/products.php

The different maps are:

circle map for defining in context

bubble map for describing

flow map for sequencing

brace map for whole-part relationships

tree map for classifying

double bubble for comparing and contrasting

multi-flow map for cause and effect

bridge map for analogies

I started teaching these just because they were there, but I have come to really see their benefit in developing thinking skills. I even use them sometimes in my own personal problem solving. I often start with writing in my journal to get my feelings out on a topic and then I choose the map I think would be best to use and fill it out. Then I go back and rewrite my same feellings according to how they may have changed once I've looked at the facts in a logical way.

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Now obviously the best way to fix this is for her to learn from the master, Ayn Rand. I wasn’t just inspired by Miss Rand’s ideas, I think studying Objectivism actually made me smarter...
I agree that will help in the long term -- it seems that reading Ayn Rand has made my thoughts clearer as well.
You ended up doing the first thing I would suggest that she do: "One-Sentencing."...
This is a great idea. This reminds me of essay writing -- introduction, supporting evidence, conclusion. I think that will be very helpful.
When we write down our thoughts, they are there for us to look at and can't morph into something else before we grasp them.
This is a great suggestion as well. Writing seems to help us to remain on point, especially when we go back and ask "Is this cogent?"

I think these suggestions will help a ton... thanks everyone! :)

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Devoting some time to the study of grammar might be a valuable step in improving the clarity of her thinking. A person can think more clearly if he learns and automatizes the skill of constructing grammatically correct sentences. Your friend may already know how to do that, but maybe she can improve her grammar? A very good course on grammar is that old course by Dr. Peikoff, The Principles of Grammar.

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