The art of thinking clearly starts with the sobering realisation that our brains are designed to achieve two things:
As Nassim Taleb succinctly put it:
“Our minds are not quite designed to understand how the world works, but, rather, to get out of trouble rapidly and have progeny."
98% of our thinking is unconscious, automatic and impulsive.
This thinking uses our mammalian brain which is all about emotions and is driven by our reptilian brain which is focused on survival.
The process of this thinking is based on assumptions, analogy and mental short-cuts and leaves us wide open to a very wide range of cognitive biases and distortions as it so often leads us to conclusions that confirm what we want to hear.
All of this is just wonderful from an evolutionary perspective as it keeps us alive and reproducing, but this conflicts deeply with the art of thinking clearly.
Professor William Irvine gives an overview of evolutionary psychology and the development of thinking systems in our brain:
The art of clear thinking is developed and exercised when we use the more recently evolved parts of our brain. This involves slower thinking that is thoughtful, deliberate, and calculating.
Only 2% of our thinking is slower thinking.
This slower thinking is hard work and involves effort and the use of a range of applied thinking skills
The function of slower thinking is to analyse, interpret and make connections, with the objective of achieving perspective, insight and understanding.
In his book "Thinking Fast and Slow" Daniel Kahneman describes these two thinking modes as 2 Systems.
System 1 is our fast thinking impulsive and reactive brain and System 2 is our slow thinking brain.
According to Kahneman:
"What gets in the way of clear thinking is that we have intuitive views of almost everything. So as soon as you present a problem to me, I have some ready made answer. What gets in the way of clear thinking are those ready made answers, and we can’t help but have them"
 Stop thinking
As regular visitors to this site will know, our big themes are about learning: how to think effectively and how to stop thinking.
The first objective of effective thought is a natural product of the second objective. Why? Because when your mind is quiet you have insight and see things as they really are.
So, counter-intuitive as it may seem, learning and mastering the art of not thinking is a useful and practical foundation for learning how to think effectively.
The difficulty with this is that without practice, your mind is not going to stop thinking on demand.
The most effective way of achieving this is with the zen practise of mindfulness.
So your first challenge in exercising the art of clear thinking is:
We are not talking about becoming a zen master or any kind of expert practitioner. This is just about learning a few simple techniques that will enable you to pause and take an inwards step back.
This will allow your observing mind to disengage from your everyday "monkey mind" to observe the ebb and flow of your impulsive reactions to the events that take place in your life.
 Develop awareness
 Learn how to think
As noted in How To Think:
"We are currently living in an age of unreason where:
All of this provides another very powerful rationale and motivation for learning how to think effectively."
This site has extensive resources on thinking skills and I recommend that you pay particular attention to:
I want to conclude this article by making an appeal for:
 A balanced approach to the art of thinking clearly.
 Taking the middle path and the avoidance of extremes.
Next Article: Algorithms to Live By
Return from "The Art Of Thinking Clearly" to: Walking The Talk