The Art Of Thinking Clearly

How To Do More Than Just Survive And Reproduce

The 3 Steps To Clarity


A brain scan of someone practicing the art of thinking clearly.

Introducing The Art Of Thinking Clearly

The art of thinking clearly starts with the sobering realisation that our brains are designed to achieve two things:

  1. Survival
  2. Reproduction

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"


2 Systems of Thinking Fast and Slow








How To Exercise The Art Of Thinking Clearly


[1] Stop thinking

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:

Can you stop thinking?

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.



    However well developed your thinking skills are, they are incomplete if you can't stop thinking - and do so on demand.









[2] Develop awareness

Develop Awareness
  • You need to have a deep awareness of the range of cognitive biases and distortions to which we are all so susceptible.
  • You also need to have deep awareness of the power and pitfalls of the mental short cuts [heuristics] that we all use all the time in everyday decisions.
  • Equally important is an awareness of the boundary between knowing what you do know and knowing what you don't know. This is all about understanding your circle of competence.


    Know your circle of competence, and stick within it. The size of that circle is not very important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital.

    [Warren Buffet]








[3] Learn how to think

How To Think

As noted in How To Think:

"We are currently living in an age of unreason where:

  • Experts are denigrated and ignorance, bias and prejudice is celebrated;
  • Woke thinking takes precedence over reasoned debate;
  •  Virtue signally takes precedence over private philanthropy;
  • Intelligent discussion and agreement to disagree and respect for other shades of opinion are denied in the current cancel culture;
  • Public debate is hijacked and taken over by group think and mob rule.

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:



    Because of our default tendency for thinking by analogy we focus on form. 

    First principles thinking requires you to drop your adherence to prior forms and focus instead on the function.

    Optimize the function and ignore the form!









The Art Of Thinking Clearly And The Balanced Life

The Balanced Life

I want to conclude this article by making an appeal for:

[1] A balanced approach to the art of thinking clearly.

[2] Taking the middle path and the avoidance of extremes.



    The balanced life is one where you recognise the full spectrum of possible responses and consistently choose the right one for the situation you find yourself in.








Knowing what you don't know is more useful than being brilliant.







Further Reading:



*************************



Next Article: Algorithms to Live By

Return from "The Art Of Thinking Clearly" to: Walking The Talk


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