How far can one think?
I have recently been paying more attention to my general thinking patterns, and am trying to deduce the optimal balance between thinking and experience when making a decision.
Experience is simply a process of gathering more information, while thinking is the process of assimilating and structuring that information but also thinking is imagining and recreating experiences. When one wants to make a decision, usually one turns to thinking and reasoning through the space. To analogize, to me its like you are a small lighted circle on a map - this is your small circle of ‘understanding’ or the whole picture you see in your mind and what you understand comfortably; and there is a fog that surrounds your little circle of understanding on all sides, covering up the surrounding territory. Thinking is the process of moving on different roads and exploring those fogged areas, so that you see the whole picture. Its important to note that it takes critical and open thinking to ‘push back’ this fog to expand your understanding and knowledge of the whole picture. This process consists basically of using logical reasoning and assumptions to think your way through the fog, and if you get stuck, you try to call on your other experiences or even ‘imagine’ how something would be to keep thinking.
However, because of how our minds work, it is often difficult to push the fog back very far - the reason is that we tend to think stereotypically and use lots of assumptions. Similarly, often it becomes difficult to properly imagine situations, let alone assess these imagined situations. Assumptions help us limit, focus, and direct our thinking, but they also prevent us from taking other roads and exploring the fog in all directions. Assumptions, then, are almost like the roads themselves - they let us think in a certain direction, much like taking a road and exploring a territory in one direction - you can’t veer from the path. However, without assumptions, we have no direction - they are very necessary. The farther and farther you move from your original starting point, what usually tends to happen is that the assumptions you make become weaker and more imagined, making it harder to move through the fog. This is why experience is so key.
Continuing with the same analogy, experience is then like a ’spotted highway’ on the map. The reason is that its much easier to understand when one experiences something first hand, its not like you are ‘fighting back’ the fog to think through it, but rather, experience just happens and understanding comes naturally - thats why its a highway, because you can understand a lot just by experiencing it, much like a highway in that you can travel great distances very quickly. However, the highway is ’spotted’ because really, experience teaches a lot of random stuff - it doesn’t necessarily carve out a large circle of understanding, but many such smaller circles of understanding scattered through the territory, that its up to you to connect.
So we mentioned that the roads in our analogy are the ‘assumptions’ we make, because they help direct our thinking. What we can do then is be self-aware of the assumptions we are making, and then challenge these assumptions. By doing this, instead of being stuck on a one-way road into the fog, we start creating side-paths that we can take and explore, which makes then our thoughts have lots of ‘branches’. Every time we drop an assumption, the possibilities open up for us to explore new options, but, of course, our path of reasoning becomes less defined; thus at some point we usually create a new assumption then (different from the old one) to create a new path for ourselves into new areas of the fog.
So what is the optimal balance between thinking and experience? This is an extremely hard question, but to answer it, I would say that more information and experience is always a better thing no matter what; that said, I don’t necessarily have a good answer, but more a quip like cliche. I would say that thinking is only necessary when a decision needs to be made, and more experience is necessary when thinking cannot provide a decision. In other words - if you can’t decide, get more experience, then decide. Simple? Not really.