Friday, December 08, 2006

Horizontal thinking is often most productive when it begins from a platform of expertise in a given field, using the accumulation of knowledge and vertical thinking skills as a platform to see patterns and analogies across domains. The question is, what is the best " platform" ? here are some possibilities, broadly defined, for consideration:






The Arts

Classical Liberal Education

Each would appear to offer some distinct advantages in terms of inculcating cognitive habits and frames of interpretation.

Mathematics offers rigor, precision in conceiving problems and at a certain level, the capacity to construct algorithmic models. Philosophy directs out attention toward our own epistemology, metaphysics and logical reasoning. History offers the largest collection of reference points and a methodology for establishing causation. Physics promotes a comprehension of the operation of massively complex systems, cause and effect and almost as much rigor as mathematics. The Law teaches the use logic, evidentiary consistency and accelerated, extemporaneous reasoning. The Arts require the type of intuitive, nonverbal, pattern recognittion and synthesizing thinking that are conistent with good horizontal thought. Liberal education partakes of all of these to some extent and imparts skepticism in the student.

While I naturally incline toward history my respect for the arts and physics stand very high. If I had to go back in time, I can say I'd take far more physics the second time around. Where do you stand ?
I'd have taken more math, only now realizing how useful it is for abstract thinking. Even though Geometry can still bite me =)
More math. I just missed out on a job offer because of my lack of quantitative skills. More broadly, some level of quantitative ability is becoming increasingly important (especially in finance.) Math is increasingly relevant to many aspects of contemporary life. But echoing Chirol; geometry, blah!

I would have taken more interest in the arts. Although I am a pretty good artist (sketching), I always thought of it as a bunch of foolishness. When I started sketching some of my nephew’s Transformers and such, I didn’t have the heart to tell him about copyright laws and such. Thankfully he kind of stopped asking me to draw stuff for him.

I loved Geometry and Algebra, but I was only barely average in ability. When I studied some physics and started using mathematics I grew to like mathematics as well.

I like reading about history, but my mind does not record dates or names well, unless I can hook them to spatial events.

Never gave philosophy much thought. Law kind of bored me. Law, to me, is mostly fake. You can get it to say just about what you want it to, if you are skilled enough. Classical Liberal education was too far out of my domain to consider.

So I would take more interest in the arts and writing specifically.
More physics and law, for me.

It'd be interesting to list the negatives of each "platform". In two ongoing conversations, one at D5GW and one at GG, the now is then frame favored by some "historians" has been used over the last 24 hours. E.g., "Well, look at what happened in WWII! See, that's what will happen now. So your theory is full of s**t!"

I suppose that would be the over-reliance on vertical thinking acquired over a lifetime of amateur historical studies.

It's easy enough to see the negatives of philosophy as well: one variant produces ideologues; another, dogmatists. The two are not unalike.

Law: "By the book" thinkers, who give weight only to what has been finalized and institutionalized. Or money-seekers, who use the law as some sort of profit strategy (oligarchs, when they achieve in the political domain as well.)

The arts: hedonists, superficial and self-centric entertainers.

Classical Liberal Education: nihilism, elitism.

Physics and Mathematics actually appear to have the least number of negatives, although de-humanized points of view may occur. In fact you might see something akin to the dogmatism of philosophy or even the "by the book" players of law.

I see that Larry has commented while I prepared my comment, and he may recognize a reference in my comment! So...I'm not saying that I never fall into the negative territory of my own habitual platforms!
Statistical analysis is deadly dull but quite useful for telling when somebody is full of it. :o)

Math 's negatives come about over time -a tendency toward seeing things in black/white
More math, maybe more physics. I'm tempted to say history should have remained more of a personal devotion than the object of study it kind of was. Law was, for me, an error--too much of what PhilaLawyer.
I'd say that classical liberal education is the best platform from which to engage in horizontal thinking.

I say this from a primarily scientific/mathematical base. Going to a liberal arts college showed me that there are other ways of approaching problems, although I can also argue that logic is the same, whether you come at it from a knowledge base of history, art, or mathematics.

Classical liberal education shows you that all those are out there, and their modes of logic can uncover different sorts of things. Students usually don't appreciate all this right away. I was probably twenty years out of school when I realized why it was so important to learn all those dates in history.

Classical liberal education may also emphasize criticism and analysis of others' arguments in ways that some of the others, except law, may be weak.

I studied history and in the early 70's that made one quite unemployable. I should have studied more economics and poli sci that would have offered more job opportunities. Then I could have done history (my first love) on the weekends and developed my capacity for horizontal thinking.
There should be an "Internet Studies".

I was expelled from the Army without finishing my study of Korean, later a university after only two semesters (in which I learned not much, except something about the silliness of a state-run university! But the 'not learning much' was also a result of factors that led to the expulsion...), and during these two failed attempts at being taught vertically, I began reading relatively widely on my own. Later I started bouncing around the Internet, first at an odd but intensive poetry critique site and then into the Blogosphere, where I've met many of you fine folk and your quirky blogs. And many a quirky news item, or journal analysis, etc.

The benefit of a piecemeal yet wide-ranging, self-directed approach is this: that not thinking horizontally is not much of an option, if you don't want to go mad. The negative is this: that fantasies are so much easier to construct!
Electrical Engineering.
Has all the benefits of math and physics, but more grounded in practical matters. Most engineering programs require economics in addition to math and physics. Any engineering degreee is good, but an EE degree is most relevant these days.

In todays world, internet, computers, TV from satellites, etc... a knowledge of EE is good basis for law, business, politics.
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