To Think is to Miss

July 3, 2012

I am naturally inclined to think in branches than lines. When I refer to “branched” thinking I mean irregularly making connections between one thing and another, thinking how that might mean this, and this can be sub-categorized into different kinds that are interrelated but also might be related to something else. Unbound by an agenda, but not random. “Linear” thinking, however, is the more straightforward mode of thinking. One that is purposed to reach a certain conclusion or solution.

Each mode of thinking has advantages and disadvantages alike. Neither one need specialize to a certain set of subject and not others; they simply present different thought processes with differing strengths and weaknesses. Linear thinking is often associated with practicality  . This by no means makes it necessarily the best solution. But branched thinking, being unpredictable, is not set toward a particular end–unless the end is exploring something for solutions, conclusions, connections. This kind of thinking consists of free association and observing connections between one thing and another; it follows a trails more deeply without a pre-established goal. It is the mode of creativity. The contrast between branched thinking and linear thinking has become entangled with an idea that while the former is creative, the latter is practical, giving rise to the subtly underlying belief that creativity is impractical. I will go into this another time. For now, the point is that branched thinking is necessary for making connections between thoughts you wouldn’t see in a linear mode of thought.

Even as branched thinking is thorough, I realize how much information I miss out on when I’m trying to create or come to a conclusion. As I think, my progress can be easily detoured at each step of thinking by a connection with something else, leading to another branch. I have to select which things to think about and which to leave behind, as it will distract and slow my mind to think of all the connections I could be making and all the discoveries I could be having along a certain stream of thought. It’s like a fast growing tree that grows sporadically in all directions, and must have certain branches trimmed to allow growth in other areas. Potential life must be sacrificed for other life; potential thoughts must be sacrificed for other thoughts.

I see that no matter how clear my mind, with what agility and speed I can think, I will miss other things I could be realizing. Any time I free-associate and begin following a branch of thought, I forsake every other branch of thought. And this is true at every turn of the mind. Every street I go down eliminates the possibility of what I would find on other streets. The deeper you zoom into a point on a fractal, the more you miss of the rest you didn’t look into.


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