How To Be A Critical Thinker And Develop Your Mental Powers Part 3

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on critical thinking. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

How The Mind Works

Now in order to illustrate how the mind works, do the test below:

So how did you do? Did you get the number of passes right? Did you see the gorilla? This test was done several times to different groups of people and the results are that 50% of the people reported NOT seeing the gorilla.

You see, your mind works very selectively and tends to focus on certain things, while not paying attention to other things. The most extreme example of this is called inattentional blindness, which is demonstrated by the experiment above.

The mind has a limited capacity for paying attention. In some individuals it can be greater and in some smaller, but the end result is that it is always limited.

You need to be aware of this, when thinking and coming up with conclusions. You need to keep in mind that your perception is limited and so the best way to approach problems is to keep an open mind.

How You Interpret Reality

The way that humans understand reality involves taking something that exists in the outside world and interpreting it in order to come up with a certain conclusion.

how you think

You start off with your senses (sight, touch, smell, sound, taste) taking in different things from the outside. These are then put through some filters (such as personality (meta-programs), emotions, values and principles) to form your perception of these things.

These perceptions then serve as inputs into your thinking process. This involves the synthesization of your perception of reality. Based on this synthesization you come up with ideas and conclusions.

Kahneman divides the processes that the brain uses to form thoughts and to come to conclusions into two:

System 1: which is fast, intuitive, subconscious, where your emotions serve as a major source of input and which often uses heuristics to come to conclusions.

System 2: which is slow, but more logical and uses reflection in order to consciously come up with thougths and conclusions.

The main difference between the two systems is that System 1 is intuitive, while System 2 is deliberative. The two systems are of course linked and feed each other. System 1 especially relies on associative memory, which then forms the core of heuristics, and fast decision making. Here feelings and impressions are the main inputs.

System 2 proceeds in a slower, more step by step fashion. It also more actively engages your long-term memory and searches through the different things you have stored there.

System 1 is more prone to making errors, but this tendency can be lessened through experience and deliberate practice. That’s where the 10 000 hour rule described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” comes from (the rule is based on work done by psychology researcher Anders Ericsson).

Experience lets people automate certain tasks for which normal lay people usually need deliberate thinking. Let’s use the example of chess. Chess masters use System 1 when playing chess, since after so many hours of playing and practice, they have developed a skilled intuition and heuristics. On the other hand, normal people use System 2 for playing chess and have to deliberately think about the moves.

Experts (whether in science, music, or sports) have a different way of thinking and doing things, which they developed through countless hours of practice. They see patterns based on past experience, which makes them much more likely to be accurate.

Experts can use heuristics to their great advantage, while a person who is not an expert in that particular area is more prone to fall prey to logical fallacies. However this does not mean that being an expert in one area prevents you from falling for similar logical fallacies in other areas.
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Personality Types: Why Are You The Way You Are? Part 2

Meta-programs are something that drives the way people behave in the real world. Oftentimes the outward manifestations of these meta-programs are what people describe as “personality”. Traditionally, personality is thought of as being unchanging and if you are born with a certain type of personality, then you are stuck with it.

In psychology, the theory that personality is unchanging resulted in different types of models such as the Myers-Briggs model and other similar models. According to these models, personality is fixed and people can be fit into categories based on their personality traits.

However neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) takes a different approach. Instead of types, NLP uses meta-programs. These are the predominant behavioral patterns. They are not fixed, but can be changed with a certain effort. People even adopt different patterns in different situations.

In Part 1 on meta-programs, there was a general overview and a description of two basic meta-programs. Here we will delve into four more.

3) in-time or through-time or between-time

Different people perceive time differently and this leads them to behave differently too. A basic distinction is in-time or through-time. These basically describe a person’s approach to activities having a time aspect.

People can represent the flow of time as different paths or lines in space. That reflects how they experience time. They have different timelines and plot them in their mind differently. Timelines are largely about visualization and picturing things in your mind. You can plot events from the past or future at different places on the timeline and this has an effect on how you experience and think about them.

In-time people live in the moment and for the moment. They are not too worried about the future and devote their full attention to what they are doing now. They are not too worried whether they will arrive late for a meeting or similar things. They often arrive late and don’t see anything wrong with it.

It is very hard for in-time people to plan ahead or even look at the past in an objective way. They also have a very hard time estimating how much time it will take for them to achieve something.

Many in-time people see events through their own eyes and can have an internal feeling of the past and present being both as now.

This is an individual trait, but can also be a cultural trait as well. For example certain cultures tend to be more in-time, for example the Spanish. In Spain, for most people, time has no meaning and if you set up an appointment, most will come late. They live for the “fiesta”.

Through-time people are the opposite of that. For them planning is important and so is organization. They are much better at planning and organizing their actions. They like to analyze things and often give off the impression that they are not absorbed in the activity taking place.

Another trait of through-time people is that they are punctual and realize the importance of time. They see events as flowing in front of them and therefore can often disassociate themselves from them. They know that time passes and that things interact with each other and that actions are connected to each other. One action can have repercussions at other points in time.

These two different ways of viewing time and reacting to its flow have severe repercussions on people’s behaviors. You can often tell pretty easily which people are in-time and which are more through-time. There are certain expressions that give it away. For example in-time people often use buzzwords like “live for the moment” and often talk about the “now” and “feeling”.

On the other hand, the speech of through-time people reflects the importance that they give to the passage of time. They often use time related phrases such as “next time” or “in the future”.

In-time people often react badly at traditional time management techniques. Through-time people on the other hand are often very good at time management.

This has repercussions on planning and following a plan through. It will be much easier for a through-time person to plan out goals and then set out a course of action to achieve them. So in this, it is better to have a through-time mindset, however an in-time person might enjoy the experience of being in the gym more.

As stated before, there is no “better” meta-program. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages and is better for certain situations over others. It is also perfectly possible to adopt one meta-program in one situation and another one in another situation. However for drafting goals and then achieving them, the through-time meta-program is the one that is the one that achieves results.
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Learn A Language In A Day

learning foreign languages, good mind in a healthy body

learning foreign languages, good mind in a healthy body

So can you learn to speak a foreign language in a day? Of course not, but I did run into an interesting article by Joshua Foer on how he “learned to speak a language in a day”. Of course the words “speak” and “day” are very relative as will be explained later. Joshua Foer is the author of a book called: “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything”. In the book he describes his journey of learning how to remember things. He describes mnemonics, or a series of special techniques that can be used to remember various things (such as strings of numbers, poems, or other things). I will go into mnemonics in a later post, as it is an interesting subject and some aspects can be even applied to language learning, but also to remembering almost anything.

The particular article I ran across a while back, describes how Foer started learning a language called Lingala, which is an African trade language spoken in the Congo area. It is often used as a lingua franca in that part of the world. Foer started a new project which will have him spend a significant amount of time in that area and so thought that learning the local lingua franca could be useful. He decided to use Memrise, which is a website founded by British memory champion Ed Cooke and Princeton neuroscience PhD Greg Detre. It uses a combination of the principles of mnemonics and social gaming in order to help people remember various things, including words in different languages. So it can be used to enhance a person’s language learning.

Foer decided to use Memrise in order to help him learn Lingala. He found an old FSI Lingala course, as well as a small dictionary of the language, and used those as inputs for his learning. He would go into the site and try to learn new words every time he was logged on. These are learned based on the concept of creating “mnemonics” or “mems”. The article explains the principles in this way: “Memrise encourages you to create a mnemonic, which it calls a “mem”, for every word you want to learn. A mem could be a rhyme, an image, a video or just a note about the word’s etymology, or something striking about its pronunciation”.

Foer goes onto explain the concept of spaced repetition, or repeating concepts in repeated sessions, that are phased across time. This actually goes together with my theory of learning (at least based on how I learn) and that is repeating the same materials at different points in time. For example going through some chapters of a grammar book one month and returning to those same chapters two or three months later. It is amazing how much better you understand the chapters and how much more material you can retain! To get back to Foer and why he said that he learned Lingala in a day. He ended up memorizing over a thousand words of the language and when he looked at the statistics of how much time he spent on the site, it came up to less than 24 hours in total. That’s where the “day” comes from. It’s not a literal day, but instead all the amount of time added up together. This allowed him to have a very limited conversation with a Pygmy from the Congo jungle. Of course he notes, that he did not actually completely learn the language, but instead just formed a significant basis in the language, which can be expanded upon in further learning.
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How To Learn A Foreign Language

learning foreign languages, good mind in a healthy body

learning foreign languages, good mind in a healthy body
There is an old Czech saying: “the more languages you know, the more times you are human.” It’s true, learning foreign languages lets you expand your horizons and see things from different perspectives. More importantly, it lets you connect to people you would not be able to connect to before.

I have written about traveling being a way to see new things and expanding your horizons, however this effect is multiplied exponentially if you speak the languages of the countries you are traveling in and can thereby reach the people in their own native language and find out what they are thinking in their own words.

I can speak 6 languages fluently (level B2 and up) and am in the process of learning three more. I might be a bit special, since I come from a multicultural family and have moved around all my life, so I got some languages for “free”, however other ones I have had to learn from scratch. My only regrets are that I have always been shy and also that I tend to never finish up learning one language properly before starting a new one (classic “toward” behavior).

Learning languages is sometimes a very grueling process, however it all becomes worth it, once you start applying what you learn in practice. The best experiences traveling are usually associated with using a foreign language to communicate. Nothing beats the feeling you get after managing to get your point across to a native speaker in their country without having to resort to speaking English. The feeling of satisfaction and a job well done is the reward for all those countless hours of frustration and all those myriads of exercises you did.

Of course language learning is not all about frustration, but for many people it is an enjoyable activity. It becomes even more enjoyable when it opens up doors for you, doors that would otherwise have been shut, had you not learned that language.

So how do you learn a language?
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Personality Types: Why Are You The Way You Are? Part 1

The way we behave and communicate is determined by our mental filters. Each human responds to external stimuli differently and that makes us who we are. This has a great effect on what types of preferences we have, how we work, how we talk and how we get motivated. Since each human is unique, they also need a personalized strategy in order to succeed in life.

Before you embark on setting out your own strategy for success in life, you should first understand who you are, why you function the way you do and why you make the choices that you make. This will be the basis. You should then try to come up with what you want to achieve in life and where you want to be in the future. After you have these two points, then you need to link them and perform a gap analysis, looking at what is missing right now and what is preventing you from achieving your long-term vision.

There are different sets of tools that can help you do this. One set of tools comes from neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a branch of psychology developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970s in the US. They based their studies of human behavior on a hypothesis of a connection between the neurological processes of the brain, language and behavioral patterns that were learned through experience. These in their opinion are not set, but can be changed in order to achieve the things that you want to achieve in life.

The different tools that come out of NLP can not only be used to analyze yourself, but can also be used to analyze the people around you and help you understand them and communicate better with them.

One way of analyzing yourself and your behaviors is through the analysis of meta-programs. Meta-programs are mental processes that guide and direct other mental processes (hence the word “meta”). These meta-programs are one of the filters that determine how we process information, behave and communicate. Other filters include values, beliefs, attitudes,decisions and memories.

These mental filters then affect how we take in information through our senses and then delete, distort and generalize things. In this post I will focus on explaining what are meta-programs and how they work. I will try to get into the other filters in some later posts.

Meta-programs have a huge impact on how you do things and how you respond to things. They impact and determine your habits, motivation, perseverance, as well as many outside factors, such as your opinion of others.

Meta-programs filter our perception. They filter perception without regard to the specific content. They can be used in two basic ways: to guide personal change, and also in order to communicate with others. By learning about meta-programs you can better understand yourself, your behavior, as well as the behavior of others. They can also be used to predict the behavior and actions of yourself, as well as of the people around you.

Meta-programs determine how we behave, but they can also be changed. So in no way are they static. Also as they depend on the context, you can use one meta-program in one context, while using its opposite in another context. Each person is a combination of these meta-programs and so a person’s behavior and communication is usually not dependent on a single meta-program, but instead on a combination of them.

The premise that these meta-programs are not static, but can in fact be changed is very good news. Whenever you have a problem and ask for advice on how to solve it, you often hear people advise you: “just be yourself”. That is often not very good advice. If you keep on being yourself, then you will continue on having that problem. That is because some of the internal frames that we have, can prevent us from achieving what we want to achieve.

Instead the way you should move forward, is to see what you want to change and change it. You can use the concept of meta-programs in order to do that. You can change your own meta-programs. If you find that one of your internal meta-programs is limiting you in some way, you can adopt a course of action to change that meta-program. However first you need to find out which meta-programs are the ones driving you.

There are several main meta-programs (some people have come up with lists of over 60 or more meta-programs):

1) toward or away
2) options or procedures
3) in-time or through-time or between-time
4) passive or active
5) internal or external frame of reference
6) optimist or pessimist
7) centered on yourself or centered on others
8) specific or global
9) perception (emotion) or logic
10) sameness or differences
11) independent or cooperative
12) introvert or extrovert

Meta-programs are at the origin of your motivation and also your internal mental processes. People are combinations of different meta-programs, with very few people falling on the extremes of the spectrum. Keep in mind that there are no good or bad schemas of meta-programs, so the only way to judge the utility of the schema is to base it on your particular circumstances and the context.
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