[Paleopsych] absolutists, contextualists; (step into my world)

Thrst4knw at aol.com Thrst4knw at aol.com
Wed Jun 22 19:43:16 UTC 2005

Two thoughts:

1.  I can't help noticing that there's some degree of asymmetry to this 
suggestion.  People who agree with this notion of thinking more like other people 
are probably generally speaking more contextualist than not.  The very idea 
that you can meaningfully and usefully think more like someone else and less like 
yourself seems to me to require at least some small acknowledgement that 
human thinking is fundamentally contextual in some way?

2.  I'd be very surprised if you could get any agreement that Republicans and 
Democrats think in characteristic ways that are different from each other 
unless you froze each party at a particular moment in time and did a fairly 
sophisticated analysis of the common patterns in their reasoning.  Party 
identification certainly seems to draw on ideological committments, I would agree, and to
 an increasing degree in recent years.  Yet it is much less straightforward 
as to what "think like a party member" means because parties are not simply 
traditions of reasoning or ideologies.  The dramatic recent shift of the 
Republican party in the U.S. to some sort of odd alliance between almost statist 
neo-conservatism and religious conservatism, and the shift of the Democratic Party 
in the U.S. to a relatively amorphous collection of principles seems like a 
good case in point.   

Some strategies for trying to think like someone else when their ideas 
initially appear strange are linked informally to what is known as "Miller's Law" 
after cognitive psychologist George Miller, who put it in this awkward but oddly 
elegant way:  
"In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that 
it is true, and try to imagine what it could be true of."  (Interview with 
Elizabeth Hall, Psychology Today, January 1980, pp.38-50 and 97-98)
In practice, figuring out what someone else's odd belief might be true of can 
be extremely challenging, when you try to apply this to things like different 
ideological or metaphysical committments, but I think the principle applies 
very generally if you are willing to be very flexible in interpreting "what it 
could be true of."  That is, in what world and after making what assumptions 
and accepting what background conceptual models and making what definitions 
would this person's belief make perfect sense.  

This is part of the concept behind neurolinguistic programming and (Milton) 
Ericksonian therapy methods, and they take it so far sometimes as to try to 
step into the world of the psychotic, with varying degrees of success.

kind regards,


In a message dated 6/21/2005 5:02:56 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
waluk at earthlink.net writes:
Even better is: 
If Republicans spent more time trying to think like Democrats and Democrats 
trying to think like Republicans, understanding would be increased and debates 
could become more constructive.


Michael Christopher wrote: 
If absolutists spent more time trying to think like 
contextualists and contextualists trying to think like
absolutists, understanding would be increased and
debates could become more constructive.<<

--That's a great statement. I've never heard it put so

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