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April 08, 2004

Dialectical Thinking


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Please read "Some Reflections on Post-Formal Thought.", it's a bit of a scroll down.

Done? Or are you are like me? You just skipped over that part, and now await my second hand misinformation on this weighty topic.

Let me start with my first introduction to the concept. I was in a dissertation research group (group, of course --you will be pleased to hear that I was not in this group for twenty two years) in which a more scholarly colleague was studying "post-formal" thought development for a thesis on peace and disarmament. This was probably before the dissolution of the USSR. Do I date myself?

At the same time, her adult daughter chose to marry a young man who my colleague felt to be a beer swilling, uncouth, undereducated, redneck, TV addict. Having read Michael Basseches book, "Dialectical Thinking and Adult Development" , for her dissertation, she set about using it to work up some enthusiasm for her new son-in-law. A practical application always gets my attention, so I, in turn, worked up a little enthusiam on the subject too. But that was awhile ago.

So you can see why writing about my faux-in-laws reminded me of dialectical thinking, although I did not have to do very much of it to engage with them. I think my colleague is still working on building a dialectically based acceptance of her son-in-law. So far, she is able to appreciate his knowledge of sports.

BID*. Post formal thought refers to any extension of the four stages of thought development that Jean Piaget , a Swiss scientist, psychologist, scholar observed while studying his own three children as they grew. He eventually wrote extensively on the subject. Fact dump alert !!!: The four stages are (for the concrete operations gang out there) the sensorimotor stage (ages 0-2), the preoperational stage (2-7), the concrete operations stage (7-11) and the formal operations stage (12 and up).

As you can see,"Formal operations" is Piaget's final stage of development. It is the ability to think logically, reason and solve problems - "adult" thinking. Piaget was quite convinced that "formal operations" was just about it. fini. "Post formal operations" refers to those theories that have build upon, and go beyond, Piaget's. Dialectical thinking is one flavor of post formal thinking.

Going dialectical means that you can hold and synthesize contradictory information. In fact, you welcome contradictions that come to your attention, as an opportunity to expand understanding. You are looking for problems to solve, rather than solving problems. Creating new underlying principles based on continuous change. You understand that there are multiple realities, and that knowledge and truth are relative. You embrace the notion that opposites are necessary for contrast, and definition. We would be unable to conceptualize light without darkness, for example.

(Goodness, this is beginning to sound a little right brain/left brain, male/female to me.)

Identification with "the other" seems like a great way to develop dialectical thinking skills. Using the concept, you could even try understand things like why certain groups might feel righteously angry at the US. You might not condone their actions, but you would not think them completely insane because they don't agree with recent policies, or have reason to think that we are bad or evil. You might try to understand their stance against consumerism and materialism, and use that input to develop in areas other than collectibles.

Esther Hicks , channeling Abraham, cautions us not to "paste a happy face on an empty gas gauge, and think we've taken care of the problem". Same thing with dialectical thinking. You have to welcome difference and contradiction as a vehicle for change and expanded awareness.

Esther is quite the dialectical thinker, actually. She is most enthusiastic about "contrasts" - all those things we do not want-- the opposites of our desire - that manifest and, consequently, help us formulate what we really want.

I think that Bill and Hilary were big on the cultivation of dialectical thinking. That's why they were accused of "waffling"; they kept trying to incorporate opposing views. I imagine it's very big on those Renaissance Weekends in Hilton Head they attend every New Year.

Right now Condi, I mean Dr. Rice , isn't thinking dialectically. You did notice that she isn't all that interested in finding "the problems" that lead up to 9/11, except to say that it isn't her fault. The White House is classifying documents right and left to block "contradiction" from emerging.

Oh dear, I have spent my entire afternoon on this most unjuicy subject. To quote Belle de Jour , after the flurry over her book contract and her identity, "I want to write about the usual things again. Let us return to the suck/fuck/sleep/gossip, shall we?"

*but I digress

Posted by Dakota at April 8, 2004 08:52 PM