As Aristotle points out, for all of the mind’s expansiveness, it really only performs three processes:
1. Gathering and understanding facts
2. Creating new associations and ideas
3. Making judgments and decisions
Gathering and understanding facts is a fairly passive exercise engaged in by simply taking in information and, almost unconsciously, categorizing them in accordance with rules and definitions already established and which we view to be correct (whether or not they are actually correct).
Creating new associations and ideas is nearly a polar opposite of gathering and understanding facts. This is a much more active endeavor as we seek to join previously unassociated ideas or to add to or replace the rules and definitions we previously accepted.
There is a tension between these two processes, one that is often seen in highly cerebral or highly creative individuals. Since the creative process is constantly seeking to redefine or find new associations and the fact gathering process is very rule driven and conservative, these two functions are antagonistic at their roots.
The judgment and decision making process of the mind weighs what we are prepared to believe and accept against that which we are prepared to reject. This process, more so than the other two, is influenced by ego and emotional drives. Most of us make judgments in situations even when we don’t have many of the facts and understandings of the subject matter.
Understanding the three processes of the mind is critical to better and clearer thinking. Metacognition is, simply, thinking about the way we think. Studies show that metacognition increases the quality of our thought processes. Understanding the three processes of the mind and the internal and external tension and biases relating to them is a necessary first step for thinking about thinking. Then, we can work to sharpen the three processes of the mind and become more perceptive, more creative and make better decisions.