This is a bit speculative, and maybe not as precise as I’d like it to be, but I think there’s really something here to be aware of. For example, what I’m going to say here might help people avoid needless conflict.
There seem to be these two major styles of thinking and conceptualizing and such. Different ways of looking at things?
- One, is to see things sort of all together, at once, a big continuous whole. “Holistic“. Certainly, this is how reality is, and I think people who use this method believe this to be a strength. “Reality is complicated!” they will shout (I think I’ve seen PZ Myers and/or others say such things over at Pharyngula). See also this advocacy for “lawless science”.
- The other is to identify precise variables. “Analytic“. This is a method that is nicer for analysis. It in no way fails to account for the complicatedness of reality.
I think a lot of difficulty arises when there is a dispute between parties that use a different one of these styles. First, I think, because the two sides have difficulty understanding the other. Second, I think, because they believe only their own thinking is correct, so surely the other must be wrong.
Yet I suspect that both can be used to describe reality with equal accuracy. And it might be advantageous to use both, rather than just one. Obviously I’m sold on the utility of the more analytic approach. But I’m also writing a blog post which (on retrospect?) looks strikingly like advocacy for the holistic way of thinking. If I had to guess right now, I’d say each is more efficient at different tasks, even though theoretically both will end up with equally accurate descriptions of reality.
Other possibly related things to check out:
- different types of definitions. Extensive definitions VS intensive definitions.
- that one interminable (or at least inconcise, I blame lesswong culture) blog post by someone: The Categories Were Made For Man, Not Man For The Categories
- the so-called “male” and “female” (or “men’s” and “women’s”) thinking styles
- Ontology, and ontologies, and “multiple ontologies“
- Causal decision theory VS Evidential decision theory, and my comment about unifying the two
- Analytic philosophy VS Continental philosophy
- “Top down” VS “bottom up” thinking/perception/strategy