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Zengi can be Zangi and Zinki, among others

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — besides horror at the beheading, there’s an analytic note that needs to be heard ]

abdullah issa 600
Abdullah Issa fighting, and wounded — soon to be savagely beheaded

The ferocity of the beheading has been blurred out in most versions of the video, though ZeroCensorship is still showing it, and YouTube has a version that stops short of the beheading but appears to record Abdullah’s final wish — to be shot, not slaughtered.

That devastating final wish goes way beyond Shakespeare‘s “to be or not to be, that is the question” — it may well be the most terrfying depiction of a choice made at death-point that I have ever heard.


I commented recently to a post by Ehsani2 titled The Boy Beheaded by Zinki Fighters, Abdullah Tayseer, Who Was He? on Dr. Joshus LandisSyria Comment blog, noting that the piece used the names Zanki and Zinki without commenting on the difference between them, and asking for clarification. I’d like to thank Dr Landis for a graciously email in response, and am happy to note today that my concern regarding the discrepant names used in the article is not without cause — as Kyle Orton just made clear in his own post on his Syrian Intifada blog, A Rebel Crime and Western Lessons in Syria:

One of the first complications with al-Zengi is the sheer variety of ways to transliterate the group’s name. Nooradeen can be Nooridin, Noorideen, and Noor/Nur al-Din/Deen; Zengi can be Zangi and Zinki, among others. Harakat means “movement,” though sometimes the organization is referred to as kataib (brigade) instead. Nooradeen refers to the twelfth-century Seljuk atabeg of the Zengid dynasty, whose life’s project was the reunification of the Islamic community.

No wonder I was confused.


My point, as so often, cuts against the grain of the conversation on Ehsani2’s post, which is largely about the horrible event itself and the group that performed it, one time support from the US included, and not the ways in which lack of languahger skills can cause confusion where clarity would be preferable — and that’s fair enough. My point, hiwever, is the linguistic one, and I think it’s important in a way that’s perhaps better suited to discussion here than on Dr Landis’ blog.

My plea is for analysts with special knowledge of places, groups or languages to bear in mind when writing, that there will be some in their interested audiences who may not share those specialities but are still worth reaching — and in particular that non-specialists, while inherently weak in local detail, may nevertheless contribute significant insights from outside linguistic or area-specialist silos, precisely by virtue of not being in the echo-chambers that such forms of specialism themselves tend to erect.

Zen has from the beginning of this blog stressed the mutual virtues of what he terms “horizontal” and “vertical” modes of knowledge — see his series:

  • Understanding Cognition: part I: Benefits of horizontal thinking
  • Understanding Cognition: part II: Benefits of vertical thinking to horizontal thinkers
  • Understanding Cognition: part III: Horizontal and vertical thinking and the origin of insight
  • I came to my own interest in that topic by being a primarily analogical and only secondarily linear thinker, by hearing Murray Gell-Mann at CalTech speak on the importance of generalist “bridge-makers” who perceive analogical links between otherwise unrelated disciplines, and by my twenty- to thirty-year effort to devised a playable form of the great analogical game loosely described in Hermann Hesse’s brillian (nobel-winning) novel, The Glass Bead Game.

    In prepping a proposal — as yet unfinished — for DARPA or IARPA last year, I formulate my basic message as a sort of motto, thus:

    Out of the box, out of the silo, out of the discipline, out of the agency, out of the explicit known into the “unknowing” — where the future takes shape…

    I could — and in the finished proposal will, God-willing — go far further on this topic, describing the ways in which complexity is far better modeled for us humans by analogical than by linear thinking, by cross-disciplinary than by silo’d thinking, by visual rather than verbal thinking, by human scale (7, plus or minus 2 datapoints) visualization than by big-data viz, and so forth. But let’s make it simple:

    Quirky thinking has a better chance at creative insight than routine thinking, individual contrarian passion than in-group agreement.



    Thanks again to Dr Landis, and back to business..

    About those angels hiding in the wings & winds

    Saturday, July 9th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — John Donne, Kepler, and the transition from natural philosophy to science — & beyond ]

    Here’s a DoubleQuote for you:

    Donne Keppler DQ

    This isn’t futuristic strategy, but it is futures thinking.

    There was an extraordinary transition that took place when natural philosophy morphed into science, and while I’ve quoted John Donne’s four amazing words “round earth’s imagin’d corners” [upper panel, above] often enough as illustrating both worldviews as though seen through a conceptual equivalent of binocular vision, it was only recently via 3QD that I came across Kepler’s illustration of the elliptical orbit of Mars with its remarkable combination of angels and geometrical precision.

    I would argue that we are at the beginning of another such trasformation, in which the “horizontal” imaginative (imaginal, image-making, magical), intuitive (irrational), creative (leaping, analogical, cross-disciplinary) mode of perception will again be integrated in some new and transformative manner with the “vertical” linear, numeric-verbal, logical (rational) mode that at present so fascinates our culture — the conscious mode of thinking through with the unconscious mode of revelatory insight.

    If it is indeed the case — as suggested by the failure of Aristotelian either-or logic to support the niceties of the world seen from a quantum mechanical perspective — that we are entering a transition to a stereoscopic worldview that finally harmonizes the sciences with the arts and humanities, then a clear understanding of the earlier transition represented above in the two panels, one from Donne’s poems, one from Kepler’s treatise, will be an invaluable guide to what lies ahead.



  • John Donne, At the round earth’s imagin’d corners
  • James Blachowicz, There Is No Scientific Method
  • **

    Edited to add:

    For an in-depth account of salient aspects of that first transformation, see Ioan Couliano‘s great book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

    Cognitive Tools for Creative Thinking

    Friday, May 15th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a “zen“]

    It has been some time since I have touched upon this topic. Recently though, I initiated a discussion at work on ways to enhance and stimulate creativity and  creative thinking and presented a suite of methods for generating and refining ideas. I didn’t get into the insight-based aspects of creativity, nor the high-level kinds of synthesis you see with people who have genuine mastery over a field or domain. My focus was more on developing people’s ability to think divergently, generate or recognize novel ideas and then refine or develop them.

    Therefore, many of these are active, intentional exercises or strategies. They tend to be productive but their creativity is not quite the same as what is produced, say, when a skilled musician is “jamming”, an inventor is tinkering or a painter or scientist is experimenting in the “flow“.  The following are also not an exhaustive list:

    Creative Problem Solving (CPS)

    Developed by Alex Osborn and Sidney Parnes, CPS seeks to harness Divergent and Convergent thinking in a holistic, multi-step, learning process. In essence, the students are sequentially alternating between Generating ideas and Focusing on refining, evaluating, applying them until the “problem” is solved. This is one of the older models of instilling creative thinking and has been widely used, particularly for well-defined or technical problems.

    Edward DeBono Lateral Thinking Exercises

    DeBono developed a system of forced choice and association exercises that are well suited to promoting critical and creative thinking at the same time as students address a concept or activity. Lateral Thinking exercises lend themselves naturally to being made into graphic organizers or as leading questions in class or group discussion. Some examples:

    PMI – “Plus, Minus, Interesting”                             OPV – “Other People’s Views    

    ADI – “Agreement, Disagreement, Irrelevant”  APC – “Alternatives, Possibilities, Choices”

    EBS – “Examine Both Sides”                                      CAF – “Consider All Factors”

    HVLV – “High Value, Low Value”                             AGO – “Aims, Goals, Objectives”

    TEC – “Target, Explore, Conclude”                          PISCO – “Purpose, Input, Solutions, Choice”

    Related to Lateral Thinking, but not the same, is Horizontal Thinking. While the former are concrete exercises, horizontal thinking is using a familiar area of knowledge to look for analogies and patterns in less or unfamiliar fields. Both Lateral and Horizontal thinking differ from the traditional model of analytical-reductionist Vertical Thinking associated with critical thinking done within a subject matter field. Vertical thinking and Lateral/Horizontal thinking complement one another




    Variations on “Brainstorming

    We all have used brainstorming. There are some ways to make brainstorming more productive.

    Ideational Pools – Ask a series of open-ended questions to a group that creates a much richer, single “pool” of ideas than simple brainstorming

    Uses, Instances, Similarities – this is usually about a physical object and the purpose is to generate as many alternatives as possible – i.e. “How many different uses can you think of for a piece of rope?”. It is both divergent and lateral thinking as an activity.

    Synectics – Extends brainstorming by taking the results and developing metaphors, similes, metonymy/synedoche that describe/explain them

    Group Roles (or stages)

    1. Generator: Comes up with ideas
    2. Conceptualizer: Organizes, categorizes, renames ideas
    3. Optimizer: Refines ideas with a view to action – the “How”
    4. Implementor Takes action


    Morphological Synthesis

    Morphological synthesis works through decomposition and forced association, There are several variations but it works best with well-defined problems. Examples.

    1. Define the problem or identify a thing. List all of the attributes.
    2. Combine and re-configure attributes in new ways


    1. Divide problem into parts
    2. Develop a solution for each part
    3. Combine solutions


    Critical Question Mapping

    A system of fast learning, developed by friend of ZP Dr. Terry Barnhart, discovers the “what” of a situation by having everyone brainstorm all of the critical questions that must be answered to find a solution. No declarative statements may be made, only questions asked. After the group has exhausted the potential questions, the questions can be organized into clusters, a learning strategy, divided for research, etc.


    Scenario Exercises

    The use of imaginative but realistic premises for a thought experiment and discussion. Popular in the fields of futurism, alternative history and physics, they allow the students to explore reasons behind making decisions, constructing hypothetical, framing problems or as an allegorical experience before exploring the real situation or problem. Scenarios come in different forms and draw on both critical and creative thinking:

    Counterfactual: Ex- “What if the South won the Civil War?”

    Futurist: Ex- Imagine a world entering a new ice age – how would Illinois ecosystems be impacted by the climate change?”

    Physical: Ex- “Schrodinger’s Cat”

    Paradoxical: Ex – “Could a man travel through time and kill his own grandfather? Could you drown in the fountain of eternal life?”



    Juxtaposing opposing or incompatible authoritative views to encourage synthesis or reflective choice. This is a favorite technique of Charles Cameron in his Hipbone method of analysis that he employs regularly here at ZP.



    Moral Reasoning

    Like Scenarios, moral reasoning and ethical dilemmas push people to think both creatively and critically. Example:

    “A madman who has threatened to explode several bombs in crowded areas has been apprehended. Unfortunately, he has already planted the bombs and they are scheduled to go off in a short time. It is possible that hundreds of people may die. The authorities cannot make him divulge the location of the bombs by conventional methods. He refuses to say anything and requests a lawyer to protect his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. In exasperation, some high level official suggests torture. This would be illegal, of course, but the official thinks that it is nevertheless the right thing to do in this desperate situation. Do you agree?”

    Many ethical dilemmas and student solutions can be analyzed according to Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development but the value for creative thinking is in creating the conditions of a forced choice requiring a resolution.



    What techniques do you use for creativity?


    Camera angle: the place of aesthetics in analytics

    Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — suggesting that the ability to make “creative leaps” falls within the aesthetic realm ]

    Kiefer Sutherland asleep towards the beginning of the movie Dead Heat:

    Kiefer Sutherland in Dead Heat ca 8.30

    And Mantegna‘s Lamentation over the Dead Christ



    I don’t think there’s much doubt that the film-maker Mark Malone, was influenced by Mantegna’s mise-en-scène.

    What interests me here, however, is not the diference between the two narratives, one secular, one sacred, nor the question of influence, but the opportunity this juxtaposition provides for me to stress that resemblance, or more generally, pattern (as in “pattern recognition”), is an aesthetic skill, with the corollary that the richest and most illuminating congruences between items of cognition across disciplines or media are those in which the parallelisms or oppositions are most exact.

    It is the exactness of the formal correspondance between two thoughts, images, or events that permits their divergences to become salient to us, and in our search for insight, it will be precisely those correspondences which most richly illustrate this principle that will offer us the greatest possibility of fresh insight — which can then be explored with all the rigors our critical faculties can contrive.

    Happy New “Creative Leap” Year

    Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — wondering whether a von Kármán vortex street might be a good place to take a Paul Lévy walk one of these days — when I’m out and about, foraging for new ideas ]

    "Named after French mathematician Paul Lévy, a Lévy walk is characterized by many small moves combined with a few longer trajectories."


    M’friend Bill Benzon of the New Savanna blog posted two paras out of an NYT blog piece, Navigating Our World Like Birds and Bees, today:

    What they have found is that when moving with a purpose such as foraging for food, many creatures follow a particular and shared pattern. They walk (or wing or lope) for a short time in one direction, scouring the ground for edibles, then turn and start moving in another direction for a short while, before turning and strolling or flying in another direction yet again. This is a useful strategy for finding tubers and such, but if maintained indefinitely brings creatures back to the same starting point over and over; they essentially move in circles.

    So most foragers and predators occasionally throw in a longer-distance walk (or flight), which researchers refer to as a “long step,” bringing them into new territory, where they then return to short walks and frequent turns as they explore the new place.

    I can’t help but think that this may give us a closer approximation to the way minds can think than our usual terms, linear and lateral, or on a wider scale, disciplinary and interdisciplinary thinking, with the short walks involving thoughts that require investigation but not analogy, and the long steps being leaps by analogy into new territory — the familiar hop, skip and jumps we also call creative leaps.

    From my POV, seeing both linear and leaping thoughts this way allows for the fact that what we’ve been calling linear thoughts aren’t so much linear as local, while analogical thoughts by their very nature take us from one thought domain to another — via parallelism or opposition — leaping conceptual distances.

    Which is why I can wish you a Happy New “Creative Leap” Year! — even though 2014 isn’t divisible by 4 and there will still only be 28 days this February.

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