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Three Types of Thinking

Before discussing the inherent dangers, causes and corrections to Mechanical Thinking, it occurred to me that it’s important to place it within its proper context. What is it? And what can it be distinguished from? At first, it seemed as if there were only two options: Mechanical Thinking and correct, “Balanced” Thinking. Then it occurred to me that Mechanical Thinking sits on one end of a spectrum, as one of two extremes. There are not two options, but three. And as a kind of Aristotelian mean, healthy thinking sits somewhere balanced between the two. One of Satan’s regular tricks is to present two evil, extreme opposites as if they are the only possible options, forcing us to choose one. When, in fact, a third, good, option exists that transcends both.

And so, what are these three types of thinking?

There what we can call:

  • Mechanical Thinking,

  • Nebulous Thinking, and

  • Healthy Thinking.

There are other ways to label these three, as we will see. But that should get us started. Anyway, what are they?

Mechanical Thinking

Mechanical Thinking can be defined as a tendency or habit of the mind to perceive and reason in terms of unnecessarily fixed binaries, known categories, closed systems and clearly-defined parameters. Other titles could be “black-and-white thinking”, “binary thinking”, or “2-D thinking”. It is a tendency to see everything in terms of strict black-and-white, as if every statement and idea is necessarily categorical.

A knee-jerk rebellion against this concept is, itself, a symptom of Mechanical Thinking. Someone might protest “but some things really are black-and-white! And so, you are trying to criticise all black-and-white thinking! You are just trying to be nebulous!

The problem is that the Mechanical Thinker can only think in a very narrow scope and is quite literally blind to entire areas of truth, much like a 2-D creature living in a 3-D world. By analogy, if I have a piece of paper and place it behind my back and tell the Mechanical Thinker, it is “NOT White”, the Mechanical Thinker will conclude, “OK, then it MUST be black!”. Yet, we can see clearly that it could be blue, yellow, purple or any other colour including black which is not-white.

An example of Mechanical Thinking would be something like:

“Some sexual acts are perverse and wrong.”

“Therefore, sex is perverse and wrong.”


“Because the Catholic Church praises celibacy, it must think that sex is bad.”

When, in fact, the Church praises both sex and celibacy but for different reasons (although, according to the same principle).

That being said, the upside is that, unlike the nebulous thinker, someone who is mechanical does, at least, tend to recognise the existence of truth and value its pursuit. This cannot be said for Nebulous Thinking.

Nebulous Thinking

Nebulous thinking can be defined as a tendency or habit of the mind to perceive things and frame conclusions without any clear forms, distinctions or parameters; for thought, reason and parameters to remain vague and implicit, and for such things to be led mostly by sentiment or emotion.

The obvious problem with this, of course, is that the Nebulous Thinker can either make no claims to truth, or defines pretty much everything as “truth” rendering the concept meaningless. It’s the kind of thinking which would conclude that “If The Church thinks that celibacy is good (sometimes) and sex is good (sometimes), there must be no real difference between sex and celibacy. Everyone should just do whatever they want, whenever they feel like it. Now pass me that joint and let’s have an orgy!”

There is relatively little to say about Nebulous Thinking because for anyone interested in logic, reason, and truth it is so obviously wrong compared to Mechanical Thinking. Yet, it’s worth saying this much, at least… Mechanical Thinking may sometimes result from a hard rejection of Nebulous Thinking. Because Nebulous Thinking is so obviously wrong and devoid of truth with its undefined parameters and indiscriminate blurring of black and white, the truth-hungry mechanical thinker might push hard to clearly define every parameter and ensure that not only should black-and-white each be placed in a bullet-proof box, but we should ensure that they are the only two colours that exist.

In some sense, it is understandable. Yet, it is wrong. And unhealthy. It goes from no truth to narrow truth. The first leads us to be wrong is a feeble, flimsy kind of way, and the other leads us to be wrong – seriously wrong – with great zeal and painful rigidity. No… instead, we must exercise reason properly, as neither ghosts nor machines, but as men – as humans – because neither ghosts nor machines are made in the image and likeness of God.

Balanced Thinking

Balanced Thinking can be defined as a tendency or habit of the mind to be neither Mechanical nor Nebulous, but to exercise reason correctly to perceive the full-scope of reality; of truth and its possibilities. It can simultaneously distinguish between true and false, whilst understanding that truth may have many facets. It can also be called "Healthy Thinking", "Full-Spectrum Thinking", "3-D Thinking", or "Paradoxical Thinking" (because it can be used to resolve paradoxes. In fact, if you want a rolling barrage of paradoxical thinking in practice, read Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton).

There are many ways to serve God. But sin is categorically wrong. It is good to be a priest, but it is not necessarily good that all men become priests. In fact, it may well be bad. For some men, at some times, it may good to be a priest or a solider, but to live against the Will of God is wrong. Always.

Hence, unlike the nebulous thinker, the balanced thinker can draw a clear, even categorical distinction between truth and falsehood. Yet, unlike the mechanical thinker, when the balanced thinker understands one facet of truth, they do not take conclude that they have understood that truth in its full scope and complexity.

A distinguishing mark of Balanced Thinking is to prioritise the principle over the details or the instance.

What does this mean?

Well, if we return to the example of sex, we have two different instances:

  1. Celibacy can be good, and

2. Marriage (for children) can be good.

Taking these two instances alone, the mechanical mind may either conclude that celibacy = good, therefore, marriage = bad, or vis-versa.

Yet, this mistakes the instance for the principle. Celibacy is not good simply because it is celibacy, nor is marriage good purely because it is marriage. They are both good insofar as they serve the ultimate Will of God. In the first case, celibacy marks the focus of a spiritual life given whole-heartedly over to God, and the second case marks a life dedicated to a spouse and children to, hopefully, foster souls for His Kingdom. The instances are different, even apparent opposites. Yet, we see that they are compatible because the common principles is same: have sex or be celibate, but do all according to the Will of God.

Balanced Thinking is the prize because it is what allows the mind to perceive and live by the full-scope of truth. Perhaps the nebulous thinker trivialises truth completely, but if the mechanical thinker really does want to reject Nebulous Thinking in the pursuit of truth, they must embrace Balanced Thinking.

Mechanical thinkers might insist that they are logical, but it is balanced thinking which entails the proper exercise of reason. It also requires imagination, which is the ability to perceive possibility.

In fact, we could boil all of the problems of both Mechanical and Nebulous Thinking down to an abuse of Aristotle's Second Law of Thought: The Law of Non-Contradiction, which states that:

A claim cannot be true and false (at the same time and in the same respect).

A nebulous thinker concludes that because things change due to time and context; because things exist in different respects, there is no such thing as truth at all. Whereas the mechanical thinker practically ignores half of the law and concludes that things can indeed be true or false but does not allow for different times, contexts and respects.


Mechanical thinking is the belt wrapped so tight around a man’s waist that it slowly crushes his intestines as he stands stiff in his firm-collared suit, living in a monochromatic cube and aggressively beats his wife for injustice when she counts 63 beans on his dinner plate instead of the mandatory 62.

Nebulous thinking is a belt wrapped so loosely around a man’s waist that it leaves his genitals flapping in the wind while he slithers around in mud, living in a neon-flecked, water-strewn hut with tarpaulin curtains and who genuinely can’t tell whether his girlfriend has disrespected him when she kicks him in the shins, spits in his face and sleeps with his best friend.

Balanced thinking is a belt around a man which is tight enough to hold his dignity but loose enough to allow a bit of stretch. He knows the difference between food and poison, but appreciates that the food that comes to him may come in various forms and proportions; that it can be good to eat his ice cream, provided that he does so in good measure.

The question to move forward with primarily focuses on Mechanical Thinking. The question is: are there ways to understand it further? And, most importantly, can the Mechanical Mind be led free of its prison?

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