We often speak of thought as if it were one of the unique characteristics of our species. However, this is lacking, since, on the one hand, many non-human animals also think, and on the other hand, there is not a single thought, but several types of it.
Then we will see the characteristics of divergent thinking, Closely linked to creativity and how it differs from so-called convergent thinking.
Thinking is essentially verbal behavior. Although we do not speak or write, we use language to arrive at ideas and “mental images” by combining concepts with each other. This process by which we have come to conclusions combining categories and meanings occurs in all forms of thought. However, what varies is the style, the procedure by which we use language to create new information.
This process is generally sequential. We start with an already verbalized fact, and from there we generate a chain of conclusions. For example:
- We need onions to cook.
- It’s Sunday and the shops are closed.
- The neighbors can leave us a piece of onion.
- The neighbor we get along better with lives upstairs.
- You have to go upstairs to order onions.
Language is key in this operation, because each of the concepts (onion, neighbors, etc.) has in its meaning elements that help us to weave a line of reasoning. For example, the onion is a small object that can fit in a house or store, and neighbors are people, not places that are not available on Sundays.
This style of thinking is generally called convergent thinking, because of all the semantic elements of each concept, one is always chosen which corresponds to a clear reasoning, Which has clear meaning and relevance in a chain of operations. For example, in this case, we don’t care whether the onions are brown, as it does not have a significant implication on the operation of obtaining one of these ingredients.
Divergent thought, as the name suggests, not guided by the logic of inserting semantics into a more or less rigid scheme in order to arrive at a very precise question with a very limited number of answers. On the contrary: in this case, we are looking for dispersion, the generation of radically different ways of thinking from one another.
In divergent thought, he doesn’t go on a cognitive rail that goes from point A (missing onion) to point B (getting that item). Instead of starting from a conceptual process by which we want to convey certain ideas, we started with a stimulus from which many different ideas can be deduced.
For example, in front of the image of a coffee maker, we can begin to imagine different uses of this object: it is a divergent thought and, in fact, this kind of exercises are those proposed to measure creativity from the tests. intelligence of Sternberg. triarchic license.
The importance of this cognitive process in creativity
There is no doubt that the habitual use of convergent thinking is essential for our survival. After all, we don’t live in an ideal world where we can freely create new ideas just by doing it; we have to respond to specific needs that require certain actions and not others.
However, divergent thinking is also important if we don’t want to live our whole life on assumptions that come to us from the outside. Lateral thinking allows us to deconstruct ideas that seemed obvious to us until we decide to break them down into different cognitive paths that have not yet been explored.
This is useful in art, for example, because it is a form of expression based on the innovative use of already known elements (lights, colors, textures …). But it is also useful in our everyday life.
For example, through divergent thinking, we can see our own identity in a radically different way, create alternate accounts of what happened. Some which are not necessarily false, but as appropriate as those which until then remained in force only because of lack of explanations which rivaled them.
Additionally, divergent thinking helps challenge one’s own ideology, the moral and political prism through which we see reality. It makes us more sensitive to the ideas of others ideas, even if we don’t share them, we can come to understand and, from there, find ways to empathize.
From all this it follows that cognitive creativity is the best antidote to bigotry. The reason is simple: it defeats all dogma and helps to detect explanations that are not based on the elaborate beliefs of the systems of ideas imposed by cults, small groups that punish diversity of opinion and others. similar social circles. That is why divergent thinking must be justified.