Keep your mind open to new approaches :Reasoning overcomes habit | Sunday Observer

Keep your mind open to new approaches :Reasoning overcomes habit

There is a story about a container lorry that became wedged in an underpass. Onlookers suggested various ways of extricating it, but, all involved major alteration - either of the truck or the underpass. Even after 3 hours, there was no solution. Then, a little boy came up with a simple solution: “Let some air out of the tyres, he said!”

Many such examples of problem-solving exist in the world of science and invention. All make the same point: a solution, once stated, becomes obvious.” How can a person have all necessary information and not be able to use it?

The answer seems to lie in the fact that the brain, like the computer, is divided into a storage, and a processing unit. Although the storage unit can hold a vast amount of information, the capacity of the processing unit is limited.

The average person is able to retain and repeat back only about seven unrelated digits. It suggests, the processing unit can handle no more than about seven independent items of information at a time. As any problem of consequence probably involves more elements than that, elements or combinations can easily be overlooked.

Furthermore, the individual may start his search for a solution by looking at the wrong elements. As he does so, he places them in a tentative organization—and this may block him from a better approach.


Think of the container lorry. Your attention is directed to its top, for, that is where the problem is. If your thoughts are thus channelled, that is where you would look for the solution. We do not know in advance what may be the right direction to look at. But, the problem-solver is more likely to hit upon it if he tries various approaches. .

I have done some research and found 5 working precepts to aid in solving problems. Three are preventive, to help keep from getting your attention fixed on an incorrect line of reasoning; two are remedial, to help if you find yourself stuck.

Precept 1: Run over the elements of the problem rapidly. You need to do it several times, until a pattern emerges which encompasses them all. This helps to get the tota1 picture before you become lost in details. As the German physicist, Hermann L. F. von Helmholtz said: “It is necessary, first of all, to turn your problem over on all sides, so that you have all its angles and complexities in your head, and can run through them freely without writing them down”

Precept 2: Suspend judgment. This rule keeps you from getting trapped into clinging to the first interpretation that comes to mind. Consider an experiment carried out by psychologists, Jerome S. Bruner and Mary C. Potter: A colour slide of a familiar object, such as, a fire hydrant is projected out of focus, on a screen, and subjects are asked to identify it. Then, the image is brought into focus through several stages.

The striking finding is: if an individual incorrectly identifies the object while it is far out of focus, frequently, he cannot identify it correctly even when it is brought sufficiently into focus for another person to recognize it easily. This seems to say that, more evidence is required to overcome an incorrect hypothesis than to establish a correct one. He who jumps to conclusions is less sensitive to new information.

Precept 3: Rearrange the elements of your problem. This may help uncover a familiar pattern previously masked by an unfamiliar arrangement. The Scottish psychologist, Ian M. L. Hunter, for example, found that his subjects had difficulty specifying the relation of George to Willie when he gave them these two terms: Harry is shorter than George; Harry is taller than Willie, However, they had no trouble when the problem was put in its logically equivalent form: George is taller than Harry; Harry is taller than Willie.

Precept 4: If you are getting nowhere, try a new approach. The direction a person takes in seeking a solution, says psychologist Norman Maier, depends on what he sees the problem to be. In one experiment, Dr. Maier gives his subject the task of tying together the ends of two strings of different length suspended from the ceiling.

The strings are so located that the subject cannot reach one while holding the other. One reaction is to see the problem as a shortness of reach; the subject’s shortness of reach; the subject’s direction,” then, look for a stick to lengthen his reach. Others see the problem as a shortness of string and strive to make one of the strings longer. Neither solution works.

Some subjects finally, see the problem in terms of getting one string to come to them. They tie an object to the end of the long string and make it swing like a pendulum. As it swings toward them, they catch it and tie it to the short string.

Maier learned from this test that people who can reason out, do not persist in one direction if they find themselves getting nowhere. Rather, they jump from one direction to another until they find a solution.

Precept 5: Take a break when you are stuck. Surely, this is the most frequent advice given to problem-solvers. But, does it do any good? The answer is a qualified yes.” It seems to depend on the timing of its application. If you are really stuck, i.e. if you have explored all possibilities of your present approach and can think of no other, - this would seem to be a good time to take a break.

But, if you have not given an approach sufficient thought, the break may not help.

In general, these precepts can be reduced to two: Look before you leap. Then, if you find yourself bogged down, try another approach. Remember, you cannot force a solution to come to mind.

So, keep your mind open for new combinations and do not waste time on repeated unsuccessful attempts. Reasoning, at least in part, is the overcoming of habit.