Scott Adams, Dilbert creator and apparent political prophet is also a Radical Psychologist (though he probably doesn’t know it…).
Adams has taken an average-popularity blog tacked onto his comic site and turned it into a veritable gold mine of psychological tricks and knowledge. Adams has shown, repeatedly, that he understands human behaviour better than 99% of people you’ll ever meet (including me).
You see Adams introduced me, and countless others, to the concept of Word-Thinking.
Word thinking, according to Adams, is all about how we
Use labels, word definitions, and analogies to create the illusion of rational thinking. This group is 99% of the world.
Now its important to understand as Radical Psychologists that the idea of a rational person is largely mythological. That there exists people(s) who go about their day being 100% rational is, quite simply, nonsense.
Let me reiterate so we are under no illusions here; there is no such thing as a rational person.
A caveat; we can use rationality in discrete bursts, what I am referring to is the idea that we can live rationally all or even most of the time.
Now. Back to the Word-Thinkers.
Radical Psychologists know that human beings are pattern-recognisers. We don’t think in linear terms, but rather in a diffuse, inter-connected way. We use emotions, patterns, and imagined connections to navigate a confusing, incomprehensible universe without tipping off into the void of insanity.
Word thinking is the manifestation of this way of thinking. We assign abstract qualities to people and things because actually figuring the truth out would be too much work.
An example; lets say I have a friend, we’ll call her Jane. You have never met Jane but at a party I introduce you and she, Jane, excuses herself to get a drink, I lean in to you and tell you, quietly, “Shes a lovely woman but unfortunately three of her exes have restraining orders against her, she likes to stalk them”. You immediately put poor Jane into the category “Stalker” and with it make a whole host of judgement based on this knowledge.
Jane returns to the conversation and we carry on as normal, a few minutes later I excuse myself to go greet another guest and you are left alone with our mystery stalker. You chat amiably, wary of her now, when she asks this seemingly-innocent question “Do you live around here?”. You answer “no”, she says “Oh i’m just asking because I knew a guy who lived around here once, he had a lovely home, I use to go there often”. You laugh this off, wondering… She looks at you again, and says “I’ll be honest I only ever come to these parties to try and meet a nice guy, I’ve had such trouble with boyfriends in the past”.
So. Creepy or what, right? She’s obviously sizing you up to be her next stalking victim. Undoubtedly you’d run in the other direction as fast as you can.
Lets look at this like a Radical Psychologist.
You are thinking this way because I told you she was a Stalker. You interpreted her action in the context of that judgement. Asked about this encounter afterwards you would undoubtedly tell me how strange she is, how intense, how she was trying to pry your address out of you, you could even see the glint of madness in here eyes!
But it was imaginary. You took a pre-existing category, ascribed qualities to her based on this category, and then judged every action she took in the context of those qualities.
But here’s the thing. I was lying to you. Jane isn’t a stalker. She has no restraining orders against her. Her exes don’t think she is a psychopath.
Go back and re-read her questions. Does she seem crazy now? or is she just a single woman looking to meet a nice guy?
This is the power (and danger) of word thinking. We are all susceptible to this type of thinking and it’s important, as Radical Psychologists, to be able to detect it.
Look around your life. How many people do you judge based on an assumptive category? You can easily stop this by recognising the error and looking for actual evidence.