While on Facebook recently, I came across a picture that claimed to be outlining the differences between “Linear Thinking” (also known as “dualistic logic”) and “Systems Thinking (aka “holistic logic”).
It was presented from the perspective of approaches to teaching. The overall message of this particular Facebook page was that our educational systems should take a holistic approach and that the dualistic manner in which students are currently taught is deficient. Specifically, “Christopher” who posted the picture said:
This is a handout I made for a conference presentation entitled “New Paradigms in Education,” in 1997. I’d like to update it, maybe simplify and change some of the descriptions. Your feedback on what should be edited and what seems most interesting and important would be greatly appreciated.1
Upon reading through the “handout,” it became abundantly clear that it was really more of an advocacy piece than anything educational. The way it described “dualistic logic” used very negative terminology whereas “holistic logic” was presented in a positive, favorable manner.
For example, dualistic logic “seeks ‘absolute truth,'” whereas holistic logic is “aware of relativity of ‘truth'” (emphasis added; notice “relativity” is presented as something that indisuptably exists of which holistic thinkers are “aware;” dualistic thinkers, however, are not “aware” of absolute truth, they are only “seeking” it, because in the mind of holistic thinkers they are seeking something that cannot be found).
It was subtle linguistic devices like this that first incited my skeptical eye, but as I read on the bias became more apparent. Dualistic logic, for example, has a “focus on controlling others” whereas holistic logic has its focus on “creating things together.” Dualism seeks “correct” answers (the word “correct” is in quotations in the original). Holistic logic, though, embraces innovative activities (as if those who believe in absolute truth cannot be innovative).
Of course, this whole exercise smacked of relativism, so I attempted (as respectfully as possible), to illustrate for Christopher the flaw in his categories. As of this writing at least, Christopher himself has never responded, although a few like minded proponents of his position have. Printed below is the text of some of the brief conversation that followed. I decided to re-post it here as an example of the failure of some people to recognize the inherent flaws in their own reasoning and the cricket-chirping silence with which I am sometimes greeted when I pose probing questions on the subject.
Well, I see what you are going for, but these kinds of categories are fatally flawed and the handout really comes across as more of a propaganda piece than an educational tool.
First, your descriptions of dualistic logic are often straw man type statements that clearly come from the holistic “side of the fence.” To give but one example, saying that people who use dualistic logic only defend one point of view and do not seek to understand others is false. Yes, there is a right answer and a wrong answer to any logical dilemma, but that does not mean that we are somehow perfect and closed off to other opinions as to what that right answer may be.
Also, you create a false dichotomy. You are implicitly using dualistic logic in order to “prove” holistic logic. This is fairly easily demonstrated with one simple question: Do you believe your description of holistic logic is true? Assuming the answer is “yes” (because otherwise you would not be advancing it), then you are proposing an absolute truth while denying that absolute truth exists. If truth is really relative, then your statement that this description of holistic truth is true is itself only relatively true, meaning it is not true for all people in all places and at all times. That defeats the validity of your description. But if your description is not relatively true, then you have proposed an absolute truth while denying that absolute truth exists. Either way, your position collapses.
Yes, there are “relative truths” in matters of opinion, preference, etc. (example: “Mint chocolate chip ice cream is the best flavor ever”). But when we try to describe matters of ultimate reality in those terms, we end up in self-defeating contradictions.
Perhaps the best way to define my issues with these categories is that what you are defining as holistic “logic” is not logic at all. It is a description of how people communicate opinions or preferences, not a tool for evaluating truth claims. Even those who claim to be speaking holistically end up (indeed, they must) smuggling dualistic logic into their claims.
Ken, your ideas are very well written and demonstrate excellent linear logic. 🙂 However, I don’t think there is any “proving” to be done. These are two different ways of thinking being compared. Each type of thinker will likely think that their model will have the best outcome in an educational setting. I would posit that both need to be used at times in order to appeal to the learning styles of the two types of people.
It’s telling that those who most strongly oppose such an understanding of human reasoning, are those seemingly most given to Linear Thinking.
@ Mindy. So you believe I am incorrect in stating that truth claims are not amenable to being evaluated using holistic logic?
I should also point out just as an aside that I am not merely arguing from linear logic, I am demonstrating that Christopher is implicitly using linear logic, even if he does not realize it. He is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If he claims to be using holistic logic, then by his own definition his statements are not always true, so what exactly is he teaching? If he believes his claims are always true, then he is not using holistic logic (even if he claims to be), but is in reality using dualistic logic by proposing an absolute truth; i.e., his definition of holistic logic. There is no way out of this dilemma. Either Christopher’s definition of holistic logic is not worthy of universal acceptance (based upon his own presuppositions about logic) or it is self-refuting because his definition that absolute truth does not exist can only be advanced by positing at least one absolute truth. I am open to the possibility that he is trying to express something completely different, but by invoking the terms “logic” and speaking of matters of absolute versus relative truth, it does not seem so.
@ Sebastian. Do you believe your statement is true?
While there were some additional comments from others who seemed to recognize the same contradiction I was seeking to illustrate, I never did get answers to the questions I posed to Mindy or Sebastian. This may be simply because they never bothered to check back in on the conversation or it may be because they could see where any answer to my question would lead them. If they answered in the affirmative, they would be forced to admit that they were utlizing the very same dualistic logic Christopher was condemning. If they answered in the negative, well, then what exactly were they trying to communicate? It is a lose/lose situation.
I was simply trying to demonstrate for Mindy and Sebastian that they too, like Christopher, were using dualistic logic in order to convince others of their allegiance to an allegedly holistic system. They were trying to claim that there are two different ways of “thinking,” dualistically and holistically. While there may be some psychological reality behind their message, when it comes to questions of logic (and this handout did use the word “logic” to define its categories), there is no such thing as “holistic logic,” and we would be doing students a grave disservice if we tried to convince them otherwise.
Logic is a method for evaluating truth claims, not some procedure for deciding how groups can best work together. We can be innovative, open to the ideas of others, create things together and encourage cooperation (all things Christopher cited as attributes of holistic logic) without acknowledging the relativity of truth.
Most of the criteria in Christopher’s definitions had nothing to do with logic. His handout was one giant non sequitur. In essence, he was saying “we should encourage innovation, be open to others’ ideas, create new things and cooperate with each other; therefore truth is relative.” He may as well have said “we should encourage innovation, be open to others’ ideas, create new things and cooperate with each other; therefore the sky is green.” His premises had nothing to do with his implicit conclusion.
He also smuggled in several ad hominems. After all, those horrible dualistic thinkers don’t like innovation, they are closed off to the ideas of others, they hate creating new things (in fact, they would rather control other people) and all they want to do is compete, not cooperate. None of this is true, of course. But by attaching these unwarranted labels to dualistic logic, Christopher is “poisoning the well” so that his readers/students will be emotionally invested against dualistic thinking and less inclined to evaluate Christopher’s claims rationally.
People like to cling to a both/and system of thinking because it helps avoid anyone ever being wrong, but in the end the either/or nature of truth always ends up smacking us in the face. If students do not come to recognize at an early age that there is a “right” answer and a “wrong” answer to truth claims, then we are only setting ourselves up for an undisciplined society without standards, where any behavior can be justified by the lack of objectively true answers.