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Thinking as Craft

Another book I read recently was "How to think like Shakespeare" by Scott Newstok. It's a book mostly aimed at educators, I think. About halfway through I almost quit, but the short chapters kept drawing me back in. I ended up reading all of it.

The main idea that I took from the book was that thinking can be modeled as a trade craft, that thoughts are a materiel that must be worked. A craftsperson develops learned skills for working their material, and they develop their own methods. Some of those skills can be learned from books or other people, teachers and other craftspeople. But a lot needs to be learned and fit together in their own mind and abilities (either thinking as craft or some material craft).

I've found thinking as a craft to be really a very useful analogy1 for fitting together many of the necessary skills. And for noticing that if thoughts are the material we craft with, we can separate the actions we do with thoughts (which are still other thoughts) from the resulting thoughts and thinking. It all gets very meta, abstracted, and confusing without the helping structure of the analogy.

  1. Hopefully more on analogies later. Briefly though: analogies are useful because they give you something concrete to hang your idea on, to push against, to test for the limits of the analogy and thereby maybe uncover new insights.↩︎

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