On retreat this summer, Willie Grieve asked a question well worth asking: “What would be a Middle Way first aid kit?” A question that I take to mean, what are the most immediate applications of it in a variety of everyday situations? I didn’t really have an effective answer to this question at the time, but I wonder if I’ve found at least one possible answer now after stumbling on a series of very simple, practical videos by Senseability.
These videos describe six basic types of thinking error and also then go on to offer ways of addressing them – all in an extremely accessible format. This could be described as ‘critical thinking’, or indeed as ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’. To make it into practical Middle Way Philosophy, all one needs to add is the recognition that all six of these errors are different types of absolutisation. Here’s the first video, that introduces them:
The six errors introduced here are as follows. For each one I’ll give the label used on the video, plus some other labels in terms of biases or fallacies, plus what it absolutises:
- All or nothing: false dilemma or false dichotomy. Absolutises a limitation on the number of options and/or boundaries between them.
- Over-generalisation: sweeping generalisation fallacy. Absolutises one or a few examples into a universal truth about a whole category.
- Mind reading: projection. Absolutises an idea we have about someone else or their motives by assuming it must be true.
- Fortune-telling: forecast illusion, or pessimism/optimism about oneself. Absolutises a particular idea about what will happen to use in the future by assuming it must be true.
- Magnification/ minimisation: ad hominem. Absolutisation of a view of oneself as good or bad regardless of the arguments. Anything else might also be magnified or minimised as a general feature of absolutisation.
- Catastrophising: slippery slope. Assuming one bad event will necessarily lead to a worsening situation.
It’s worth noting that all of these also have opposites. In the case of 1 and 5 two extremes are already noted in the presentation, so it’s already obvious that a Middle Way is needed. In the case of 2, the opposite would be denying generalisation, in 3 denying all knowledge about others, in 4 and 6 denying all knowledge of the future.
The next video gives some example of these thinking errors without comment. It’s a helpful exercise to ask yourself which is occurring in each.
The third video suggests solutions to these thinking errors.
Here are the five solutions suggested on the video, all of which could be helpful for quite a wide range of absolutisations.
- Consider the evidence
- Is there an alternative?
- What would you say to a friend who was thinking like that?
- What is the likelihood?
- Is there a more helpful way I can think about this?
All of these strategies in some way prompt wider awareness beyond the absolutised belief you’re holding onto.
Of course, these responses to everyday absolutisation are only a start to the practise of the Middle Way. There are a great many more biases and fallacies (these all being discussed in my book Middle Way Philosophy 4: The Integration of Belief). In order to make strategies like these effective in the longer term, you may also need longer-term integration practices such as meditation, the arts and (a fuller training in) critical thinking. But this is a first aid kit. It might help patch you up in the face of immediately overwhelming absolutisations so you can then start to think in a longer-term way.