The Mechanism of Mind


The Mechanism of MindNew York: Penguin, 1969, reedited 1990.

The second of the five books I am reviewing is a booklet that develops and elaborates Edward de Bono’s approach to creative thinking, as it was first exposed in The Use of Lateral Thinking.

The book is quite uncanny in that the author examines with scientific exactitude how our brain handles perception and how it processes information. Using many examples for demonstrating his theory, Edward de Bono finally concludes that the specific memory surface that the brain uses for information processing is in itself a highly unreliable system. In Part II, 29: Overcoming the Limitations, de Bono writes:

The errors, faults and limitations of information-processing on the special memory-surface are inescapable because they follow directly from the nature of the organization of the surface. /218

In the next four chapters of the study, Edward de Bono analyzes the process of thinking. He divides thinking into four categories, natural thinking, logical thinking, mathematical thinking and lateral thinking. He then discusses each of these modes of thinking. Natural thinking that de Bono also calls simple or primitive thinking is characterized by being fluent yet its very fluency is the source of its errors.

This mode of thinking, de Bono says, is the natural way the memory surface behaves and its thought-flow is ‘immediate, direct and basically adequate.’ Logical thinking is characterized as the management of no, most logical processes being forms of binary equations of identity and non-identity. Logical thinking is seen by de Bono as a tremendous improvement of natural thinking, in spite of the limitations that he pointed out in detail.

Mathematical thinking is considered as  useful by de Bono, however with the limitation that it is more adequate to describe things than people.

Finally, Lateral thinking as a genuine mode of thinking has been developed by Edward de Bono himself.

The purpose of lateral thinking is to counteract both the errors and the limitations of the special memory-surface./236

De Bono states that lateral thinking is concerned with making the best possible use of the information that is already available in the memory surface. He then gives interesting examples to illustrate in which ways lateral thinking is essentially different from vertical thinking. To say it with a slogan, lateral thinking is a way of thinking that lets a door open for the unexpected to occur; in other words, with lateral thinking you may not know what you are looking for until after you have found it.

There are several broad characteristics that show the obvious usefulness of lateral thinking. Edward de Bono discusses them one after the other in his book:

  • Seeking alternatives
  • Thinking non-sequentially
  • Undoing selection processes
  • Shifting attention
  • Giving random input

I do not need to further comment this brilliant study which bears the stroke of genius. I guess that it was this book that laid the foundation for de Bono’s overwhelming success as a think tank and business coach later on. Strangely enough, then, this booklet is the least known and perhaps the least popular among all his books. But for one who is seriously interested in the foundations of lateral and of creative thinking, it is an absolute must-read.


More Information

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