I was surprised recently when my friend parroted back to me something I had told him about the mind. This concept helped him understand how his own mind worked better. It’s an idea from one of my favorite philosophers, Blaise Pascal. He says that some people are intuitive reasoners and others are mathematical reasoners. Intuitive reasoners often know things by sheer insight. Mathematical reasoners reason from principles. Intuitors are more poetic. Mathematicians are more linear. It’s essentially the difference between poets and scientists.
What’s interesting is that intuitors often cannot understand mathematicians and vice-versa. The intuitors leap to ethical conclusions, for example, without thinking through many of their conclusions. Mathematicians need to see the steps of how we got there. The refusal to see things from the other point of view often causes us to miss common ground. Perhaps an intuitor has gotten to the same place that the reasoner did only by different means. For example, perhaps one person believes abortion is wrong by intuitive means and another has gotten there by reasoning from the full humanity and independent DNA of those in utero.
One way for us to overcome this divide is for the mathematical people to read literature and poetry and the poetic people to read up on philosophy, logic, and science. But barring that, let’s at least remember that conclusions can be reached by different means. Then we begin to learn to appreciate the gifts of those who are wired differently than us. It occurs to me that some of the greatest minds in history, such as Plato, Aristotle, Einstein, and C.S. Lewis have been gifted with both ways of seeing the world. Appreciating both can open the way to astounding new discoveries, overcoming life-challenges, and even defeating some of humanity’s most difficult problems.