There are two types of facts, and two types of thinking. They can be combined into four techniques for making sense of the world.
A first order fact is one that is immediately relevant to a narrative or subject. It is usually presented as a detail in the description of the narrative or subject. Its purpose is to convey information. An example of a first order fact is that the sky is blue on sunny days.
A higher order fact is a fact that is not immediately relevant to a narrative or subject, but which can influence opinion about the subject.
American dinner tables are home to the most common example of a higher-order fact. A child who will not finish dinner is met with the fact that "there are starving children in Africa". The subject is dinner, and people in Africa are not immediately relevant. The higher order fact is used to make the child eat, not to communicate information.
First order thinking is concerned with correlations. Given a fact, what argument can be made via correlation? An example of first order thinking is, Given that Chicago's south and north sides are very segregated, it must be true that Chicagoans are racist.
Higher order thinking is concerned with causations. In a word, higher order thinking is an exploration of why facts emerge.
Higher order thinking approaches city-wide segregation differently: We can conclude nothing about the individual citizens of Chicago from the fact that Chicago is segregated at a macro level.
There are four ways to combine facts and thinking. They are represented in the table below.
First Order Thinking
Higher Order Thinking
First Order Facts
Higher Order Facts
First order thinking applied to first order facts is useful. This combination makes survival possible. A wolf does not chase the fastest deer (fact) because it usually escapes (thinking). Just as the deer know to run from the wolf. Humans use first order thinking and facts to navigate simple systems in daily life. Traffic lights, bank statements, hunger.
Higher order thinking applied to first order facts is wise. This method of analysis is used to navigate complex systems safely. It requires the most discipline. You must temper your desire to jump to conclusions, explore the search space of possible conclusions, and generate probabilities of truth. The very wise can perform this calculation unconsciously. They have encoded their wisdom in myths and traditions. Jesus turns the other cheek. Odysseus returns home.
First order thinking applied to higher order facts is manipulative. It is concerned with influencing action. A comedian applies first order thinking to higher order facts to generate laughter. A politician applies first order thinking to higher order facts to generate fear. The method works by first choosing a desired action an audience should take and second choosing a conclusion that will likely invoke the action. Last, a cause-effect relationship is assumed between a fact and the desired conclusion, where there is only correlation. Any fact can be chosen to illustrate the conclusion. This type of sense-making has exploded in recent years, as it can be used to build a following online. An example of first order thinking applied to higher order facts is framing the American Revolution as "Rich white slave owners didn't want to pay taxes". The desired action is for the audience to distrust the foundation of the United States.
Higher order thinking applied to higher order facts is elsewhere called conspiracy theory. First, a desired conclusion is assumed to be true. Given the conclusion, any fact may be selected to support it. Cause-effect relationships are traced backward from the conclusion until a complete argument is formed. The monster under a child's bed is born of higher order thinking and higher order facts.
There are two types of facts and two types of thinking. These are the four ways of making sense.
We may now deploy trust.
(let's discuss on twitter at @ptbrodie)