Seeing Beyond What's There

24 February, 2020
Seeing beyond what's there is a complex thinking ability that you can develop with practice. Let's look at its main characteristics.

Seeing beyond what’s there is understanding that there are phenomena that exist “beneath the surface” of the information that arrives through the senses. Thus, don’t settle for what’s immediately apparent if you want to understand the background of a situation.

Some people have great intuition and can frequently see beyond what’s there, but not everyone develops that ability. Some professions are even based on this type of thought process. Doctors, psychologists, crime investigators, and court specialists, for example, must be able to see beyond the surface in order to arrive at a final conclusion. All people, though, can practice it.

However, seeing beyond what’s there isn’t an ability people commonly use. When people receive information about a problem, they tend to simplify it almost automatically. And all of us do this easily, unfortunately.

Looking for more complex alternatives is infrequent, and simply wouldn’t be an efficient use of your cognitive skills. It’s natural for people to simplify problems quickly to process the information they receive in as little time as possible.

As if that weren’t enough, thanks to technological accessibility, it’s easy for problems and their solutions to seem simpler than they really are. Add this to people’s tendency to reduce them already and you can see the issue.

This can stop you from seeing beyond what’s there and getting closer to the truth. For this reason, developing and practicing complex thought is necessary.

A woman standing in front of water with a long scarf over her eyes.

Develop your complex thinking to see more

Edgar Morin, French sociologist and philosopher, studied this necessity to see beyond what’s there in order to get to the truth. According to him, the more complex a situation, the more details about the society it takes place in you should keep in mind. If you don’t, it’ll be really easy for you to ignore relevant details and priorities.

Therefore, depending on the characteristics of the present society, a person must reflect on the information before developing a valid opinion. The capacity for reflection is the very definition of complex thought.

Instead of falling into simplistic thinking to get to the truth, try the opposite: increase the amount of information you have. You simply shouldn’t reduce what you’re going through to simple facts if you want to understand what’s happening. You also shouldn’t opt for a final position based on just a few pieces of evidence.

That being said, complex thinking is complicated because it’s not innate. You must educate yourself about it and really take advantage of what you learn.

Matthew Lipman, a pedagogical philosopher, said that instilling this type of thought in young children is extremely important. Complex thinking is accessible to everyone. Just like simple thinking, we can practice it.

A young girl with glasses with a thought bubble drawn on the wall next to her.

What you can’t see: the quality of complex thinking

Imagine complex thinking, as Edgar Morin says, as a kind of great web. Its thin strings interlock and link all the different components. Those strings are events, actions, past actions, decisions, or chance.

Although Edgar Morin was the official founder of this type of thinking, his precursor, Leonardo da Vinci, studied and developed strategies as well. His theory of complexity explains it well, and his works solidified this vision. They challenged the spectator to search for information that wasn’t evident.

Greek philosophers used noetics, the philosophy that studies thought: especially when it’s objective or intelligible. However, sometimes people ignore information. Other times, they just don’t have access to it.

The word “noetics” comes from the Greek word noew, which means “see discerning”. From this comes the word “think”. The Greeks used this verb to mean something close to “intuit”.

Understanding that there’s information you don’t know is the first step to developing complex thinking. Anyone can practice seeing beyond what’s there. To do so, however, you must rely more on intention than intuition. To see what’s really there, you’ll first have to see what isn’t there.