Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein studied reports by eminent thinkers on how they think in many disciplines. From those reports, they identified a set of thirteen mental operations they call “thinking tools”. These operations are used consistently across the divergent fields of science, mathematics, history, philosophy, theatre, painting, writing, and music.
Observing – patient, detailed, sustained perception
Imaging – forming mental representations of the world when we do not actively perceive it
Abstracting – paring down complicated things to simple principles
Recognizing patterns – discovery of repeated structures in nature, mathematics, rhythm, music, movement, language
Forming patterns – combining and repeating structural elements or operations
Analogizing – identifying shared properties in two or more different things
Body thinking – drawing preverbal and preconceptual intuitions from our bodily sensations and responses
Empathizing – sensing the lived experience of another person or organism or thing
Dimensional thinking – imagining an object in another domain, from two to three spatial dimensions, or from present to future time
Modeling – creating a virtual, mental, imaginary, or physical representation of a concept, idea, object, or set of conditions
Playing – irreverent and imaginative reordering of conventions and rules
Transforming – serial or simultaneous use of multiple mental operations
Synthesizing – bringing together many of these operations in understanding the world
These are the cognitive processes we employ as we make sense of our experience. They are operations of deeply immersed and engaged thinking.