Androgynous Minds Generate Synergistic Thinking

I have written elsewhere that the most creative among us possess the power to combine linear conceptual thinking with non-linear associative thinking. This ability to unite the two thinking modes works the creative magic that sets these people apart. A person who heavily favours one mode of thought over the other will inevitably lack outstanding creative powers.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed that a “great mind must be androgynous.” (Image: Wikimedia)

Just such a situation exists in the minds of ordinary men and women. It is unfashionable to say so, but the fact remains that, overall, men favour a preponderance of abstract, conceptual, linear thinking while women prefer a greater reliance on associative non-linear thinking, source of the old-fashioned, and misnamed, “women’s intuition.” Therefore, being normally one-sided, most of us are limited in our creative reach.

Along similar lines, Jung proposed that a man’s unconscious has a feminine aspect, while that of a woman has a masculine aspect, an idea based on his assumption that men are better conceptual thinkers than women, while women are more “intuitive” than men. According to this view, the unconscious compensates for the conscious mind’s one-sidedness. In effect, either sex has a primitive form of the other’s primary thinking mode lodged in the unconscious. I believe the non-linear associative function is always unconscious and the linear logical function always conscious; it is just a matter of what one prefers to rely on. Again, men generally prefer logical thinking, while women generally prefer to await the emerging insights of associative thinking. A person then acquires skill in the preferred mode from constant practice in its use.

This situation has some bearing on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous remark that, “a great mind must be androgynous.” That is, an outstanding mind must combine, in more equal parts than is usual, both masculine and feminine thinking habits. Such a situation would blur the sex-specific thinking characteristics we expect to find. The possessor of such a mind would exhibit features of both masculine and feminine thought in that confusing way we describe as androgynous.

With both male and female characteristics combined in one mind perhaps it should not be surprising that so many androgynous types are solitaries, form non-sexual relationships with opposite sex spouses, or simply have a circle of friends. With both sexes (in the cognitive sense) on board, androgynous types have a reduced need to “complete” themselves by forming the usual liaisons with the opposite sex.

The two modes of thinking, linear logical and non-linear associative, arise from utterly different strategies for solving problems or simply generating thought. Moreover, the two thought modes complement one another in an extremely powerful fashion. Creators must evolve their own way of working with the two ways of thinking. They must solve the riddle of their meshing and cross-fertilization. When these two modes of thought co-exist as equal or near equal powers in an androgynous mind, synergistic thinking occurs to a phenomenal degree and remarkable powers of intellect and creativity emerge.

This does raise an interesting question. Would long practice with combining logical and associative thinking shift a polarized mind towards the middle ground of androgyny?

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

6 thoughts on “Androgynous Minds Generate Synergistic Thinking”

  1. I’ve always disliked the idea of assigning gender to the mind because culture plays an enormous part in intellect. Traditionally, women have been prevented, from earliest childhood, from functioning in any but feminine ways. Considering what we know about the plasticity of the mind, it isn’t surprising that women’s minds focus on areas of life that encourage emotionalism rather than intellect. Consider the refusal to allow women to be educated, the horror of women who preferred books and intelligent conversation to raising children and discussing household matters. That’s a strong bias that still hangs on, even in countries like the US.

    As a woman whose mind tends to function more in what’s considered the masculine mode than in the feminine, I’m particularly aware of the flaws in the arguments for gender styles of thinking. As in many other areas of life, a “hands-off” attitude by parents allows the developing mind to follow its own paths, provided, of course, that the resources for doing so are present. One example isn’t proof of anything, but I do believe that the absence of religious indoctrination and the presence of an extensive home library allowed my mind to find its own way. The result? A highly analytical and nonreligious mind that eventually figured out for itself how to incorporate its intuitive side and become creative.

  2. As you might expect, Catana, I cannot agree with your rather standard and outdated feminist point of view. Science has dispelled a lot of feminist mythology and times have changed.

    I am in the opposite camp when it comes to assigning gender to the mind. Research has shown the enormous impact of hormones on brain function and men and women are very unlike hormonally. Cognitive differences are inevitable. However, this is not to say that one gender is superior to the other. They are merely different. I am a big believer in the value of diverse viewpoints so I regard the natural male-female variance as an asset.

    The enormous amount of research done with separately raised twins has revealed the dominance of genes over nurture when it comes to personality development. If you are bookish and intellectual in your outlook, Catana, this is most likely something you inherited from whomever it was who put together that “extensive home library.” There is no biological reason why a woman cannot be an intellectual, but in my experience, the thinking of such women is often quite different from that of intellectual men. Again, this is an invaluable asset rather than a shortcoming.

    It is true that women have been denied opportunities in the past, but those obstacles are largely gone. Those that remain are rapidly disappearing. To provide two examples in education, women substantially outnumber men in Canadian universities, and girls outperform boys in Canadian public schools. If anything, in this area, the old gender biases are reversing.

    As for the bias against “women who preferred books and intelligent conversation to raising children and discussing household matters,” this is nothing more than the eternal and general dislike for the intelligent person. People do not like those who they perceive as being smarter than they are. As a man, I face the same prejudice today because I prefer intellectual thinking and reading to talking about the manly art of barbequing or the latest sports scores. One of feminism’s greatest flaws has always been the mislabelling of life’s universal negative aspects as a form of gender-specific discrimination.

  3. Since I’ ve never considered myself a feminist and, in fact, am woefully ignorant of the literature, I find it amusing to be accused of “standard outdated ideas.” I guess there’s a first time for everything. What I said comes out of my own observations and non-feminist reading. In fact, I’ve usually found most feminist ideas, when I come across them, as pretty much lock-step party line. Which means that two people can come to entirely different conclusions from what is probably a lot of the same material. And maybe there’s an element of disbelief on your part that ideas you disagree with be independently derived? Can’t help but wonder why you jumped right to the feminist assumption.

  4. Let me be clear here, Catana. I have “accused” you of nothing. I merely stated my assessment of your position. Such a statement is necessary as a preamble to set the stage for my own point of view. Your arguments definitely come from the standard feminist position on gender bias, as you yourself realize. Why else would you say they were “independently derived?” If you want to argue from what appears to be a feminist position, yet do not wish people to assume you are a feminist, then you must state that you are not a feminist. Which you have now done.

  5. You pose a dilemma. If I haven’t read the standard literature and am barely familiar with feminist ideas, and am stating my own ideas, then why should I start out declaring myself “not a feminist?” In fact, how could I? You labeled my ideas according to a position you assumed I hold. But I fail to see how mentioning a historical fact is a “feminist” position. I don’t see any point in trying to carry this further. We seem to be in disagreement, and I’m not even sure over what.

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