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Solving the unsolved: What kind of thinker are you?

To help students understand that different people think in different ways.

by Tim and Vicky Scott

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To help students understand that different people think in different ways.

Preparation and materials


  1. We need different types of thinking to solve different problems in the twenty-first century. There remain many unsolved problems nationally, globally and within different academic subjects. Ask the students: as we start this new term or school year, what or rather how are you thinking?

    You could show PowerPoint presentation of paintings and inventions of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), the Italian artist, scientist, engineer, mathematician and all-round genius who changed the world. Explain that Leonardo was remarkable in being able to excel at so many different things, and demonstrate that he was very versatile in how he could think about things.
  2. What kind of thinker are you? Do you tend to primarily think in terms of numbers, words, sounds or how a course of action will affect people’s feelings?
  3. For many years, people used IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests to attempt to measure someone’s intelligence. However, increasingly, researchers believe that such tests fail to recognize that different people might actually think in different ways. EI (Emotional Intelligence) is now seen as equally important, if not more important than IQ.
  4. Many psychologists now believe that ‘intelligence’ comprises several different categories, which can each be measured separately. They are as follows, with a brief description below – individuals may have strength in several different ways of thinking, but rarely are people good in all (e.g. Leonardo da Vinci):

    (a) Logical–mathematical – like to understand patterns and relationships between objects and actions, try to understand the world in terms of causes and effects, good at thinking critically and solving problems creatively.

    (b) Linguistic – tend to think in words and like using language to express complex ideas, sensitive to the sounds and rhythms of words as well as their meanings.

    (c) Interpersonal – like to think about other people and try to understand them, recognize and appreciate differences between individuals, make an effort to cultivate effective relationships with family, friends and colleagues.

    (d) Intrapersonal – always thinking about and trying to understand themselves, reflect on their thoughts and moods and work to improve them, understand how their behaviour affects their relationships with others.

    (e) Naturalist – like to understand the natural world in all its complexity, have an aptitude for communicating with animals.

    (f) Existential – like to spend time thinking about philosophical issues, try to see beyond the ‘here and now’ and understand deeper meanings to everyday life and consider moral and ethical implications of problems as well as practical solutions.

    (g) Musical – tend to think in sounds, rhythms or melodies, feel a strong connection between music and emotions.

    (h) Spatial – often think in pictures and able to think well in 3-D and have a flair for working with objects.

    (i) Kinaesthetic – think in movements, like to use their bodies expressively, able to work well with their hands.
  5. William Shakespeare was a genius, but he probably would struggle if he had to learn about quantum physics, just like many of us. Likewise Einstein may have struggled with Shakespeare because he was a logical–mathematical thinker rather than a linguistic thinker. Einstein was no more clever than Shakespeare, they just thought about things very differently. Different ways of thinking are needed to solve different problems. In your own family, or among your friends, you may notice different ways of approaching problems that may reflect different ways of thinking. Certain careers may suit people with particular ways of thinking better than others, for example engineers and computer programmers tend to have a logical–mathematical mindset.
  6. There are many problems that will need to be tackled in the twenty-first century affecting places, societies, environments and livelihoods both locally and globally. These issues range from dealing with the consequences of climate change, the depletion of fossil fuels, a global population increase from about 7 billion now to 9 billion by 2050, water-resource depletion and the impact of globalization on developing countries. Closer to home, there is Britain’s ageing population and the economic challenge posed by the growth of India and China. All these challenges are also huge opportunities for the next generation of entrepreneurs, engineers, politicians, scientists, economists and others.
  7. There remain many unsolved problems in maths, science, philosophy, linguistics and economics. Here are a few:

    (a) In neuroscience (science of the brain), the questions: Why do we dream? What are the underlying brain mechanisms? What is its relation to anaesthesia?

    (b) In philosophy (and neuroscience), how can human consciousness be explained?

    (c) In chemistry, no one knows what are the chemical consequences of having an element, with an atomic number above 137, whose 1s electrons must travel faster than the speed of light? Is Feynmanium the last chemical element that can physically exist?

    (d) In linguistics, are there any universal grammatical categories which can be found in all languages? How did human language originate?

    (e) Plus many, many more!
  8. Jesus taught that God knows all about us – he sees what we do, how we treat others and knows our thoughts and feelings. This shouldn’t scare us, because God knows all this and loves us. He is able to inspire and guide people to solve problems and make the world a better place for future generations.

Time for reflection

How and what we think is very important. Positive thinking about things that are good, true and beautiful (e.g. acts of real kindness and generosity shown to us, courage and self-sacrifice, the beauty of newborn babies) is always better than negative thinking. Some people really prefer one style of thinking, and find some skills come more naturally than others. Other people can adopt different thinking styles in different situations.

Take a moment to consider what your current thinking style or styles are. Don’t feel constrained by where you feel your strengths lie – the brain is an amazingly flexible and adaptive organ and through practice you can be trained to improve your performance in any one of the thinking categories. There’s something for you to think about this new term and school year!


Lord, thank you that you love us as individuals and you know how and why we think the way we do about things. Help us to solve problems, both big and small, whether in our own lives or the world at large, by looking to you for inspiration, insight and guidance.


‘Will you come and follow me?’ (Hymns Old and New, 560)

Publication date: September 2010   (Vol.12 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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