What Is Matrix Thinking? [MT101]
Ben Franklin Centre for Theoretical Research
PO Box 27, Subiaco, WA 6008, Australia.
If we remain imprisoned in the linear thinking so congenial to bureaucrats, capitalists,
commissars, and aspiring gauleiters, the 1980s will be a period of unemployment,
alienation, and unprecedented social crises.
Thinking about Thinking
The history of 'Thinking' is presumably in the realm of Philosophy, an area in which I am
by no means expert. So here I will just make a generalist overview of some of the more
The earliest thinking, going back to cave-man days, was presumably instinctive ("I
hungry, I eat you"). With the development of civilization came more structured approaches.
The Ancient Greeks are well known for using the powerful tool of logic ("If A, therefore
B"). Possibly they did not invent logic, but they certainly formalized it into a tool for looking
at the world. As a corollary of logic came the paradox, a contradiction in logic, and hence a
tool for testing the validity of logic.
In more modern times came the development of the 'scientific method'. This method
embraced logic, and added to it further techniques such as experiment and observation, and
the requirement for repeatability of results. A very important new facet was that of prediction
("If A applies, therefore B should happen -- we'll try it and see").
These methods have served us well. Nevertheless, they can all be classed as examples of
Linear Thinking. With linear thinking, there is a starting point from which all the rest proceeds
-- perhaps an assumption, an observation to be explained, or even a goal. Even Edward de
Bono's Lateral Thinking, of which I am a considerable admirer, is still linear thinking. It is
linear thinking which proceeds from an unexpected viewpoint.
Matrix Thinking is rather different. It tries to look at a situation from multiple viewpoints,
as a complex and not necessarily analyzable Matrix. Often there will be no starting point, no
clearly defined logic path 'through' the Matrix.
How to Run a Company
Consider an example -- the operation of business companies. There must be a hundred,
a thousand, books written about how to run a company. Some of these will be very good, very
detailed, explaining how best to manage staff, how to control cash flow and monitor
productivity, and perhaps, on a more philosophical level, how to encourage innovation within
the company and promote a good public image according to the ideals of the times.
And yet -- look again. As far as I know, not one of these books even hints at the situation
which Matrix Thinking would encourage, one which is close to the real situation. That is, one
in which there is a complex mix or Matrix of companies of every sort.
Not only companies which are entrepreneurial, innovative, and progressive, with good
labour relations, but also ones which are arch-conservative and backward. Ones which are
founded on brilliant ideas but hopelessly managed, ones which are willing to act as test cases
in clarifying legislation (read: 'somewhat crooked'), ones which are grossly undercapitalized,
and so on through every permutation found in the real world and few not yet tried.
Even, and this strikes right against our instincts, companies which are very likely to fail,
sure to fail, or even designed to fail. We never want the company we are involved with to fail,
even though this may be of great benefit somewhere else in the Matrix.
The Matrix background to all this is developed in this suite of articles. For the moment, it is
sufficient to repeat that linear thinking implies not only a starting point but also a goal, a result,
an optimum position. In Matrix Thinking there may be no such defined points.
The Scientific Method
The Scientific Method as practised in modern society is generally regarded as a supremely
logical and rational approach. Leaving aside all the intrusions of politics and emotions which
actually occur as 'distortions' of the True
Way, it mostly is fairly logical. Fairly linear. But in one respect it is not.
That exception lies in the field of scientific 'models'. These are not real models, made of
pieces of plastic or wood, but mind models, attempts to represent aspects of the physical world
as though they acted like things we are familiar with in everyday life.
Examples are: talking about light as travelling in waves; thinking of a gas as made up of
huge numbers of tiny elastic spheres (atoms or molecules); and representing atomic structures
as consisting of interacting particles -- electrons, protons, neutrons, and so on.
The erection of a model is perhaps the most powerful of all the tools in the scientific
armoury. Once erected, a model may be subjected to continual refinement, improvement, or
replacement. Older readers may be able to recall when the atom was conventionally
represented like planets in orbit round the sun. They may also have noted the evolution of this
model, through electron shells, and into electron-density patterns (Figure 101.1).
Of course it should always be borne in mind that these models are only models, they are
not the 'real' thing. So it is quite permissible to have two different models to represent different
aspects of a single real entity. The wave model and the particle model of light are common examples of this, models which are quite contradictory to each other but which may both still
be validly and usefully applied in different circumstances.
Fig. 101.1 Older and newer representations of the atom. A: One of John Dalton's original
symbols; B: The planetary model; C: The shell model; D: An electron-density map
The Fount of Creativity
The testing and refinement of scientific models is subject to the same linear logic as the
rest of science. But the creation of these models is not; in almost every case, the origin of a
startling and powerful new scientific model is the product of an 'inspiration', almost a
religious 'vision', which 'pops into someone's mind'. Hence Archimedes leaping from his
bath, shouting 'I have found it' to passers-by in the street, and Newton being literally struck
with the idea of gravity, in the form of an apple falling on his head.
The creation of such models provides an example of Matrix Thinking in science. There
is nothing logical or linear about it, it is almost as if a mind subconsciously squeezes and
massages a bag of facts, and somehow, out of the whole bag, an answer pops out.
In fact most of the activities we think of as 'creative' are Matrix-oriented. This is an area
of human thought about which very little is known or discussed. I feel it is possible that creativity is tied up in some way with ability to 'tap the
Matrix', rather than being purely an individually-owned talent.
Some important first aims here will be formulating some structure and developing some tools
for the use of Matrix Thinking. Then it will be possible to apply the structure and the tools to an
examination of human society, with the aim of deriving new viewpoints. These may possibly
lead to 'improvements' in human society.
Whether a particular change suggested is an 'improvement' or not will be left for the reader
to judge. Throughout this suite of articles I have tried hard to avoid pre-judging the issue, and saying
what should be done in a particular situation. Instead I have limited myself to pointing out what
the Matrix Thinking apparatus suggests will be the outcome of the application of various
conditions. That said, I will not hesitate to put up Propositions which suggest that a certain
course of action is desirable. What I will not say is that any of these Propositions are
From what has been said, it will be apparent that Matrix Thinking is not a replacement of,
or competitor with, the linear thinking which Barry Jones warns us about. Nor is it a
complementary or alternative approach. Instead, it is a generalization which subsumes and
includes the thinking with which we are most familiar.
It has been said that we learn best by doing. And so, without further ado, we will leap
straight into Matrix Thinking by creating a mind model, a model of human society.
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Go to the "Matrix Thinking: How Society Works" Home Page
Versions 1.0-1.2, printed editions (Matrix Thinking Book I, BFC Press, Australia, 1992-1997)
Version 2.0, 2004, PDFs etc on World Wide Web (http://www.aoi.com.au/matrix/MT.htm)
Version 3.0, 2014 Jul 3-23, Reworked from chapter 101 of "Matrix Thinking" as one article in a suite on the World Wide Web.