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The need for lateral thinking arises from the way the mind works. Though the information handling system called mind is highly effective it has certain characteristic limitations. These limitations are inseparable from the advantages of the system since both arise directly from the nature of the system. It would be impossible to have the advantages without the disadvantages. Lateral thinking is an attempt to compensate for these disadvantages while one still enjoys the advantages.
Communication is the transfer of information. If you want someone to do something you could give him detailed instructions telling him exactly what to do. This would be accurate but it might take rather a long time. It would be much easier if you could simply say to him: `Go ahead and carry out plan number 4.' This simple sentence might replace pages of instruction. In the military world certain complex patterns of behaviour are coded in this manner so that one only has to specify the code number for the whole pattern of behaviour to be activated. It is the same with computers: much used programmes are stored under a particular heading and one can call them into use by just specifying that heading. When you go into a library to get a book you could describe in detail the book you wanted, giving author, title, subject, general outline etc. Instead of all that you could just give the code number from the catalogue.
Communication by code can only work if there are preset patterns. These patterns which may be very complex are worked out beforehand and are available under somecode heading. Instead of transferring all the required information you just transfer the code heading. That code heading acts as a trigger word which identifies and calls up the pattern you want. This trigger word can be an actual code heading such as the name of a film or it can be some part of the information which acts to call up the rest. For instance one might not remember a film by its name but if one were to say: `Do you remember that film with Julie Andrews as a governess looking after some children in Austria?' the rest of the film might be easily brought to mind.
Language itself-is the most obvious code system with the words themselves as triggers. There are great advantages in any code system. It is easy to transfer a lot of information very quickly and without much effort. It makes it possible to react appropriately to a situation as soon as the situation is recognized from its code number without having to examine it in detail. It makes it possible to react appropriately to a situation before the situation has even developed fully-by identifying the situation from the initial aspects of it.
It is usual to think of communication as a two way affair: there is someone intending to send a message and someone trying to understand it. An arrangement of flags on a ship's mast is put there intentionally and anyone who understands the code can tell what it mean But a person who knows the code would also be able to pick out a message from a casual arrangement of flags used to decorate a party or a petrol station.
Communication can be a one way business. Dealing with the environment is an example of one way communication. One picks out messages from the environment even though no one has deliberately put them there.
If you offer a random arrangement of lines to a group of people they will soon start to pick out significant patterns. They will be convinced that the patterns have been put there deliberately or that the random arrangements are not random at all but actually constructed out of special patterns. Students who were asked to react in a certain way to a bell which was set off at random intervals soon became convinced that there was a meaningful pattern in the way the bell was sounded.
Communication by code or preset patterns requires the building up of a catalogue of patterns just as you can only use the catalogue number of a book in the library if someone has catalogued the books. As suggested above there does not have to be an actual code number for each pattern. Some part of the pattern itself may come to represent the whole pattern. If you recognized a man by hearing the name `John Smith' that would be using a code heading, but if you recognized him by the sound of his voice at a party that would be using part of the pattern. Opposite are shown two familiar patterns each of which is partly hidden behind some screen. One would have little difficulty in guessing the patterns from the parts that were accessible.
The mind as a patternmaking system
The mind is a patternmaking system. The information system of the mind acts to create patterns and to recognize them. This behaviour depends on the functional arrangement of the nerve cells of the brain. The effectiveness of the mind in its one way communication with the environment arises from this ability to create patterns, store them and recognize them. It is possible that a few patterns are built into the mind and these become manifest as instinctual behaviour but this seems relatively unimportant in man as compared to lower animals. The mind can also accept ready made patterns that are fed to it. But the most important property of the system is the ability to create its own patterns. The way the mind actually creates patterns is described elsewhere.