Thinking dispositions

I’m currently working my way through the course: Teaching Critical Thinking through Art with the National Gallery of Art on edX. I’ve done the first 2 modules and I’m loving it!

One really interesting concept that was introduced in Module 1 was that of thinking dispositions vs thinking skills. While I clearly have thinking skills (I have a PhD in Astrophysics, after all), it was fascinating to finally read about something I’d already noticed about myself … I don’t bring those thinking skills into play in casual, day-to-day contexts.

Thinking Vectors by Vecteezy

The moment I realised this was in 2017 when my friend, Tyson, and I had just finished hiking the 160km-long Arctic Circle Trail and were relaxing at the Hotel Sisimiut in Greenland. I was fascinated, awed and humbled by how many questions he asked of everybody, no matter who they were or how “dumb” the question might have been perceived. He didn’t care. And we learned so much through those conversations.

What I now realise (thanks to the course) is that there are actually “three distinct and necessary components of thinking dispositions: ability, sensitivity, and inclination.”

While I certainly have plenty of ability, it turns out I am somewhat lacking in the other two components. 😱 In particular, “sensitivity involves alertness to opportunities to initiate the behaviour. Inclination is the motivation or impulse to engage in and sustain the behaviour“.

I believe the two are somewhat linked.


I am a curious person.

I started out as a scientist, have had five completely different careers requiring me to learn different skill sets, and am now exploring all forms of art simply out of personal interest. So it’s not that I don’t display an inclination towards curiosity and thinking.

However, I used to be painfully, painfully shy. And although nobody who has met me in the past couple of decades would believe this, my family and oldest friends can attest that this was the case up until I turned about 29. This underlying shyness (trust me – it never really goes away) makes me hesitant to talk to people I don’t know, something that Tyson clearly does not suffer from!

Also, and specifically in relation to art, I don’t know anything about it and so don’t feel “qualified” to be able to look at an artwork and make a “valid” commentary on it – even if the only person I’m commenting to is myself. My delight at being able to embrace tools offered by Wondrium’s How to Look at and Understand Great Art course highlight my need for logical and academic approaches to everything I do.


I think both of these feed into the third component that I lack to some degree – sensitivity. Because my inclination is somewhat thwarted by my shyness and insecurity in my academic knowledge, I engage less often in rich conversations with random people, and tend to skim things I’m not comfortable with (e.g. art).

This is partially because I don’t immediately recognise them as opportunities for deeper thinking or further questioning.

i.e. I am not sensitive to the opportunity before me.

🤯 Mind. Blown! 🤯

Ironically, this is partially why I embarked upon this journey into exploring art. Perhaps, subconsciously, I understood that I should be able to enjoy and create my own commentary around works of art and was searching for a way to be able to break through the barriers that I’ve erected.

Applying this knowledge

The edX course is very much designed with school teachers in mind. So I’m embracing my inner 10-year old and applying the same techniques on myself when it comes to art in particular, and hopefully life in general.

I’ve wanted a way to be able to “question like Tyson”. And now that I’ve discovered the elements of dispositional thinking, I hope to be able to force myself to open up and see/engage in the multitude of opportunities for deeper learning that surround me.


Tishman, S., (2001), Added Value: A dispositional perspective on thinking, in:

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