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Theory of Knowledge

Reconstruction of Qur’anic Thoughts with an Attempt to Unify Rationalism and Empiricism

By S.M. Zakir Hussain (Bangladesh)

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Analytical Creativity: The Gateway to Knowledge


I conducted a number of studies seeking to construct and test various techniques to boost up creativity and deep thinking ability in university-level students. Of the methods tested, more than half of a hundred proved to be exceptionally effective and promising. A good number of techniques proved to be remarkably powerful especially when they were applied in the form of reading comprehension exercises, twenty of which are presented below. Needless to say, the techniques can be used equally effectively even when they are not applied to any written material. However, it is assumed that the reader, if he or she wants to use them, will first have the problem or ‘thinking material’ written down. Students, teachers, literary critics, business and social researchers, executives, and bureaucrats can use the techniques in any situation for any purpose. Let’s choose a very simple passage from the textbook of classes 9-10 (prescribed by the National Curriculum and Textbook Board of Bangladesh) and apply the techniques on it.

Feroza’s childhood was full of sufferings and sorrows. She never had a moment of happiness in her life. All she remembered from her childhood was the extreme want of food, want of shelter, and want of clothing. In 1972 at the age of 12, she was married to a 24-year-old unemployed man. Feroza entered into her husband’s house with the dreams and hope of a young girl but all she saw was more want. It was Feroza who worked for a handful of grains to feed herself, her mother-in-law and her husband. When her first son was born she was 19. The birth of a child meant another mouth to feed. Feroza’s toiling days became harder with the birth of her second son in 1982. Her husband was still unwilling to work and therefore she had to work even harder to feed all the five mouths. From morning till evening she worked hard. When she was 24 her third son was born. Each day became more difficult for Feroza. No matter how hard she worked, she could never earn enough to feed everyone. Eight years went by and Feroza was still struggling for herself and her family. Then she came to learn about the Grameen Bank. She became a member of the Bank, took a loan and started her own ‘rice-husking’ business. Gradually she managed to improve her conditions and managed to repay the loan she had borrowed from the Grameen Bank. In 1995 Feroza took an even larger loan and started a stationery shop alongside her husking business. She went to the adult literacy center and learned to read and write. By 2000 Feroza’s worst days were over. She had solvency, security and happiness.

The Methods Described

1. Visualizing/Visual Reading: For a minute, forget about the words or language of the passage and try to visualize or see with your mind’s eye the things, situations, and events that have been described in it. Just use your eyes. Now you’ll see that a new dimension is added to your thinking ability, which will enable you to answer, for example, the following questions:

1. Which of the following things stand(s) out to be most important?
 drops of sweat ‚ a large banyan treeƒ a chair „ a river

If the visualization is earnest, then you’ll see lean, hungry faces, Feroza’s forehead sweating from too much toiling, and other things directly described or referred to.

2. Auditory Reading: After successfully visualizing the situation, try to hear the sounds and voices that may naturally arise out of it. Remember that there are things that cannot be seen, and so need to be heard. Applying this technique to the above passage, we can gather these pieces of auditory information: crying, shouting, sighs, panting, bargaining, thudding of the dheki (a foot-driven wooden machine for husking paddy, sighs of relief, etc.

3. Area Reading: Think about what areas/disciplines of knowledge could be directly related to the situation under consideration. In other words, experts from what areas of knowledge could most successfully describe the situation? For Feroza’s story, the related branches of knowledge could be micro-and macroeconomics, development economics, social welfare, banking, and sociology.

4. Olfactory Reading: Now concentrate on the things described in the passage that can be smelled. If possible, identify the related words. In our passage, we don’t have anything remarkable to smell, but we can imagine some hungry noses eagerly smelling food after daylong starvation. However, we can smell the dingy environment that Feroza’s family lived in.

5. Gap Reading: Suppose you have an objective about the passage – for example, to write a detailed biography of Feroza or to make a short film on her life. What more information do you need? In other words, what gap of information can you identify if you want to, say, make the short film? An attempt to answer questions of this short will direct our attention to things that might prove valuable in analyzing the situation in a more meaningful way.

6. Conditional Reading: This technique motivates alternative thinking or applying a sensitivity analysis of the situation under study. For example, consider what could have happened if Feroza were not helped by the Grameen Bank. What could have happened if Feroza had the opportunity to study well and be a teacher? What could the situation be like if she had no children? Would she, then, strive so hard for financial salvation? If Feroza is made a teacher to teach other women how to inspire themselves in hard times, what could she possibly tell them? The success of this technique lies in being able to include extraneous variables or parameters or impose new constraints.

7. Abstraction/Conceptual Reading: Now suppose that you’re not allowed to use any word that refers to things that can be seen, touched, smelled, or tasted. On the contrary, you’re asked to describe the situation/story in terms of abstract words or attribute words. These will be comprised of activity nouns, concepts, and adjectives. What words would you use in the case under consideration? For example, these words are relevant to Feroza’s story: poverty, difficulty, hard work, waiting, patience, responsibility, motherhood, success, happiness, deprivation, etc.

8. VAN (Verb-Adjective-Noun) Reading: This is a very powerful reading tactic for analyzing different levels or dimensions of the reality presented in the passage under consideration. The method is very simple. Just draw a triangle and write in each vertex area (or “corner”) one of the above-mentioned three types of words – the nouns in one corner, the verbs in another corner, and the adjectives in the last corner. Experience has shown that in the case of most descriptive, narrative and argumentative passages, the related situation can be very effectively conceptualized in this process. This also ensures a high degree of comprehension of the situation.

9. Telescopic Reading: A telescope helps us see distant things in a manner as if they were near. In the Telescopic Reading technique, one looks at the things or events of the distant past through the present stage of the situation. Suppose, for example, you look through the word “success” (in Feroza’s story) at the other related words that precede. This amounts to remembering the past sitting in the present moment/situation. This will help effectively grasp the evolution of the situation and thought.

10. Microscopic Reading: This is also a very powerful reading technique. Just as through a microscope one sees small things as big, so in this technique one considers the relatively or apparently unimportant objects or events to be unusually important. For example, after having written or read the above passage, one can reconsider the whole situation by placing special concentration on, say, Feroza’s mother-in-law, children, husband, the dheki, etc. In this way all particular facts can be focused and their influence on or place in the overall situation can be re-examined. This technique can be combined with the Conditional Reading Technique to ensure a more promising thought experiment.
11. Eliminated Reading: Suppose some nouns, verbs, or adjectives are eliminated from the triangle in the VAN reading technique. In how many ways could the passage be completed with these words missing? A good practice could be to eliminate the whole sentence that relates to the particular word chosen from the triangle.

12. Substituted Reading: Select some important words from the triangle and then trace them in the passage. Now deliberately replace them with words of your own and reconsider the whole passage in its changing implications. All substitutions may not be meaningful but illuminating alternative scenarios may emerge. In our example, we could replace the phrases ‘husking business’ by ‘fishing’ and the word ‘son’ with the word ‘daughter’. This sensitivity analysis, for example, may open the door to the extension of Feroza’s knowledge and experience to other dimensions as well. It can also help look into the hidden structure of reality.

13. Moving Camera Reading: Just as a moving camera looks at a face or scene from various angles, so also the reader can consider the passage from different angles of view. For example, the reader can consider these possibilities: If I read this passage or faced this situation two years/days ago, how could/would I interpret it? If I were a rich, benevolent social worker in a developed country, how might I think about the situation? Could I collect new meanings if I read the passage while walking, flying, or deep at night? This technique serves well to help overcome the traps of assumptions and beliefs and values in which we often find ourselves caught.

14. Small-Paper Reading: If a person were given a very small piece of paper and were asked to write, say only five words, from the passage that seemed to be the most important to them, which words could they choose? If more than one person were asked to do the same, then, each would choose a set of five words according to their attitude, preference, and evaluation. Thus this method can be a powerful tool for measuring attitude, perception, and preference. This method can help us detect the objective truth of phenomena, which is most likely to be represented by the intersection of all such evaluations. We can fruitfully use it to detect the cause and importance of phenomena.

15. Adapted Writing: What would you write if you wrote the passage again, say, for children, professionals, and researchers separately? Which aspects of the phenomena would be especially highlighted in each case? These considerations can help bring out the essence of the passage.

16. Variable Search: Once the passage has been thoroughly read, it is good to identify the variables – the entities or concepts that have changed and assumed different values at different stages of the situation.  No reading can be profound and contributive enough until this intellectual search has been done. This kind of analytical search is essential especially when a problem-solving approach is taken. In our example, the related variables are ‘efforts’, ‘poverty’, ‘opportunity’ etc.

17. Context Transferring: This is another powerful reading cum thinking technique. It begins with this type of question: If the related variables were to change in a similar way in a situation in, say, a town or in another country or time frame, then what could the related phenomena be like?

18. Puppet-Show Analogy: As far as I am concerned. I have found it to be one of the most effective and powerful techniques that I have ever developed or known and that have helped me in my life. And I would go so far as to contend that this single technique may bring about a revolution in our thinking and perception. According to this technique, consider the story under consideration to be a puppet show, where all human beings and other sentient beings are considered to be lifeless dolls moving about mechanically, the internal and the external environments of the context being the same. Now imagine that the dolls have involved themselves in the interactions and activities described in the passage and have transformed goods and relationships in the stated ways. There are movements and activities, but there are no living doers or actors. Then, what are the motive forces that have acted behind the stage to produce all the movements and activities? Thinking in this way, we see that the central doll, Feroza, has been moved or activated by some psychological and situational forces such as love, dutifulness, determination, belief, confidence, poverty, opportunity, etc. Surprising discovery! Most of the time our thoughts are jammed by matter and relationships, and so we forget to trace the primary causes of behavior and change. I suggest that this technique be used in thinking in the fields of economics, sociology, business, management, and politics. We must discover and learn the software of reality, not the hardware only. We must not forget that the Truth is always beyond what can be seen, touched, tasted, or smelled.

19. Personifying the Abstract: The technique is a supplement to the Puppet-Show Analogy. In this method, abstract situational nouns such as ‘poverty’, ‘opportunity’, ‘affluence’, etc. and affective nouns such as ‘anger’, ‘confidence’, ‘love’, etc. are imagined as being transparent animated dolls pushing or pulling the other doll characters toward action. As I said earlier, most often we either fail to detect or take too much time in detecting the abstract-level reality behind phenomena. As a result, we do poor thinking. But if we think in the above-mentioned ways, we are most likely to be able to discover the causal connections between events very easily. After all, for reasons unknown, we have an urge to see the unseen. If we apply this technique to Feroza’s story, we can quickly discover what drove Feroza onward along the difficult path of her life and what made her successful. Upon close imaginative experimentation, one will see that such Transparent Concept Dolls (TCDs) are not separate from one another; rather, at different junctures of phenomena along the locus of the evolution of reality, two or more TCDs merge and produce one or more new TCDs, thus showing the movement of the invisible variables. For clarity of conception, we can even relate different colors to them. In Feroza’s example, we can visualize the related TCDs as follows: poverty + love = determination + perseverance ® opportunity + efforts ® success.

20. Equation Making: This technique does not essentially contribute to creativity but it does add a lot to our problem-solving ability. This technique demands that we describe the overall situation of a passage in terms of an equation, which may be either quantitative or qualitative. Applying it to Feroza’s story, we have this equation: poverty + love + determination + opportunity = success. However, the equation could take other forms as well.

Continued ...



Author of:

Secret Knowledge of the Qur'an