The process resulting in a thought can vary with regard to the degree to which external reality and goal-directness are taken into account. In this perspective three types of thinking can be distinguished which represent a continuum without sharp boundaries and are intertwined in everyday life: fantasy thinking, imaginative thinking, and rational thinking. (38> Since each of these types can become dominant under some conditions, this distinction is useful to aid understanding of certain abnormal phenomena. The characterisitics of the three types can best be illustrated by considering the differences between fantasy thinking and rational thinking.
Fantasy thinking (also called dereistic or autistic thinking) produces ideas which have no external reality. This process can be completely non-goal-directed, even if the subject is to some extent aware of the mood, affect, or drive which motivates it. In other cases fantasy thinking serves to exclude reality because it requires actions that the subject does not want to accomplish. This second kind of fantasy thinking is not undirected. Its goal is not to solve a problem but to avoid it via neglect, denial, or distortion of reality. Normal subjects use fantasy thinking deliberately and sporadically. However, if its content becomes subjectively accepted as a real fact, it becomes abnormal. This pathological exclusion of reality can remain limited in extent (e.g. in hysterical conversion and dissociation, pseudologia phantastica, and some delusions) or it may be manifested as complete autistic withdrawal from the real world.
Rational (conceptual) thinking attempts to resolve a problem through the use of logic, excluding fantasy. The accuracy of this endeavour depends on the person's intelligence, which can be affected by various disturbances of the different components involved in understanding and reasoning.
Imaginative thinking can be located between the fantasy thinking and rational thinking. It is a process of forming a representation of an object or a situation using fantasy but without going beyond the rational and possible. This thinking is goal directed but frequently leads to more general plans than the solution of immediate problems. The essential difference between imaginative and rational thinking is that the former neglects Popper's advice (39> that each theoretical assumption should be accompanied by an attempt to falsify or refute it. Imaginative thinking becomes pathological if the person attaches more weight to his representation of events than to other objectively equally possible interpretations. In overvalued ideas, the imagined interpretation surpasses other interpretations in strength; in delusions, all other possibilities are excluded.
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