Friday, November 7, 2014

Systematic and Analytical Thinking is Not the Best Way to Travel

Yesterday at Honest Weight I was reminded yet again that most humans, even humans with a degree of intellectual capabilities, just can't think.

There are two major problems that underlie the "intellectual" abilities of so many out there in Americaland. First, fetishisation. Far too many confuse how they feel and think with how others feel and think. Just because you feel that the Democrats that the Democrats aren't "leftist" enough doesn't mean that this is how voters in North Carolina or Louisiana felt when they went to the polls on the fourth of November 2014. Just because you get all soap opera emotional doesn't mean that everyone else gets soap opera emotional.

Another major problem with contemporary intellectuals is the tendency for many to go all postmodern on human behaviour. Yes, the social and cultural construction of reality is a factor in how many humans see the world and human behavior in it. That doesn't mean, however, that there is no reality out there, that global warming, for instance is an ideological fiction. It isn't. What it does mean is that even "thinking" humans are rarely able to think critically about the ideologies they reproduce in intellectual discourse.

A third problem is the inability of may to cite specific empirical evidence for their claims. If you are going to argue or suggest that all science is the product of economic factors such as monetary political support you need to show how Albert Einstein's theory of relativity or that Nate Silver's model of electoral analysis is the product where they get their money from. Vast and vague generalisations simply won't cut mustard.

While it is true that many "intellectuals" cannot escape the fetishisistic and reality is a fiction cages their minds of trapped in, there is a way that we humans can achieve a more "objective" grasp of the universe and human action within that universe: analytical and systematic reasoning that is dispassionate (more analytical and systematic than emotion laden). It is a pity that most humans, even some of those who do use their minds in more systematic and analytical way, can't achieve this empirical path to intellectual understanding. C'est la vie.

1 comment:

  1. From Ned Depew...liked it. tried to post a response, but blogger always foils me. can I fit it in here? Critical thinking is key to human advancement - and the ability to survive in the world outside the lock-step conformity that can only lead lemmings cliff-side. The failure to teach it as the basis of all curricula is the most fundamental failure of our education system. Every "subject," from math, to history, to literature, can be approached from the perspective of critical analysis.

    The skills of collecting information, comparing it, integrating it and being able to come up with some kind of a vision of reality based on the analysis is an even more basic a skill than reading, writing and arithmetic. It's a natural part of our birthright, as tiny toddler scientists explore their worlds, collect information and try to process it.

    But rigid world-views from parents, religions, schools and society in general shut down that process, teaching kids to memorize a set of axioms without question or analysis - teaching them in terms of "right" and "wrong" instead of in terms of exploration and discovery. Kids who think for themselves "answer back" and "argue with their parents and teachers," activities that have been the basis of all useful human learning at least since Socrates, but are frowned on our society.

    If you are fortunate enough to have had the kind of education, in your home and in the world that actually allowed you to discover and explore the primacy of critical thought, you are outside the bounds of popular discourse, which is driven by "factoids" and "truthiness" rather than any process of rigorous judgment.

    Which is not to say that the elevation of "uncertainty" in modern thought isn't a good thing. No analysis can ever be complete, because all the consequences can never be cataloged and understood. But that doesn't change the importance of doing the best job possible in the face of that uncertainty to look our perceptions of reality in the face, test them, and draw workable conclusions. It doesn't change the usefulness, as in science, of postulating certain criteria and processes - knowing that they are only postulates, not absolutes - in attempts to develop a model of the world - and our own lives - that helps us not only survive, but thrive.

    While uncertainty allows that there is "more than one correct answer" to any problem, and more than one "valid" analysis of any set of facts, critical thinking allows us to create rational criteria and systems for evaluating those various answers and solutions, and adopting (always provisionally) those that seem most useful in a given set of circumstances.

    The current social pressures in the US (and world-wide, in many circles) are for finding answers that are , in Mencken's trenchant phrase, "clear, simple – and wrong." Because of the lack of training and encouragement to think in terms of relative critical analysis while accepting the uncertainty that is our human lot, people fear complexity (instead of glorying in and celebrating it, as we should, if we fully understood the complex and miraculous process we incarnate!). Clear, flexible, uninhibited thought that incorporates the rational while respecting and honoring the emotions, the intuitive, the spiritual and all the other aspects of our multi-faceted functioning is clearly the only way forward.