Monday, January 21, 2013

Deliberate vs...: A Post About Thinking (Part One)

Before I start, I just want to say that I'm not talking about anyone in particular in this post (and the next). In all actuality, I have no way of knowing what sort of thought processes any of you have. I'm speaking in generalities based on studies of people and how people tend to be. If you feel personally offended by anything I say here, I just want to point out that it's not me pointing that finger at you; it's you. I can't do anything about that.

This post is not about gun control or about guns at all other than that it is a response to a comment from my Freedom Line post, so I don't want any comments about guns or civil rights or anything else even if I mention that conversation, which I will. If you want to comment about guns, go read that other post and the comment thread there and make your comment on that thread. This is not a conversation about guns.

However, during that conversation, I was told that I was having a knee-jerk reaction to the recent child massacre and that if I would only apply reason to what I was saying I would see that I am wrong. If only I could approach the subject intellectually rather than emotionally, I would find a different answer to that question. The problem, then, is that my post was not based off of any kind of emotional reaction at all. Beside the fact that the views expressed in that post were not new to me, I waited weeks to make that post so that I would have time to get my thoughts in order (rather than the next day (or the same day) as many other bloggers did), just as it has taken me two weeks since that comment was made for me to get my thoughts in order to make this post. I just don't make rash comments.

Let me add here that this is something about me that often creates... issues... between my wife and me. She will ask me something and want a response right then, but I just don't have one for her. I have to think about almost everything before I respond to it. This goes for movies and books and, well, everything. On top of that, I can almost always separate my emotional response from my actual views about an individual topic (you can see my recent review of An Unexpected Journey for an example of that). Most people respond like this:
"I don't like this thing; therefore, it is bad," or
"I do like this thing; therefore it is good."
I talked about that stuff here and also in some other post that I'm not going to keep looking for right now. At any rate, those things are not necessarily the truth. 2/3 of my kids don't like broccoli, but I'm, like, 99.7% sure that broccoli is not just good but very good. Whether they like it or not.

Having said all of that, there are two basic ways that people "think" about things, two ways that people arrive at conclusions and decisions: one is what we would call decisive, but that is more because of an incorrect perception that decisive also means "quick," which it does not; and deliberate, which involves more time and actual thought before coming to a conclusion. In all actuality, what we call "decisive decision making" involves almost no thought at all. It's all emotion and "gut" instinct.

Guess which one is the most prevalent. And guess which one we, as a culture, hail as superior. Yeah, "decisiveness". Culturally, we are ALL over that shhhtuff, like a fly on it. How prevalent? Oh, probably something like 80% of people arrive at what they believe about a subject based on this model of "thinking." Or maybe I should say non-thinking. 80% (It might be as low as 70%, but many studies indicate a number higher than 80%, possibly as high as 90%)! That means that most people just respond to things without ever bothering to actually think about the outcome.

So, yeah, most people that responded to the child massacre in Newtown by yelling "No more guns!" did so as an emotional response to the situation. However, most people that have responded to that by yelling "You can't have our guns!" have responded in the same way. Neither side has invested much thought into the issue. From that standpoint, both sides are wrong. [I am personally horrified (emotional response) that gun stores are now complaining that they can't keep supplied, right now, due to the rush of people to buy more guns and that the specific weapon used to murder those children is the item in the greatest demand. Not that I don't understand the compulsion, but you can't tell me those people are acting rationally.]

I should also add that virtually all of the decisions that lead to the housing bubble and the economic collapse of 2008 were made by these 80% of people [this is not my opinion; there have been many studies on the causes of the economic collapse and every single one of them points to bad, "positive" decisions]. In many cases, the people actually evaluating what was going on and saying things like "this is a bad idea" or "we need to slow down," the people waving the red flags back in '06 and '07, were fired outright. Well, let go. They were told they were no longer needed and to take their "negativity" elsewhere. Why? Because we love people that will quickly arrive at a decision and act on it right then at that very moment. Don't stop to think! Just do it! We call those people decisive and hold them up as the epitome of how to be. Don't show doubt. Don't evaluate. Just react.

The problem with that is that in almost every study done, these people are shown to be wrong something like 70-80% of the time. Because they don't bother to stop and engage their brains, they come to the wrong decision. Do the wrong thing. And they take everyone else with them. And, yet, we continue to hail these people as heroes and follow them blindly in almost all circumstances. It's like... it's like deciding that the person you're going to cheat off of in math class is the kid scoring 30% on his tests because he's failing in such a self-assured manner.

This phenomenon baffles me to no end, and I'm sure it's what leads to mobs. No one wants to listen to the guy saying, "Hey, this is a bad idea!" And no one, and I mean no one, wants to be that guy. It sucks to be that guy. I know, because I grew up being that guy. You end up being the guy standing alone while everyone else goes off to do something stupid. Sure, later, they come back and say, "Man, you were right. We shouldn't have done that." But it doesn't keep you from being alone.

Maybe it all has to do with patience; I don't know. Most people don't have any, and that leads to bad and wrong decisions. Maybe it's just that most people aren't that smart. That sounds bad, because, by definition, most people are of average intelligence. I'm not one of those people (which is not me being arrogant, it's me stating an objective truth based upon actual data (which I will not go into right now)). Unfortunately, it sometimes (sometimes more than sometimes) causes me to look down on people of average intelligence as being less intelligent than they actually are, if that makes any sense. I do try to control that, though, and I'm much better than I was when I was in high school.

At any rate, I'm not one for jumping to conclusions, because I just don't jump. I have to gather evidence and look at all sides of a situation, and, sometimes, I'm never ready to come down conclusively on an issue. This is usually because I don't feel that the evidence from any side is conclusive enough. In that respect, I'm not the best at giving a definitive answer about things, contrary to how it might be seen on here at times, because I want room to accept new information and modify what I think about a subject based on new information. This, also, is contrary to how most people are. Post-high school (and certainly post-college), most people (much greater than 80%) will completely dismiss new information about a subject they have previously arrived at a conclusion about. It makes me sad, because it's the thing that has caused the huge political and religious divide in our country. It's also why, generation after generation, you typically have the young pitted against the old, because the old just will not accept that there could be anything new to add to what they know.

All of that to say that if more people would just slow down and actually look at the evidence, both sides of the evidence, or, maybe, all sides of the evidence, we might not have such a huge gap in our world. I don't see that happening any time soon, though.
Next time, the three types of decision making processes.


  1. I guess you would consider "cautious" deliberate? (My wife calls it "over-cautious.") I don't jump into anything without analyzing it.

  2. I've always wondered what the politics on Vulcan were like. No emotion there. Only logical conclusions to problems. Never gonna see someone throw a shoe at a member of parliament on Vulcan. :)

  3. A very well thought-out piece, Andrew. And I agree. I'm usually decisive when it comes to inconsequential things, but for big decisions, I usually gather a second opinion, or a dozen. :)

  4. Great post, Andrew. As a kid, I tended to be one of the loners, telling other people not to do whatever stupid thing they wanted to go do and then waiting by myself when they went off to do it anyway.

    As a teen, I joined the crowd and found that, although I thought it would make me happier, it didn't. In fact, it almost ruined my life.

    So, as an adult, I'm pretty cautious. Not quick to make any decision, either large or small. And the whole idea of "mob mentality" is something I will never understand. People swear that you get caught up in it, but I know for a fact that I wouldn't. It's just a bunch of sheep following the herd and going crazy. What kind of idiot gets caught up in THAT??

  5. Very well put. It's not enough that people respond only using emotion. They have to seize on that and refuse to budge as though reconsidering invalidates the feeling. And then people jumping on the reaction means you can't back down without being "weak" just spirals out of control. It's insane.

  6. Alex: Different word for the same thing. I get that, too.

    L.G.: Don't get me started on Vulcan and their supposed lack of emotions. :P

    David: Gathering more information is never a bad thing.

    Tamara: I don't understand it either other than that, when you go along in a group like that, you are able to cast off some of the responsibility for your own actions. People like to not be held responsible for the stupid choices they make.

    Jeanne: Which leads to more group think, another thing that we have held up as being this thing that we should all do but more and more studies show lead to bad decisions. Basically, the more people you get together to decide something, the worse the decision will end up being.

  7. What people, almost all people, really excel at is post hoc rationalizations. We pick a side and refuse to budge, regardless of evidence, then back up and say it's the most logical thing going. A quirk of who we are as people.

    Critical thinking isn't related to intelligence, well, not too much anyway, in my opinion. The world is full of really smart people that believe really stupid things. Evidence based decisions are hard to put into practice on a day to day basis, it's hard to be well informed enough about enough subjects to think intelligently about them all. But examining evidence and interpreting it correctly is a learned skill. And people can have beautiful and well thought out beliefs about all sorts of topics, then turn off their thinking process about politics, or religion, or even sports, and not realize it.

    Good points all around though, I'm not wanting to disagree with anything you said, and didn't intend to, just throwing in my two cents.

  8. Rusty: I completely agree with you. In principle. Smart people can get just as stuck in their ways and all of that, too, and refuse to take in new information. In fact, the older we get, no matter our intelligence, the more likely we are to become dogmatic in our thinking and believe we don't need new information.

    However, studies show pretty much across the board that the more intelligent a person is the more likely that person is to be more flexible in his thinking and accept new data. Less intelligent people tend (a lot) to be more rigid in their thinking and less open to new information.

  9. I'm also a deliberate thinker, who prefers time to think something out before responding (why I love email as a communication device). My knee-jerk response to something is not always my thought-out response to something. My husband and I have very different viewpoints on a lot of things, but we are both deliberate thinkers, and we can talk about those things. Often, that levels things and we can each see the other's side.

    I tend to be middle of the road on many things, agreeing with part of what one side is saying, but also with part of what the other side is saying. It's unfortunate that every side can't see that there is merit to the other side most of the time. Things would be a lot easier if we could meet halfway on various issues, to make it the best situation for the most people.

    I've been that person trying to calm people down more often than I'd like to think about. It used to be a major issue on an online forum I admin, which is for a group of moms. They would become so polarized in their views, then feed off those sharing their opinions, so it would just inflate and inflate and inflate, and I'd have two screaming mobs. It was definitely interesting to watch it occurring, though. I got a firsthand view of how that sort of thing occurs.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  10. I think you are mostly correct on what you are saying here and the funny thing is--the way I read this and digest it at least--what you are saying could be applied to either side of this divide of which you speak. The intelligent on either side who are able to reason and express conclusions well both can make sense and strongly believe what they believe because it has made sense to them.

    The media, politicians, the artistic crowd, advertisers, and salesman all thrive on emotional appeal and their audiences often just blindly swallow the pills they're given and float through life. If the message sounds logical then it's correct and if things don't turn out as expected the consequences can be blamed on something else.

    It seems like emotions make the world go round unless someone gets really technical about it and realizes that the emotions are just all around the world and it's really some kind of law of physics making the world go round. But that's dry and hard to fathom for most people and they want to hear whatever is fun and makes them feel good.

    How do we achieve perfect peace and absolute agreement on everything that's important? By finding the perfect point of mediation. The problem is agreeing on that perfect point.

    There are intelligent well reasoned people in many camps and we all believe we are right. And I don't know that is good to make generalizations that anyone is smarter than anyone else. We all just know different stuff. I may feel more intelligent than the village idiot, but it just may well be that the village idiot knows some things I don't know.

    This ramble is all based on what I understood you to be saying. I hope what I said makes sense.

    Tossing It Out

  11. Shannon: The ability to play Devil's Advocate is an admirable skill. Most people just cannot do that. They literally cannot see the other point of view or come anywhere close to understanding it.
    I would hate to try and moderate anything online. People too often allow the web to bring out the very worst in them and become even more unreasonable.

    Lee: Yes, it could and can be applied to either side. The problem is that the bulk of people on either side are not the people trying to reason anything out, and they get in the way of any kind of useful discussion more often than not.

    I think it is perfectly good and correct to say that some people are smarter than others because it is true. We have too many objective measures of intelligence and mental aptitude to deny it. Yet, as a culture, we do try to deny it, because it makes people feel bad (emotional response) to be told they are not as smart as someone else. Then we try to rationalize those things away by saying things like, "he's just better at taking tests than I am." It doesn't change the fact that some people are just smarter than others. We just don't want those people to be people we know.

    It's the same as some people being stronger than others, but you can't argue that one when someone can lift a box and you can't. There aren't things so demonstrable when it comes to intelligence.

    So we like to fall back on the whole "well, people just know different things" and that's certainly true, but what you know, how much knowledge you've accumulated or about what subjects, is not the true test of intelligence. That's only part of it.

    So, yes, I can't fix a car, because I don't have that body of knowledge, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm smarter than my mechanic even though he can fix my car and I can't. As an example.

  12. Andrew - I don't believe that and I don't care what evidence you present, I'll never change my mind.

  13. Rusty: LOL
    Oh, man, you almost got me. I saw your comment out of context and thought "what the heck?!"

  14. When someone posts something of a controversial nature *such as the big gun issue" there are many opinions. I love reading others opinions and didn't think that just because an issue was debated or objected that Like is good and don't like is bad. I read those posts as the blogger wanting to seek others opinions good or bad.

  15. G-G: It's not exactly about how you respond to others' opinions. That would be more like getting a survey of who does and does not like broccoli without ever bothering to take a bit. My point is, like my kids, most people will label broccoli as a "bad" food because they do not like the taste of it even though, objectively, it is a very good food.

  16. I tend to be one of those people who think things out as well, and new information definately can change my thinking on the issue, (whatever it is). It frustrates me no end when people think that because they don't like something, (like brocoli, as you pointed out) it's 'bad'.
    I can usually put myself in the other persons position and totally see where they're coming from. Understanding someone else's point of view and how they came to it doesn't necessarily mean I agree with them. I do have a somewhat large capacity for empathy I guess.
    Very interesting and I can't wait to read Part 2!

  17. Eve: Oh, I have a whole thing on empathy coming up in part 3.