Sunday, February 10, 2013

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

Thinking, and thinking about thinking, has long been a subject of fascination for me. Keeping this series to just four parts was actually pretty difficult, because there's just so much more I could have said. Nothing that would really matter, though, if you understand what I was saying in part three. For the most part, nothing I say here is going to change anyone's mind. About anything. Not that I'm actually trying to change anyone's mind. The point is just to think. To evoke thought.

That's been something I've tried to do all along on this blog, though, not just in this series of posts. Thinking is important. Stopping to think about things is important. Being deliberate in your thought processes is important. And most people... well, most people just don't ever bother to stop and do it. At all.

Most people just spend their lives reacting. Like B. F. Skinner's pigeons. Stimulus. Response. Stimulus. Response. But here's the thing: That's it for the pigeons. The pigeon can not stop and think, "Hey, why am I pecking this button? Why am I spinning in a circle three times and walking up this ramp and pecking this button?" It does what it's been trained to do. People, though, do have the ability to stop and think. They can look at their actions and say, "Why am I doing this?" They just don't. People don't stop to think. [And, if you read part one of this series, you will know that we, as a culture, don't like people to stop and think. We want them to "take charge!" "be decisive!" "take control of the situation!"] That, to me, is the sad thing. People do not stop to think. And, mostly, they don't want to.

Businesses count on it, in fact. So do politicians. Get people to react. Stimulate us and get us to give them the response they want. Appeal to us on an emotional level, because (at least) 80% of us won't bother to consider anything; we'll just react. That's why we, as a culture, buy so much crap. Emotionally, we believe we need it. We don't have any idea of want; we believe we need it. It's emotional.

As I mentioned, it is possibly possible that thinking can be taught. Maybe. I had classes on thinking when I was in 5th and 6th grades, or, I mean, we covered it in class, but, then, I didn't have the normal schooling experience. This is really part of the nature vs nurture debate about whether we can be taught or teach ourselves to think. I think we can. If we stop long enough to do it. If we care enough about doing that. We don't have to be simply a reactionary culture. Not that I think we'll change. Because I don't think that, and I don't think that because we do not believe in it emotionally. If we did, we would already be doing it.

However, there is hope that we could, at some point, have it in the future. Have children or grandchildren that stop to think. It will mean big changes to the education system, changes I don't think we're ready to make yet, but maybe we'll be ready to make them one day. It's just so much harder to teach kids to think and to keep thinking than it is to teach them to just accept the answers that they've been given. Right now, our system actively teaches kids not to think. We're not willing to invest the resources into anything else. But maybe one day...

I hope that one day we are ready to be a people, not just us here in the Western World (where I am) but an entire people, a Race, that is willing to put down its guns and prejudices and its -isms and be a people that think. A people that dream. A people that will look at the data and be willing to see the truth about any given situation. A people willing to put aside individual wants and desires for the sake of the overriding good of the people. A planet where we really do view all humankind as created equal.

But we're not there yet.

Right now, we're too invested in being "right." Even when we are totally and completely wrong. Like my dad (from the story in part 3 of this series). We're a culture about taking sides instead of coming together. You're not like me, so I don't want you near me. You crack your egg on the big end, so you need to be dropped in the river. See, these things are not new. But... but...

IF! we ever stopped to think about it, stopped to look at the data, stopped to see that people really are pretty much the same with only a few variations... yeah, probably wishful thinking, but, still, I like to have those thoughts, because the way we draw lines just makes me sad. But, really, I digress.

The point is that we are a people capable of thought. We are capable of thought. We are capable of thought. And thinking. And deciding. And weighing. And measuring. And listening. And understanding. Of sympathizing... and empathizing. What are you going to think about today?

[News blurb:
I have an interview going on today over at Melissa Lemon's place. Stop by and check it out.]


  1. It took me to ripe ol' middle age to learn to stop and think. Before that I was so reactionary and my mouth got me in lots of trouble. Older, and hopefully wiser, now.

  2. Don't have time to think. No wait, that's don't have time to bleed.
    People are people. I've lived in enough places and foreign countries to realize that we are far more similar than different.

  3. But if we don't divide ourselves, how will I show everyone else that I'm different and therefore superior to them?

  4. I've been listening to "Superfreakonomics" as an audiobook this week and last and so your comment about "looking at the data" got to me. There's a part on global warming in that book that shows that the data shows that global warming is occurring... but that part of the late increases have been making up lost ground from global cooling that occurred just prior to that.

    It goes on to talk about the various fixes, including the fact that a complete conversion to solar power might pump so much carbon into the atmosphere (because we have to burn fossil fuels right now to build enough solar) that it would make things worse for a long time before better.

    Which isn't to start an argument over global warming, but to point out: Which data should we listen to? The part about global warming being real? Or the part about how we can't really fix it for at least 100 years?

    Or the part about how even if we don't fix it it might not be a bad thing after all?

    One thing I realize over and over in my real job is that two people can look at the same set of facts and see completely different things -- especially if the incentive is there to do just that. Lawyers get paid to see the facts differently. If you were sued, you would receive a piece of paper from someone who was convinced that the facts add up to you owing her money. You might not want to pay, and so you find a lawyer who says "Look at these other facts: Andrew shouldn't have to pay," and you all then have access to the same world of facts, but are incentivized to come to completely different conclusions, because if one of you agrees with the other, that costs money.

    Controlling emotional responses to facts are important, which is why people hire lawyers in the first place, but all that does is replace one incentive ("I can't believe I got sued! I'm never going to pay this guy!") with another incentive ("I am going to make sure this client pays me to avoid being sued") and substituting in a different set of behaviors, again based on the same facts.

    So I'm not sure we can ever as a group come together and agree on the best way to deal with a set of facts. Consider guns, a hot button issue. The facts are that the US has more gun deaths than anywhere else, per capita, at least in the 'civilized' world. The facts are that there are tons more guns around than there are people to use them, even.

    Everyone knows that. But the incentives that drive the emotional response ("I don't want kids to die" vs. "I really like my guns") are impossible to control or rein in -- or at the least very very hard to do. There's a lot of reason to suspect that your emotional response to certain factors is hard-wired, or so close to that as to be beyond changing.

    If that's the case, then all the shootings in the world won't change your emotional response.

    What I think we can do is get people to examine their motivations more, and try to see if they can't align their motivations to work with someone else's. Abortion/pro-life is a good example: Both sides don't want women burdened with babies they didn't want or can't care for, and presumably neither side wants babies to die. There is a lot of room for compromise, but competing motivations ("I'm opposed to birth control!" "I don't like adoptions!") interfere, too.

    I'm not as pessimistic as Alex. But I do think the issue isn't just thinking, it's thinking about how we think.

  5. I can add nothing to this discussion in the wake of Briane's comment. Good post though.

  6. You know, I think I have so much to day about this, but typing on my phone is too hard and I'll wait til I get home - then I'll get home and think, do I really have that much to add?

    So yes, I had tons of thoughts - mostly brilliant ones - but I'm on my phone, so, I can't share them. Later, when I'm at home and have the opportunity I'll just not have the drive to type it all out because I'll remember that I have my own posts to worry about - and other blogs to visit.

    Needless to say, I had some real insight here.

  7. Maybe more thoughtful deliberation is the answer. But having people deliberate and truly consider things still wouldn't provide any kind of consensus. People come to decisions based on all kinds of input and life experience...attitudes. We'd all just disagree at a slower pace, wouldn't we? Maybe I need to give this some more thought ...

  8. While I do often trust my gut instincts, I tend to be an over-thinker, which I believe is a good thing. I also tend to put myself in the shoes of the other guy and often find myself arguing his side, even if I don't actually believe it, because I think its necessary for us to at least have an understanding of what others feel, believe, and think.

  9. JKIR,F!: That's the hope for all of us, but I think most people just get older.

    Alex: "If you cut me, won't I bleed...?"

    ABftS: You know, I was actually thinking about that whole "special snowflake" thing the other day, but, if you ever look at a field of snow, how many of those flakes do you see?

    Briane: Oh, no, I agree with all of that, BUT that's where the whole empathy thing comes in. Thinking about what would be the absolute best solution as opposed to what is just the best solution for me. Currently, we're not equipped to work those things out.

    And, since you brought up global warming, I think we're still on the warming trend of coming out of the last ice age, and I'm pretty sure that historical data tend to back that up. Which is not to say that humans haven't hastened the process, like taking a (bunch of) magnifying glass to a piece of ice out in the sun. Earth started out a tropical planet, and I think it's just returning to that, at the moment. Not that I don't understand why people want to "fix" it.

    Oh, and I shouldn't have to pay. In fact, they should be paying me! Just sayin.

    Michael: Briane does do that sometimes.

    Rusty: Well, I do hope you bring some of it back later. It's always good to look into the Rusty mind.

    L.G.: Going back to the previous posts, that's why people need to learn to take their emotions out of the decision-making process. Stop putting what they want into the process and just weigh the evidence, so to speak.

    Nancy: Empathizing is a good thing and the only way "unbiased" decisions can be reached.

  10. Sounds like this series is one of those "I could write a book about it" sort of things and maybe you should one day.

    I also think kids should be given classes in how to think as well as motivational classes that teach why to think. We tell kids how important math, science, or proper grammar are but they mostly don't care because these things don't seem to have immediate gratification. Often the educational pursuits don't seem all that important to many kids until it's too late or never.

    But I think perhaps for the most part government and business prefer a mass of bodies that don't think too hard and are willing to follow. To many thinkers spoil the hierarchy or something and that's not beneficial to those on top. Stifling thought may be purposely done in order to control the people. Give 'em games and entertainment and make sure they don't go too hungry. We have a lot of brain-numbed people out there and much of the time this is the easiest way to go.

    To be the thinker means responsibility which in turns means the potential of failure and looking bad in the eyes of others. I've always used this philosophy in the jobs I've had. If I liked what I was doing I made it a point to become a manager. Even though it was sometimes more stressful than just being one of the peons, there were perks and more money involved. Who wouldn't want that? Lots of people. That's why we have unions I guess.

    Have you ever compiled a life soundtrack?
    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  11. So politics works the way it does because everyone reacts before they think. That makes a sad amount of sense to me.

    We have the capability to think; it's time to use it and stop appealing to gut reactions.

  12. Lee: Yeah, well, I just don't see myself investing the time in writing anything non-fiction of that type. At least, not any time soon. Maybe, I'll change my mind one day.

    And, see, that thing you're saying there about responsibility is the reason that the government and businesses don't need to get us not to think. People don't like having responsibility so will cede it at any chance they get.

    Jeanne: Everyone reacts without bothering to think at all. But, yeah...

  13. I didn't have classes that were FORMALLY on thinking, but I have to say that some of my teachers managed to teach it anyway. Thank god for them, even if they did drag us there kicking and screaming.

    Not to go on about space exploration again (I know I do it all the time) but I really do think that's something that could unite humankind.

  14. Yeah, I nearly posted a rant on exactly what age it is we lose the lessons we learned in childhood. We teach our kids to compromise, yet we can't do that as adults. What is the magical age where we shed all of our manners, the ability to listen, to compromise? In short, why is it that as adults we act the least like adults should?

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  15. Callie: Oh, man, we even had to learn different ways to examine and think of things and how to apply them. I'm not remembering all of them at the moment, but things like analysis and synthesis. It was good. I remember enjoying that stuff a lot.
    I agree with you about space.

    Shannon: heh
    I read an article back before the election talking about how we all raise our kids to be socialist Democrats. "You have to share." "No hitting." Then they grow up to be Republicans. It made me laugh.