The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.
How do you think?
How did you just process the question above? Did you come at it from a perspective of it being a pointless question? Or did you contemplate what is happening in your mind when you look at the symbols (letters) that make up words which are put together to make a sentence, which connects in your brain as a sequence that is formulating the origin of a new concept in your mind…. which it must then contemplate prior to it formulating any kind of a response to the question.
The entire thought process is so deeply ingrained into our daily existence, we truly lose track of the miracle that is transpiring with each and every stimuli.
So, I am contemplating the basic question: how do we think? We are left with a technological answer which I have expounded upon in a previous discussion and we are also left with a secondary answer which completely ignores the technical variables and instead, focuses on your thinking process.
As I have shared previously, going back to Aristotle and before, there have been many brilliant minds which have contemplated the approach to thinking that different people employ.
In a society in which value is placed on the memorization and regurgitation of fact, you are more likely to find people who are capable of giving you straight answers but are far less capable of extrapolating something that is conceptual out of a set of variables. So when the emphasis is placed on structured knowledge you get one set of thinking that is very focused on accepting what it is told and readily repeating back what it has learned. In an alternate learning experience, people are taught the art of abstract thinking. This is the art of evaluating everything that is presented, contemplating the enormous set of variables that accompany where that knowledge is coming from so that we are more capable of both assessing the validity of that knowledge as well as the potential ramifications that come with the blanket acceptance of that knowledge being de facto without question.
In my mind, the distinction between the two is as vast as the universe is expansive. In a world in which we are rewarded for being attentive listeners who are capable of assimilating what we are told and highly capable of repeating that information and sharing it with others, then then we are in a closed loop which, by definition, is not likely to provide new territory for expansion of ideas, concepts, technologies and philosophy.
Whereas, in a world of critical thinkers, we are surrounded by a constant state of “why? And from that particular mindset, all progress stems. We can never become better than we were the day before by continually praising recitation of that which is already known.
Very early in my career, I was walking out of a meeting at Universal Studios and there were a crowd of teenagers with protest signs on the street corner at the entrance to the studio. They were protesting Martin Scorsese‘s film, The Last Temptation of Christ. I was surprised that this was happening because Martin is devoutly religious and I had seen the film and did not feel that there was anything insulting, inflammatory or controversial about his story of Jesus Christ. But, admittedly, I know so little about this subject, as to render my opinion meritless, other than being a film goer. So out of curiosity I walked up to some of the students who were protesting and I asked them what part of the movie they didn’t like. Their response was that they had not seen the film but that their pastor had told them how dangerous this movie was and that is why they were taking their time to stand out in front of Universal Studios to demonstrate.
I respect everybody’s right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate, even those who hold beliefs that are entirely disparate from those of my own. But I was cut short in their response because there was no personal knowledge in the equation. They were standing on the street, using their time to protest something that they had no idea about. To me, that is dangerous. That is a legion of foot soldiers who can be readily commanded to do something by a superior who desires to put them on a course of action without proper understanding or more importantly, thinking for themselves.
Not to be rude, I was not satisfied with that answer so I asked them again why would they protest something they have not seen and they did not have as cogent an answer as I might have hoped for. For all intents and purposes, their response, collectively, was because we were told it was an evil film and it was our responsibility to God to make the world know how dangerous this movie really was.
For someone like me, who is not raised with organized religion as the ruling variable, I listened to their response and let it go because I recognized that my effort to convince them to think for themselves would only fall on deaf ears. I was not a big fan of that movie, but for entirely different reasons than theirs. Once I got into the arts and saw art critics for a lot of their shortcomings, I stopped reading reviews of artistic projects because I didn’t care what they think. I want to see things and make my own observations and conclusions and that does not necessitate a paid writer telling me what they thought. That person could go into Baskin Robbins with me and be ecstatic about gummy worm ice cream, but that will not persuade me to eat it.
Life is packed with so many interesting and disparate variables as to give any brain that is fueled by curiosity with enough stimulation to last a lifetime. Losing contact with that resource in favor of allowing others to formulate your thoughts for you is one of the single biggest tragedies that any human being could potentially suffer. Being a critical thinker is one of the cornerstones to living a life of purpose.
So… again…. How do you think?