Friday, January 29, 2016

Learning How to Think

Image credit: http://spiderson5000.deviantart.com/art/Chess-32971514

“Think for yourself! Don’t listen to me!” -Valek Xander in Complete Scoundrel ;-)
My late father, former Washington State Senator Kent Pullen, said that one of the most important things for children (and adults) to learn, and an area in which many are lacking, is “how to think”. Knowing how to think means having the abstract abilities to perceive, measure, evaluate, conclude, and reevaluate situations in life. My father recommended studying and playing the game of chess as a good way to learn how to think. Chess teaches one short term tactics, long term strategy, and the ability to assess a current situation, perceive a goal, and formulate plan of moves for how to get there.
How to think doesn’t mean simple concrete things such as having correct facts memorized (although that has its place). It also doesn’t mean having the “correct” subjective opinions about issues, or blindly following the ethical guidelines from our family, religion, or nation. We often try to tell our children and other people fixed ideas, or in other words get them to think the same way we do. For example, this political viewpoint is the best, this spiritual belief system is evil, and so on. However, it’s better to teach somebody the tools for how to evaluate criteria and come to their own conclusions (even if those views are different from our own) than to give them a prefabricated world view. Instead of giving people facts, give them tools. Instead of giving somebody a specific potato to feed them for a day, teach them how to cultivate potatoes in general and feed them for a lifetime.
For example, consider the validity of astrology. Many people adamantly believe in astrology while others think it is hogwash, and think it’s their duty to tell people one way or the other. However, arguments by themselves rarely change anybody’s views. See my earlier article, "Be an Example, Not a Preacher", for why that’s the case. Instead, it’s better to get both skeptics and believers to think more about the subject. You can accomplish much with respect to other people (and yourself) by asking the right questions in an open-minded and non-manipulative manner. For example: If astrology exists, in what ways might it influence people or the world? If it exists, what might the nature of astrological influences be, and through what means would they influence physical or non-physical life? If astrology exists, could it be proven, and if so what form might proof take and how might one actually prove it?
The result of these considerations or investigations can make one or both parties improve or change their opinion on a subject, instead of just taking somebody else’s word for it. The result might even benefit humanity, if it yields studies or conclusions that give evidence one way or the other. In other words, it’s far better to give somebody the time and space to come to their own conclusions. It’s fine to say things such as that based on my knowledge or current society’s knowledge, no definitive proof exists at this time for astrology, extraterrestrial life, or whatever subject. However, who knows what events will take place or what energies will be detected in the future? With quality thinking you can still make choices for the here and now, but they aren’t as dualistic and are flexible enough to be updated in the future.
Unfortunately, many people have agendas, or fixed ideas they wish to push or even force upon others. Of course, most people believe their own views are enlightened, and they’re not trying to manipulate anything but are rather “sharing the love” or some other positive effect. A common way to implement political views is by having policy taught in schools. For example, wanting to have prayer in public schools or wanting to keep religion out of schools are both cases of people trying to force their opinions. Many people want everyone’s kids to be indoctrinated with their beliefs, so the children will grow up supporting and furthering their interests. However, the best way to handle education is to teach children how to think for themselves and how to think in general. That way the next generation doesn’t grow up blindly towing a party line but is able to evolve and make changes based on things their elders weren’t aware of.
The progression from concrete thought to abstract thought (or rather from concrete only, to concrete combined with abstract) is an important stage of human evolution. One of the things that differentiates humans from animals is our well-developed ability to think, in comparison to animals which operate mostly on automatic instinct. Some animals have developed the capability to learn in many respects. Similarly, some humans have expanded their ways of thinking. Along with black and white concrete thinking, and abstract dynamic thinking, additional qualities can be developed on individual and group levels including compassion, intuition, and more. ♥

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