Cognitive Regression: The Age of Emotion

Understanding Thinking: Separating Emotions from Ideas

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” -Benjamin Franklin

The following contains excerpts from chapter 1 in Th!nk, by Michael LeGault:

Everybody wants progress but nobody likes change. Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. We are very comfortable with what we already believe and know. Change,  even of our opinions or thinking processes, has become the great anxiety for most people. Change is a beautiful thing if we embrace it and learn from it. Nothing in life is static. Everything is in constant motion, changing with the times. Without change there is no room for adaptation and evolution, and thus stunting growth and productive thinking.

Witty, clever thinking is becoming a lost art and increasingly becoming the exclusive domain of experts and gurus. The trend raises questions about Americans losing their intellectual ability to think. If we define thinking as the use of knowledge and reasoning to solve problems and plan and produce favorable outcomes, unfortunately, the answer is yes.

The intellectual qualities seen in American schools are getting worse every year. Critical thinking is a cognitive skill that permits a person to logically investigate a situation, problem, question, or phenomenon in order to make a judgment or a decision. For whatever reasons, today’s students lack the critical thinking skills that are necessary for higher education. Independent testing on our school children has confirmed deteriorating performance in reading, math and science for many years.

One after another these graduates are transporting their limited knowledge and deficient thinking skills into the fields of their chosen professions, as the next generation of teachers, doctors, financial analysts, sales representatives, and company managers. Thus we have teachers, healthcare workers, and managers with historically inferior critical thinking skills that are teaching, caring for patients and managing businesses. They hope that our minds possess a subconscious power to take in large amounts of information and sensory data and correctly size up a situation, solve a problem without the imposing presence of formal thought.

However, intuition and logic almost always overlap. Critical scientific reasoning almost always involves a component of intuition, and intuition is almost always informed by experience and hard knowledge won by reasoning things out. As noted, these elements of human psyche are all indispensable to critical and creative thinking. But as far as delivering results, as in favorable outcomes, critical thinking and its main elements, observation, logical reasoning and skepticism have a demonstrably better track record. As documented time and time again, statistics and analysis almost always beat instinct and guessing. Yet, if the case is closed about the overall superiority of critical thinking to improve decision-making, the mystery remains why subjectivity, emotion, and instinct have come to predominate in the lives of people and the wider society.

Knowledge: The Foundation of Thought

The technique by which we make good decisions and produce good work is a nuanced and interwoven mental process involving bits of emotion, observation, intuition, and critical reasoning. The emotion and intuition are the automatic parts, and observation and critical reasoning skills are acquired. The essential background to all of this is a solid base of knowledge. The broader the base, the more likely it is for one to have thought through and mastered different concepts, models, and ways of interpreting the world. The broader the base, the more likely all the parts will fit together. Just as intuition is possessed by all of us, so is the ability to think and reason critically.

Faulty Thinking

A product of the swelling desire for the easy and thought-free is a mass of blunders. And the root cause of these blunders can ultimately be traced to hazy, non-rigorous, institutionalized, faulty thinking: faulty thinking in government planning and execution, defectively conceived corporate strategies, an indifferent attitude to the value of knowledge and its power to fulfill our daily existence. The moral relativism of today’s society and the indifference to the heroic elements of life frustrate many political philosophers. If there is no such thing as good or bad, there is no meaning, no will to achieve, and no need for knowledge and inspired thought.

The most dangerous thing in the world today is not the evil perpetuated by dishonest men, but the indifference of the honest men.

The main culprits for the decline of critical thinkers are trash culture, marketing, reliance on therapy, aversion to risk, the self-esteem industry, lack of standards in the workplace and the classroom, and lax, hands-off parenting. Taken together, these habits and fashions have institutionalized mediocrity and glorified mental indolence, leading to the documented decline in critical thinking skills.

Faulty thinking is a result of two distinct but interwoven factors: the inability to think critically and a lack of will to think clearly. Often, the ability may be present, but the will or power to do so may be lacking or formally restricted. For example, critical and creative thinking at the level of a large corporation, university or government department, is most often the result of a collective will or consensus. There may be good analytical and critical thinkers in the organization, but their opinions can often be stifled. Thus, we must also be aware of the role played by institutionalized censorship of truth, ideas and ingenuity in the social patterns we take to be direct evidence of declining thinking skills.

There is evidence that modern America has evolved into a complex bureaucracy increasingly preoccupied with mastering rules and staying out of trouble, rather than one engaged by knowledge, progress, truth-seeking and clear innovative, analytical thinking. It is a society anxious about perceptions, directed by a sort of neurotic interplay of competing ideologies, political spin, commercial and marketing interests, and litigation concerns. A type of neurosis, or perhaps more succinctly a paralysis, involving competing governmental, legal, and bureaucratic interests, seems to be playing a role in our government’s recent blunders.

The view that the decline of critical thinking skills and the cheapening of intellectual life in American society is in some way the result of free will, and thus historically inevitable, must be challenged. Rather, it is the result of a flawed, passive way of perceiving the world, reinforced by the consensus of ever-present and powerful political forces. In this setting, it is essential that people create another paradigm shift, in which books, science, and the arts are as much a part of everyday conversation as sex and television. For it is essential for humans to use clear, rational thinking and its fundamental nourishment, knowledge. Superior thinking is important not only to our jobs, community and national interest, but to our identity as humans, our happiness and fulfillment in our professional and personal lives. Thinking is literally power.

Curiosity and Creativity: Flexing Your Mind Strengthens Your Brain

One way of illustrating this is to think of history’s most celebrated thinkers and inventors/discoverers. In our age of conflict, spin, counter-spin, and information overload, the view that the world and its puzzles will yield to creative insight and the light of reason may seem like an overly optimistic outlook. However, some of the best thinkers in history have proved this to be true. Using nothing but the power of their minds, these thinkers have unlocked the deepest secrets of the planet as well as the universe. Yet, perhaps their greatest achievement was their demonstration of the power of the human brain and its cognitive capabilities. Aristotle, among other philosophers, considered the mind to be the only thing separating man from the beasts, all other parts and functions of our bodies being the same.

We have become a society in which the first instinct is not to think clearly, it is to protect one’s backside. Today, paralyzed by various cultural, political, and social trends from any meaningful use of critical thinking in the search for truth, we have largely turned to emotion-based “analysis’ of any given situation or issue. They are the antithesis of rational inquiry, which is barred by the rules of this sport, as it might lead to a second thought, a concession point, an admission of error, a boring nuance of agreement, or a gloating reproach. Emotions are commonly mistaken for thinking. Emotion and subjectivity, not critical thinking, have become the overwhelmingly popular method of evaluating our world and making decisions. Emotion is commonly associated with creativity. Yet, this view is something of a conditioned myth. High intelligence and critical thinking are not incompatible with creativity; they are the essence of it.

Some minds are like concrete: permanently set and too rigid to move. However, we are all born with the ability to break down these barriers and regain flexibility in our minds. It is what got humans to this point in our long history.

Bad Outcomes are a Symptom of Faulty Thinking

The biggest puzzle is not solving and fixing a problem, it is fixing the thinking that causes problems. There is often a disconnect between thinking and action, between plan and execution and between intent and result. The problem with all of this is that the institutionalization of the systems that produce the values upon which civilization depends, ultimately bring about the destruction of that civilization. A civilization begins to break down when there is a loss of creative power in the souls of creative individuals. And in time, the differentiation and diversity that characterized a dynamic civilization is replaced by a tendency towards standardization and uniformity.

Creative and Productive societies are dynamic societies, capable of adapting to complex, changing conditions. America, the very symbol of initiative and individual responsibility, has become paralyzed by the illusion that institutions, not individual people, solve problems. The road of subjectivity and feeling leads not to a better society, but to an increasingly dysfunctional one, with an ever greater dependency on institutions, government programs, lawyers, therapy, and received information, superstition and dogma.

While reason can err or be used to justify injustice, reason also depends on an ordered social context, law, and some limitations on freedom. Reason, in essence, comes pre-packaged with ethics. Reason is a blend of skepticism and open-mindedness. Free people employing critical thinking in pursuit of their self-interest are naturally pursuing the world they want. It is not luxury, or corruption, or invasion per se that ultimately threatens and weakens a society, but moral and spiritual decline, or some sort of intellectual lethargy. This, it seems, exactly describes the situation in the United States today.

The Final Frontier: Saving One Mind At A Time

While the analysis is made with America in mind, it is not strictly limited in scope to American society, as many industrialized countries appear to be suffering for similar reasons. The main goal is to change the thinking and habits that have often lead to institutionalized dysfunction. Not changing institutions, but changing individual minds, one at a time. For there is a direct connection between the way people think and the society they get.

The overriding lesson of the history of civilizations is that many things are probable but nothing is inevitable. The world is changing, and Americans have traditionally been able to adapt better than most. It is essential for us to begin utilizing critical thinking, one person at a time. We can not realistically expect our Government or any institution to make this change happen for us.

Some defining characteristics of critical thinkers are that they acknowledge what they don’t know, whereas noncritical thinkers pretend to know more than they do; critical thinkers regard problems and controversial issues as exciting challenges, whereas uncritical thinkers regard problems and controversies as nuisances and threats to their egos; critical thinkers base judgments on evidence rather than personal preference, whereas noncritical thinkers base judgments on first impressions and gut reactions.Keeping one’s emotional, impulsive reactions under control is absolutely essential for good, clear thinking.

Asking questions is the basis for human knowledge. Humans have evolved into what we are today because of our ability to think, ask questions and problem solve. Without questions, curiosity or unknowns, there would be very little need for answers, solutions, and discoveries. Asking the correct questions is more important than how you find the answers. Your approach is the most important aspect of any decision one makes, action one takes, and conclusion one reaches. The approach represents the starting point, and if you start in the wrong direction it will be more difficult to reach the intended goal. Each individual needs to find their own motivation to take up the challenge of lifelong learning that leads to the development of good critical thinking.

Free your creativity and curiosity and quench your natural thirst for knowledge. Learning is its own reward, one that immeasurably adds to the quality and fulfillment of one’s life. In order to realize our personal and professional ambitions and goals, we need to think as well as we can.

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” – English Proverb

Critical thinking is not always perfect since it is the product of imperfect humans. However, maximizing our brainpower and its practical uses and tapping into the seemingly limitless potential is our best weapon against delusion, deception and misapprehension of ourselves and our lives. Challenge is the opportunity for greatness. As with anything, the key is moderation and balance.

Improving critical thinking skills and tapping the massive capacity and potential of the human brain is our final frontier. It is needed to secure our position in world where the most valued and prized possession is knowledge. Furthermore, it is indispensable to a healthy functioning society and to the restoration and reinforcement of the pillars on which our country was founded: Individual Liberty and Personal Responsibility and Accountability.

Change is inevitable. Progress is optional… The choice is in your hands.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” -Henry Ford

“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” -Vince Lombardi

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