Bringing logic and magic together

COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2013 - 12:00am

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely. E.O. Wilson


You are what you think. Faulty thinking results from the inability to think critically and a lack of will to think clearly. Critical thinking plays a significant role in your physical and mental well-being. Critical thinking depends on analysis and logic, and on action. Critical thinking requires gathering, processing and evaluating information, and creative thinking uses this information to produce a result that would not have happened without that effort. Thus, critical thinking is the key to releasing the mind’s higher cognitive powers  creative thinking.”

This is the main thesis of Michael R. LeGault’s Think! Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye, a book that analyzes the social and cultural causes of the decline in critical and purposeful thinking as it offers proposals to do something about it.

The author posits that if you can no longer think effectively, and if you can’t reach a consensus about the nature of truth and reality, you can no longer govern yourself. As such, someone or something will think for you. He underscores that the entire history of human intellectual and material progress is the history of overturning your intuitive hunches and superstitions about the world by the use of critical reasoning.

It has been said that LeGault’s Think!  was written in response to Malcom Gladwell’s Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.  LeGault asserts that critical thinking is the driving force in making good decisions, while Gladwell insists that intuition is the key. Legault’s tome uncompromisingly defends the use of conscious, rational thought while Gladwell passionately stands by the merits of making crucial decisions quickly based largely on intuition, emotion, and other workings of the subconscious. Clearly, what emerges here is a delineation of two radically different ways of thinking; two competing mindsets that support two different directions.

Think! is organized into three sections: Causes, Inspirations , and Fixes. “Causes” deals with various philosophies that have contributed to the problem the book addresses. It discusses the effects of non-rational ideas on culture and presents ways to correct them. “Inspiration” presents a brief survey of some of history’s greatest thinkers: Einstein, Shakespeare, Newton, Copernicus, Darwin, and Edison. “Fixes” brings to the fore the basic elements of rational thinking, and an unflinching defense of wisdom or logic.  Here are some useful takeaways from LeGault’s work:

Critical thinking is a cognitive skill that permits you to logically investigate a situation, problem, question, or phenomenon in order to make a judgment or decision. It is a critical because it prevents you from jumping to conclusions by holding judgment in abeyance until evidence is available.

Critical thinking demands accountability and evidence before making a decision. It is essential to reining in or understanding your emotions and breaking down those self-limiting walls people have built. Not only is critical thinking needed to rationally assess and understand; it is a prerequisite for vigorous critical and creative thinking.

The observation and critical reasoning skills are the more difficult, acquired skills. Just as intuition is possessed by each of us, so is the ability to think and reason critically. As LeGault states, “I am certainly not out to bury intuition, ‘aha’ moments, or emotion. These elements of human psyche are all indispensable, but critical thinking and its main elements  observation, logical reasoning, and skepticism  has a demonstrably better track record.”

The rise of stress, or rather the symptoms of stress, in modern living is a sign not only that more people are in difficult situations, but that they are unable to respond to or think their way out of these situations. It is a sign, ultimately, that more people are having trouble taking charge of their lives. Today, stress and its co-conspirator, the so-called information overload, are two major factors in the weakening of mental energy needed to do creative, technical work and solve everyday problems. Stress destroys the ability to make good decisions. It can even result in fear that causes flaws in your perceptions that leads to erroneous thinking and conclusions.

Risk is a reality. The challenge is not to ignore it, but to see what it is and address it. Accepting risk requires a mind that is unclouded by fears or preconceptions about the way the world works.

The more you juggle your work or get engaged in multitasking, the less efficient you become at performing any one task, and the harder it is to remember where you left off. To be truly happy you need to use your mind. To be a really happy person you need to feel you have accomplished something. Just one act of taking control can expand your moral and intellectual horizons and make you a better critical and creative thinker.

Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that caused them. The biggest puzzle is not solving and fixing problems, per se; it is fixing the thinking that causes problems. You can improve your critical thinking by working to improve your memory, becoming a better observer, learning as much as you can, and being skeptical.

The computer-Internet-web is one of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind with unlimited potential to spread knowledge and uplift critical thinking. But, like many of mankind’s inventions, it also has the potential to be misused and actually accelerate idiocy. The computer, the Internet and software represent entirely new shifts, not just in terms of technology, but also in reality.  You now possess the power to create virtual realities and these new realities could become entirely self-contained social, cultural, economic and political systems in themselves. In these worlds, the video-game-playing, slacker teens are the new power brokers and savants.

The youth need to receive this message: If you want to be successful you need to develop your brain so you can think creatively, critically and “out-of-the-box.” And to ensure that this message gets to them early enough in a manner that they will understand and implement easily, you need “tough love” and mentoring approaches. If you look at the biographies of accomplished thinkers, they’ve all had an important “crystallizing” moment in their upbringings. Frank Lloyd Wright was exposed to arts and crafts through his aunt; Einstein was given a set of magnets that made him wonder about the hidden forces and underlying reality of the physical universe.

Modern imaging technologies have found that the brains of men and women are very different. LeGault explains, “There’s a huge body of evidence showing women are more adept at languages and men are better at math and spatial and abstract reasoning. But certainly there are also women who do math very well and men who are good with languages. This is a pattern that manifests itself on average. I’m not sure that in a society increasingly linked with digital technology these gender differences mean that much, other than what they always have  that men and women think differently.”

Improving critical-thinking skills and tapping the enormous capacity and potential of the human brain is your final frontier. It brings the benefits of a healthier body, a more secure job, a new and improved interest in life and a stronger, safer country.

Essentially, LeGault strongly believes that the seeds of terminal decay are to be found in taking your feelings and intuitions so seriously that you end up avoiding difficult thinking and hard reasoning.  As he underscores, “Both history and daily experience have confirmed time and again that critical thinking is a vastly superior method of solving problems and making decisions than an intuitive random approach. It sometimes relies on number crunching and statistics, but the basic elements are the same for all the critical thinking approaches used to write a report, figure ways to improve sales or fix a jammed garage door.”
Undoubtedly, you and many others are conditioned to think with your hearts and not your heads. This is encouraged in many fields, from media to the academic community.  “You have been taught to treasure feel-good intuitiveness that does not require much in the way of intellectual heavy lifting,” LeGault argues. Various researches will even tell you that the intuitive, emotional approach works best in connecting with people. The best advertising works, in fact, are anchored on emotionality.

Both LeGault and Gladwell have valid points. Gladwell’s principles will surely resonate well with a generation raised on “instants” and that uses emotion more than reason.  LeGault’s logical, rational thinking may be lost on many, but when taught, nurtured and embraced can truly bring great results. LeGault pushes for logic while Gladwell drumbeats for magic. Bring them together and they become a tandem to reckon with. After all, successful projects have their foundation on a logical strategy and a magical execution.

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