Thinking and feeling — engaging brain and heart in all things

Buddha said, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

Excellent advice, but what does it really mean? The simple answer is that we must apply our own reason and our own common sense to decisions about the validity of ideas and information. Sound easy? Perhaps it is – or perhaps not. Buddha was asking us to be critical thinkers who apply some healthy, balanced skepticism to the decision making process – and that requires a bit of work.

In 2012, perhaps as never before, we are being called upon to be critical thinkers. Which person running for President of the U.S. is best suited for the job? Will the world end on December 21? How do we manage limited financial resources in the face of virtually limitless need? How do we balance environmental responsibility with the need to manufacture goods and provide services? Is the person “preaching” to us the anti-Christ or a messiah? The list goes on and on, but the requirement for critical thinking is the same.

What does it mean to be a critical thinker? It means using our knowledge and intellect as effectively as possible to arrive at the most reasonable and justifiable decision or position possible. The goal of critical thinking is “to guarantee, as far as possible, that one’s beliefs and actions are justifiable and can withstand the test of rational analysis [emphasis added]” (from “Becoming a Critical Thinker,” Robert Todd Carroll, 2004).

Again this sounds fairly easy but there is a good bit of work involved. To apply rational analysis means we must have valid information. In other words, we must have a firm understanding of the basic principles and validated information on a subject.

Among the barriers to critical thinking are suggestibility, conformity and admiration for experts and authority. These factors are clearly present in the huge body of literature on crowd behavior, human response to authority, etc. One recent study revealed that 5% of the people in a crowd influence the behavior of the other 95%. In addition, there is considerable evidence that if statements are made over and over, loudly and in a confident manner, we are likely to believe them. This holds true even in the absence of any evidence of the truth of the statements being made.

Never before has the possibility of disinformation (either accidental or deliberate) been so significant. Anyone can publish anything they want on the Internet, whether the know what they are talking about or not. Anyone with a video camera or a decent cell phone can produce a video and post it on you-tube, with or without any kind of credible evidence supporting the contents. Anyone who can convince investors of a significant return on investment can produce a disaster move that will scare the h_ _ _ out of viewers, but not contain a single word of truth.

So before you make a decision about the end of the world, the end of an administration, or which stock to buy, think about it. Take some time to see what real experts in a field are saying. Measure everything you read and hear against your own reason and your own common sense.

To quote Jacob Needleman (noted professor, author, and philosopher), “Be open minded, but not so open minded that your brains fall out.”

Peace be with you.

ConnieJean Maven

Copyright 2012 ConnieJean Maven (and the person writing under this pen name)


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Nicci Winsmore
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 01:35:24

    The real problem is also the near absence of real education anymore. When you have more people electing American Idol rather than American president, you are in trouble. The general population is ignorant of how the government function, is brainwashed by television and its pundits who disseminate sound bites of lies and more don’t read anymore, and when I say read i don’t mean blogs, cartoons, I mean real books with intelligent words. So basically, common sense is mostly dead, critical judgment absent and we have a passive population digesting popcorn and fast foods.


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