Barnes: A few thoughts on thinking
Cogito, ergo, sum.
Descartes gave us these words: “I think, therefore I am.”
It wouldn’t hurt us to recover these significant words and reflect on them for a few minutes. I’m not sure many of us appreciate the gift Descartes provided us. I have this nagging thought that too few of us are engaged in serious thinking these days. And I’m not confining that comment to the White House.
We’ve being spoon-fed facts and truths so fast and continuously by the media that many of us have replaced the step of analytical examination with that of uncritical acceptance. “Breaking News” comes at us at breathtaking speed. Reflecting on what we are hearing is consistently interrupted by the next urgent headline.
One negative result of this is the increasing number of individuals who use and express opinions as if they were facts.
This reminds me of a statement by William James: “Too many people think they are thinking when all they are doing is rearranging their prejudices.”
There’s yet another factor that is tumbling thinking to a secondary level — it’s tough work! Thinking, especially with a degree of discipline, is hard. It doesn’t come easily to most of us. And we are conditioned to accept information in 30 second doses. Discriminating thinking is subverted and devalued.
Rather than evaluating issues for ourselves, we are falling for pablum that others are pressing upon us. Sadly, the pablum often looks good. Consequently, too many of us have become suckers for simplistic answers and explanations delivered by glib, superficial purveyors of snake-oil substances. As long as these charlatans sound reasonable, we tend to believe that what they are promoting must be acceptable.
One jaundiced result of the decline of critical thinking is that, as a society, we are endorsing “dumbing-down” approaches to issues, problems and life itself, which scoots by us at dazzling speeds.
We no longer are paying enough attention to the wisdom of Plato: “The life which is unexamined is not worth living.”
And, apparently, we no longer revere the words of Socrates: “There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.”
For many of us, quality education is still the key to combatting this destructive slide to personal misery and societal darkness. The hope is that educated, thoughtful persons will step forward to confront the increasing array of anti and non-thinking people imbued by their own importance and incapable of understanding the evil they are propounding and perpetuating.
“I think, therefore I am.”
Thank you, Descartes.