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The foundations of a personal belief system

Translate this page from English. Print Page Change Text Size: And my subtext is something like this. Intellectual work, deeply conceived, conduces to significant changes in intellectual skill and understanding.

Critical thinking, if somehow it became generalized in the world, would produce a new and very different world, a world which increasingly is not only in our interest but is necessary to our survival. But, what is critical thinking? There are many ways to initially define it. It opens up business. It opens up Chemistry. It opens up sports like tennis and basketball. It opens up professional practice.

  • It makes us little and petty;
  • The apostle Peter expressed himself in similar language when he warned about false teachers;
  • At every point in a class, at every moment of instruction, there is a question on the floor;
  • I emphasize the hammer;
  • Our thinking produces it.

It opens up Ethics and enables us to see through ideology. It enables us to put things into intellectual perspective. A system that opens up systems is one way to think of critical thinking. Critical thinking is thinking that analyzes thought, that assesses thought, and that transforms thought for the better.

Major belief systems

We have no choice about that. But, not everybody thinks about their thinking. And not everyone who thinks about their thinking thinks about it well. You can worry about your thinking. You can think badly of your thinking. You can be embarrassed by your thinking. You can focus on it in a dysfunctional way --- that is not critical thinking. In other words, critical thinking, as I am conceiving it, transforms thinking in two directions. You think more systematically as a result.

And you think more comprehensively as a result. And in thinking more comprehensively, you think at a higher level. Not because you are at a higher level as a person, but because you are able to put thinking into the background and see it in a larger, more comprehensive framework. Cultures are good in many ways. But, to the extent that they lock us in to one way of looking at the world, we need to transcend them. We need to think beyond them.

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Why is this important? We have no choice but to be governed by thought. The question is, do we govern the thought that governs us? Do we control them? Our future as a species is dependent on whether we can develop the wherewithal to raise our collective thinking so as to produce positive changes in societies across the world.

The task before us collectively is a Herculean one. That of developing critical societies. The idea of a critical society dates back many hundred years, but it was very pointedly called for in 1906, by William Graham Sumner, the great anthropologist, who emphasized in his seminal book, "Folkways," that if a critical society existed — that is, a society in which critical thinking was a major social value — if such a society were to emerge, it would transform every dimension of life and practice.

  1. It is significant is that all of these new paradigms and scientific theories are versions of a dynamic, interdependent, whole systems worldview, just as the New Physics is. Lovelock, 1991 In the life sciences, new thinking is challenging traditional notions of biological evolution and developing new interdependent conceptions of what constitutes a person and a society.
  2. I focus on the skillsaw.
  3. In terms of conflict resolution, it can be argued that if an individual is not conscious of their own cultural or religious socialization or programming--which influences people to a much greater extent than most individuals realize, then their behavior will in many ways be preconditioned, and on automatic pilot.
  4. Sorokin also proposed a fourth level of integration, which, in his view, was the highest form of integration.

We are far from such a society, but we need to think about it. It needs to be part of our vision. The structure of this conference suggests some of the most important dimensions of this vision.

Religion or Way of Life?

The conference has a four-part structure. The first is titled: Sociocentricity, our tendency to think within the confines of our social groups. Self-delusion, our tendency to create pictures of the world that deceive us and others. Narrow-mindedness, wherein we think of ourselves as broad, deep, and in touch with reality when, if only we understood, we would see ourselves as narrow and limited.

Or, think of the barrier of fear. Fear undermines thinking, fear drives us to the lowest levels of thought, fear makes us defensive. It makes us little and petty.

And then there is human insecurity. Then there is routine: When you go back to your home environment, ordinary routine will click in and many of you will find that the things you intended to do, the changes you intended to make, somehow are swallowed up in the ordinary routine of things.

  • Thus, self-deception exists at the universities;
  • Where can we get access to such points of view?
  • This can be done only person-by-person through a process, which we call intellectual work;
  • They look at the whole from the point of view of the part;
  • Two of these are for our purposes here quite trivial, namely spatial integration when entities simply occupy the same space and nothing more and external integration when two or more entities are linked to each other through some other entity, for example grass and flowers may grow together at the same rate because of the external factors of sun, soil and rain.

And connected to routine there is a huge obstacle: We have created all kinds of levels of monitoring and testing and controlling and limiting and sanctioning, ordering, defining our behavior and our thoughts. And, very often the bureaucrat forgets the purpose for which the institution exists. Bureaucrats rarely think about questions like what is education? Are we truly educating our the foundations of a personal belief system Are we serving their long-term development as thinkers? Then for us who are teaching, student resistance to critical thinking is an obstacle, because critical thinking asks those students to learn in a new way.

And it is a way that is not comfortable to most of them. Our thinking is limited by mistaken notions, by ignorance, by our limited knowledge, and by stubbornness, our activated ignorance.

And finally, our resistance to doing the intellectual work necessary to critical thinking. We need hundreds of millions of people around the world who have learned to take and internalize the foundations of critical thought. This can be done only person-by-person through a process, which we call intellectual work. Think of the "Elements of Thought: What is our purpose? What questions are we raising? What information are we using?

What assumptions are we making? What data are we gathering? What data do we not have? Given the data that we have, what is it telling us? And, when we come to conclusions about the data, what do those conclusions imply?

Within what point of view are we thinking? Do we need to consider another point of view? Where can we get access to such points of view? Questions like this are questions that embody the elements in very important ways. They are crucial questions. But, are we in the habit of asking them?

There's a wonderful book on historical thinking by Carr. The title of the book is "What is History? Which story is important? The construction of history requires value judgments.

Critical Thinking in Every Domain of Knowledge and Belief

It requires that we consider whose story needs to be told. And, when that story is told we need to critically consider what it is telling us; what is it teaching us. In which case, then, if we understood Carr, we would realize that we are all historical thinkers.

We're not all historians, but we all have a history. And the history can dominate us, or we can use it to our advantage. Our thinking produces it. Tell us about the past so we can see how heroic we are. Fine and good, but what does that imply about others. If we are the chosen people, then everyone else is not chosen. If we're number one, then everyone else is below us. So far I've only mentioned the Elements of Thought as structures we need to become conversant in.

  • Thus many mystical traditions focus on ways to quiet the overactive mind in meditation, and thus bring one's inner self to a state of peace;
  • Because if there's no question on the floor, there's nothing to think about;
  • And the history can dominate us, or we can use it to our advantage.

But, think for a moment of intellectual standards. When you're with a group of students, ask them the following question: What standards do you use to assess your thinking and the thinking of others? I've found that very few people can answer that question in an intelligible fashion.

Most students will say, I don't know what you're talking about.