Is there one right way to think?
Here, I don’t mean the conclusions we come to with our thinking. If there is such a thing as truth, then there are right conclusions and wrong conclusions. If we’re not talking about a matter of opinion or preference or taste, if we’re referencing cold, hard facts, there is right and wrong, true and false, yea and nay. For instance, whatever angle you approach it from, if you arrive at the conclusion that two plus two equals anything other than four, you’ve arrived at the wrong conclusion.
But there can be different approaches to arrive at the right conclusion. One person may count on his fingers to reach that conclusion. Another may have learned “two plus two equals four” as a rote statement. Yet another may take an algebraic approach and solve for x to learn that x is 2 when 2x = 4.
So by asking, “Is there one right way to think?” I’m not asking about conclusions because I think there are factually right conclusions and wrong conclusions. I’m talking here about the ways we think. I’m talking about approaches. I’m talking about the process of thinking more so than the result. I’m talking about thinking styles.
In my question, the ends relate to the means. When I’m wondering about the one right style of thinking (or let’s open it up to say, “Are there thinking styles that are superior to other thinking styles?”), I’m really asking if some approaches to finding conclusions are more conducive to finding reliable conclusions—the right conclusions.
I’ve long recognized that I’m a linear thinker. Analytical. Left-brained. Point A to Point B to Point C. If this, then that. Right or wrong, true or false, black or white. To me, there’s no shame in it, so I’ll admit it: I’m logical. (It may not show up in my writing which can look pretty haphazard, but that’s what any testing I’ve done in this area tells me: I’m wired for logic.)
But while there’s no shame in being strongly left-brained, is there any reason for pride in that condition? Is it bragging to say I’m a logical, linear type thinker? Is that a superior way to think?
Sometimes in conversation, I find myself lost. I’m looking for linear thinking and finding circular. Or nothing quite so tidy as a circle. Some other random geometrical shape. A mutant star-shape with eleven irregular points coming out at uneven intervals. Scattershot ideas all over the place.
I get frustrated with this style of thinking, but I tell myself, “It’s okay. This individual doesn’t have to make sense. He or she doesn’t have to have an organized mind. Not this person’s area of gifting. This is probably just an artist.” I’m told it’s a right-brain thing.
And the world needs art. (I guess.) Being left-brained to the extreme, I tend to undervalue that side of life. I’m one of those Philistines who looks at the million-dollar abstract and says, “But what’s it supposed to be?” Yeah, if I had a million dollars to waste, it wouldn’t be on toothbrush splatters on a canvas.
I’ve noticed that these non-linear and (what I think of as) artistic types tend to be more emotional thinkers. The scattershot ideas in conversation are ones that appeal emotionally to the speaker/writer/artist in question. That’s the connection. The picture doesn’t have to look like anything in particular as long as it makes you feel something. (It makes me feel something, all right. Pity for the sucker who spent a million bucks on it.)
While I will own the label of left-brained and linear and logical, I won’t pretend I’m not severely emotional and even emotionally-driven. I’m certainly not lacking in the emotion department. And sometimes, I make decisions based on nothing other than those emotions. What I refuse to do is embrace it. I refuse to think this state of being can be a good thing. I refuse to let emotion take the place of reason just as I refuse to let reason take the place of emotion. We need both, but they need to reign in their separate domains.
So, yes, I guess I believe that some styles of thinking are superior when it comes to thinking. Feeling at the helm is a bad captain. The world needs art (I guess), but conclusion-finding shouldn’t be an artistic pursuit. We can’t feel our way to truth. We should be thinking our way to our beliefs. It doesn’t matter what I feel about two plus two. It matters what I think about it. I have to think about what I believe.
We can keep the feeling for other areas of life. The toothbrush splatters on the canvas, for instance. If they make you feel a certain way, go ahead and spend your millions on them as long as you can afford to waste your millions. Just don’t base your beliefs on your feelings. Your beliefs are far more vital than your millions.
Feelings can’t be a good guide to truth because emotion is notoriously unreliable and changeable. Although I’m frequently emotionally-driven and make emotional decisions, those decisions are not likely to be good decisions. Emotions change like the weather. While they are unavoidable and a hugely important part of life for good or ill, anything that needs to stand the test of time should not be built on them. They are very shifting sand.
Our beliefs are the foundations of our lives and their decisions. Even our feelings follow our beliefs, so belief needs to be grounded on solid rock. At least when it’s important, our beliefs need to be true.
The last couple posts I’ve been beating the drum of, “It matters what we believe. We have to seek out the truth. Belief has consequences.” And the mess we find ourselves in politically and societally at present is largely the consequence of a great deal of falsehood being accepted. And I think in this state of affairs we’re seeing a great deal of falsehood being accepted and acted upon because of feeling replacing thinking. This is where this style of thinking leads us. Chaos.
But here’s where this train of thought leads me: Is thinking any more likely to lead us to out to truth than feeling? Human thinking is also notoriously unreliable and fallible. Yes, there are a few things that can be reasoned out reliably through logic (like, two plus two), but there are so many things that can’t. All the things on the level of where we really live life are not mathematical equations.
I was raised to be suspicious of human reason. Authority was the solid rock on which to build one’s life. The Bible was true and the only reliable source of truth. That was all I needed to know.
I believe the Bible to be true and the only reliable source of truth. But here’s the issue: We are surrounded by many different “infallible” authorities. And they’re all saying different things. They can’t all be truly “infallible authorities.” (We can know reliably through logic that truth will not blatantly contradict itself.)
I was wrestling through this question the other day after I got started on the train of thought that began with, “Are some methods of thinking superior to others?” It came out at, “Are any methods of thinking reliable?” And the obvious conclusion (and, I think, the true one) I came to was, “No.” No, humans can’t reliably reason their way to most truths. If we could, we wouldn’t have so many varied beliefs on every subject under the sun. Again, there are a few things we should be able to agree on that logic tells us irrefutably (like, two plus two … and the law of non-contradiction). But most conclusions don’t fall into this irrefutable category. There’s universal agreement on practically nothing. We contradict each other all over the place. And the law of non-contradiction tells us we can’t all be right. We can all be wrong, but we can’t all be right if we’re contradicting each other all over the place.
And yet, we find we need some infallible authority somewhere if we’re to get through life building on some ground more solid than the shifting sand of an emotionally-driven belief set. Turns out our thinking may also be quite shifty.
But the solution to building on solid rock that I was raised to accept as true—divine authority—is fraught with the same difficulty. Which divine authority? There are many authorities claiming the divine stamp of approval (including scientism which exalts “science” virtually to the level of divine authority. Only heretics question “settled science,” and they must be burned at the stake of public opinion.) But all our different “divine authorities” contradict each other. They can all be false. They can’t all be true.
Is there any solid ground we can reach? Are we doomed to build on nothing more than shifting sand anywhere and everywhere?
We can see from the consequences we can observe all around us that it does matter what we believe. Believing falsehood when it comes to some important areas of belief produces chaos. And we can’t live in chaos for long.
But how are we to arrive at any important truths if we can’t get there through emotion, reason, or authority? What other options are left to us?
I’ve seen emotion in the place of reason for discovering truth to be disastrous. That method of “thinking” is scratched off the list for me.
But neither should we accept authority simply because we’re told the authority is an authority. This is also dangerous and often disastrous. (Jonestown comes to mind.)
With the conclusion I’ve come to on this train of thought, I’ll be accused by the people raised to believe as I was that I’m making human reason the ultimate judge of truth, that I’m exalting human reason over God’s Word, which is not my intent. But the simple truth is that our truth search must start with human reason. I don’t believe we can arrive at all truth by thinking our way there. But we must start our truth search by thinking about truth. We have no other options. It’s the shifting sand we have as our starting point to start our journey to the higher, solid rock suitable for building.
I have arrived at a place where I do believe in one, divine authority. I do accept the Bible as the revealed message of the One True God. And that’s the solid rock I’ve chosen to build my life on.
But I could only get there and stay there and build on it by first thinking about it. And this is the thinking method I would advocate to any other truth-searchers out there: thinking.
I’ve often watched those who once thought they believed the Bible because they felt a certain way about it fall away from that belief. Those feelings were nothing more than beach-front property that had no defense against the hurricane of doubt that will inevitably test anything built on the sand. I’ve seen the same thing happen to those who accepted the Bible as God’s Word based on nothing more than their acceptance of the second-hand authority that told them it was divine authority.
Those who best stay the course in their beliefs (of all shapes, sizes and descriptions) are those who’ve thought through their beliefs.
It’s interesting that we’re told in that book I’ve accepted as divinely authoritative that it’s all about what we believe that makes the difference in our lives. I define “believe” as, “to think to be true.” Within the command to believe, we are implicitly commanded to think.
Sorry, right-brainers. You may be more fun and exciting and colourful than us left-brainers, but we have something to contribute, too. You’ll have to learn to do more than feel about things. Feeling is a necessary part of life, and I need to stop turning up my nose at your art and learn from you in those areas of life, but thinking is also a necessary exercise. I highly recommend it.