"The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking."
~John Kenneth Galbraith
This past Wednesday while on a business trip to the Midwest, I found myself in a hotel room with a little extra time on my hands at the end of the day. With nothing better to do, I decided to become one of the 25 million viewers that tuned to CNN to watch the Republican presidential debates.
So you might think that the topic of this week’s blog would be to discuss politics... but in fact, after wasting approximately 5 hours of my life reminding myself why I rarely watch television (especially the news), the last thing I really want to discuss is an election some 6 months from the first 2016 primary.
What I did find fascinating however was all of the editorial comments being made by the television pundits shortly after the debates.
I had just spent 5 entire hours witnessing the event first-hand. Why did I need someone to describe to me what I just witnessed for myself?
To top it all off, the on-air media personalities then felt compelled to interview other people who had also watched the debate to gather their opinions of who won, who lost, and/or who helped or hurt their overall standing...
So let me get this straight...
The media somehow felt the need to express their opinions... regarding other people’s opinions... describing what I had witnessed for myself... wow!
(...and now here I am giving you my opinions of the media’s opinions of other people’s opinions about some "news" event...)
At what point does an individual just learn to formulate an opinion... an idea... a thought for themselves without the aid of someone else? Are we actually capable of this task?
In today’s "information" society there is so much data available to us that it is absolutely impossible to read, distill, and process all of it and even if we could process all of it, would we or could we, formulate the same conclusions?
If scientists throughout the world can continue to debate causation, correlation, and effects where hard, repeatable, and irrefutable data is readily available... can you only imagine how difficult the task becomes when the data becomes subjective based on bias and past experiences of the researcher?
If I read a restaurant review, and the writer presents a positive or negative opinion of the experience they had, will I also have their same experience should I decide to patronize that same restaurant?
I would argue that my own restaurant experience could differ greatly than that of our restaurant reviewer based on my own biases, prejudices, and/or individual preferences.
It’s quite possible that they may find the preparation of the escargot irresistible... whereas the very idea of eating snails may make me nauseous.
The data is still there... the restaurant serves cooked snails... but the interpretation varies widely.
We all have our own individual belief system of what makes us happy... successful... safe... what we like... what we don’t like...
So where did our individual belief systems derive from?
A lot of what we believe was formulated from our parents and our immediate environment during our early development.
During the first years of our lives, we didn’t question anything our parents told us.
If they told us the sky was blue because of the reflection of the blue ocean, or that the moon was made of cheese, or that if we were really good Santa would come down the chimney and leave presents by our Christmas tree... we would believe them without question... we had no other plausible answers to refute them... plus we found presents under the tree on Christmas morning so who were we to argue.
And if our parents didn’t have the time or energy to offer up an easily digested reason, they could always go with the "catch-all" explanations: "because it’s magic" (my personal favorite with my kids) or "because God created it that way."
We liked this world. As toddlers, we felt comforted that everything had a plausible explanation.
As we grew older, we attended school where we read books, were taught about science and scientific methods, and discussed new ideas among our classmates.
Many of us (depending on the school’s curriculum) were taught to think critically.
Critical thinking allows us to examine available facts and data to create conclusions. Typically, the more data we have, the better our conclusions.
Somewhere along our educational process, we start to realize that many of the things that we first were told as young children... are not really true.
Sometimes we got angry, sometimes we were excited about the new possibilities of exploration, and sometimes we were just disillusioned that our parents had lied to us all along (spoiler alert: Santa Claus does not deliver presents on Christmas eve to good boys and girls and the reason a light bulb works is not magic... I’m sorry kids that I lied to you).
As we continue down our path of enlightenment, our entire belief system is at risk and is now threatened.
When our beliefs are in conflict with the data we can do one of two things:
- Ignore the data and continue to believe what we think regardless... or worse... knowingly modify the facts and data so it fits within our current belief system.
- Modify our beliefs to incorporate the new conclusions based on additional data and facts.
Herein lays the problem.
Our belief system is deep rooted and can’t easily be changed to fit each and every situation. Just like our system of laws in society... the data, cause and effect need to be debated and defended before being accepted. Conclusions need to be drawn.
Changing our core set of beliefs isn’t like changing our socks... they are a part of our very existence... our rules for living.
In addition, as stated earlier, many of the so called "facts" that are delivered to us are in truth... nothing more than opinions... which ultimately are based upon someone else’s belief system.
On top of that, many times, the facts and data are purposely manipulated by vested special interests to sway conclusions and/or public opinion.
Michael Moore (on the left) and Center for Medical Progress (on the right) have produced "mockumentary" films that are highly edited and which purposely misstate "facts" with the goal of persuading their audience to change their beliefs to suit their causes. These aren’t facts... they are special interest propaganda under the guise of facts.
Today, thanks to the internet, there is more information (and misinformation) available to us than ever before in the history of humankind.
We have all been endowed by our maker with a brain and have been trained throughout our lives to use our brain to make our own observations, weigh data, and create our own conclusions. We all have the tools necessary to formulate a belief system and to make our own decisions.
We do not need others to tell us what we’ve just witnessed for ourselves, what to think and believe, and/or how to act accordingly.
Go away... we already know how to think for ourselves thank you...
...and thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we encourage continuing the debate on critical thinking...
Jim Kalb President
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Website - www.optifuse.com
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