Monday, June 19, 2017

critical thinking maybe

Being a little slower than the other kids on the block, it wasn't until my first year of college that the stuff I liked thinking about fell fairly neatly into something called "philosophy." Up until then, I hadn't really known that people made a profession of parsing the nettles of human existence. As a newcomer, I was delighted with "philosophy," not least because I realized I wasn't the only crazy guy in the neighborhood.

The first book assigned in class as "The Republic," by Plato and one of our first homework assignments came when the teacher divided the class in half and asked each half to take one half of some two-sided conundrum and then return to class prepared to debate the issue. I dove into my assignment (though I can't remember the topic) as I might have jumped into a chocolate milk shake ... woo-hoo! I studied my ass off, combing and re-combing my arguments. Finally, at perhaps 2 a.m., I realized I had done as much as I could.

I had just shut the book and straightened out my notes when I was smacked down hard: It wasn't enough to know what my arguments would be: In order to win the day, I would have to know what the opposing side would be likely to say. And so I began again, marshaling the arguments from the other side of the fence. It simply was not enough to know what I thought, no matter how dearly I loved it. I was exhausted, but determined. I plowed through, bringing the same verve to my opponents' probable views as I had to my own.

I didn't sleep much that night.

This, I guess, is one description of "critical thinking," though at the time I thought of it as a pain in the ass. How much easier to have my point of view and the hell with all the others. How much more soothing to assert my bias and stick with it irrespective of any counterpoint.

There is a point. There is a counterpoint. Being ignorant of either qualifies as ignorance. And no matter how closely combed and re-combed, there is always a bit of ignorance at the end -- the time when sleep demands its due and the word "approximately" gains a toe-hold.

Still, in an age of argumentation and bluster, I am happy to think that there was a time when I was willing to turn the subject on its head. To rethink. To critique a bias which, by self-sustaining definition, is pure as the driven snow.

And at this point, a silly video pops once more to mind:

That's right: Turn it around.

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