Wednesday, December 30, 2015

NUBBY Guest Post! Critical Thinking: Having better conversations

The Bubble has the best readers in the world! While I am on a minor blogging break, furiously working on my little book project, Nubby has graciously come forth to fill the gap and has written a fantastic guest post! Anyone who has spent any time in the Bubble over the years knows that Nubby is brilliant, witty, no-nonsense, and just a great Catholic lady. We all are about to learn something important right now. Take it away, Nubby!

CRITICAL THINKING – Having better conversations

“If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”
-- W. Edwards Deming, PhD., statistician, electrical engineer, professor, author, lecturer, and management consultant.

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford

Hello Bubble Readers,

Leila was kind enough to give me space on her blog to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on thinking – specifically, to give examples of two techniques that are sometimes used in logical problem solving in the private sector.  One can search for all kinds of charts or explanations online regarding the principles involved in critical thinking and various skills that should be practiced to acquire smarter habits of thinking (which are helpful), but here I’ve just written up a summary of two useful tools that I’m familiar with.

Before I begin a rundown on mere process, I think it’s important to take a step back and include an explanation of why we’re exploring this topic of logical problem solving on a faith-based blog in the first place. Why are these techniques valuable here or in any discussion?  Why is this topic of logical thinking pertinent to the interactions we have here in the Bubble? 

It’s common knowledge that here on Leila’s blog her purpose is to teach the faith and to engage the wider culture at large.  This means, of course, that her audience could be very broad and that her blog posts can usually generate a variety of perspectives from any number of people who respond in the comments section.  This can be useful and entertaining as we know.  Leila’s template here gives everyone a platform to contribute freely without censorship (unless there’s vulgarity), and she has always promoted the idea of clarity over agreement.  Her goal is to see transparency of thought -- not merely for purposes of debate, but for the wider idea of educating her readership.

And here we’ve hit upon the issue of why I’m writing about logical approaches to problems:  The main problematic issue that I see within the conversations in the Bubble (and Leila sees it, too) is that often times when commenters challenge the main idea of any given post of Leila’s, they typically start out with an emotional reaction and they continue to mentally wander around in that.  The comments get stuck in nugatory thoughts that ignore the facts and disregard the logical application of those, and so we just end up chasing opinions.  This doesn’t happen on purpose, perhaps, but it definitely illustrates why we should be (in my opinion) talking about logical reasoning, as we are in this post.

Picture the discussions like this:  There’s a wide open pasture with nothing but horizon.  Everyone wanders, everyone opines.  The point of the comments and of the interaction is to start fencing off the thoughts, to corral the thoughts, so that if we’re going to “wander” and challenge intellectually then we’re going to do that together.  We should aim to wander within the same logical parameters in order to clear up the thoughts, and to hopefully reach clearer intellectual insight on various points of discussion.  We can’t have good or (even entertaining) dialogue if everyone wanders and nobody’s thoughts tie into anyone else’s.  We can all agree on this.

So what’s a good approach to foster a better conversation?  Here are a couple of techniques summarized briefly and casually that will illustrate what Leila is shooting for here at the Bubble when she reiterates “clarity over agreement”:

Technique #1: Splitting the Dictionary

One problem-solving technique used in the business sphere is called, “Splitting the Dictionary”.   If you’ve ever played the childhood game, “Bigger than a Breadbox” or “20 Questions”, you’ll notice the similarities in technique.  How does it work?  A single question is asked that immediately divides the possible answers/solutions:  50% possible and 50% impossible.  A person then asks another question to split the remaining 50% the same way.  So in a mere two questions you have ruled out 75% of the possibilities. You’re now down to 25% to be analyzed.  That’s it.  The rest is off the table.

It’s a logical reduction. You can further split that 25% down with relevant questions and so on.  Consider how much irrelevance and conversational noise we’ve eliminated in just two questions!

This is a very useful method that drives clarity of thought.  This is probably the same formula used in those “magic mind reader”-type games.  You know, “Ask the thing a question and it will read your mind”?  They most likely use a similar splitting technique and funnel the possibilities.  That’s all.

The goal -- and the skill necessary -- is to ask pertinent, logical questions.  For instance, when you play “Bigger than a Breadbox”, an example of an unintelligent question would be, “Is it silver?”  Why isn’t this a smart question?  It’s not smart because you have not narrowed much down, not gained much new information, and you’ve left all the other colors besides silver as a possibility to sift through.

A better question for a tidier conversation is, “Is it alive?”  Then you know -- in one question alone -- that your answer will only include those things logical to the answer of “yes” or “no”.  You’ve halved the possibilities in one question.  Your goal is to effectively cut in half, and then cut in half again, etc.

It’s all about reduction of possibilities so that you can focus on the more detailed questions of what logically remains.  This is a tool often used to get people closer to a solution.  It’s not statistics or math, but it is a way to reduce possibilities and to trouble shoot for a logical solution (or at least for clearer thought towards that).

Essentially what this sounds like in action in the Bubble is:

“Ok, here are the facts on the post on the Resurrection of Jesus (for example).  Here are the opinions. Everyone has given their input.  Now couple the facts to opinion.  Start with one question to ‘set the table’.  Ask one question to clear off what doesn’t belong and leave the rest for exploring.  Categorize: If this question is true, then, say, we’ll move 50% of these possibilities off to the left since they can’t be true, but we’ll move 50% to the right, because they potentially could be true.”

Then you’re on a systematic road to exploring, reducing, and perhaps seeing the logical answer -- or at least seeing the logic in the possible answers -- without someone popping over on to the other side of the dividing line, bringing up what has already been logically dismissed.  “Timeout.  We’re over here now, on the right.  These are the only pertinent possibilities.”

We use this method to parse and analyze.  We simplify, compartmentalize, reduce, and synthesize. We want to drive good dialogue and separate fact from opinion now that everyone has given their input, and from there we logically apply the facts and distill down the thoughts.

See, facts talk to logic, and logic gives clarity, and clarity gives the answer/solution.  So there’s no real discussion until we all agree on these: Do we all understand what is what?  Have we guided the thinking and explored together?  Have we pruned off the extra noise of the conversation and focused on what is relevant to the facts and therefore to the logic?

Technique #2: Extreme Contrast

There’s another logical tool implemented in problem solving application that deals with analyzing through extreme contrast.  Certain work projects have tagged these as, “a BoB and a WoW”.  That stands for “Best of the Best and Worst of the Worst”.  So we use what is called ‘extreme contrast’. We mix and match to trouble shoot a solution to fix the ‘worst’.

A simple example from everyday life I can use here is an example of two different light bulbs in two different lamps.  You know you have the Best bulb working in one lamp already.  That’s your tester to put in the lamp with the bulb that doesn’t light up.

If it lights up, then you know it’s a bulb issue with your non-lighting bulb, because this (best) one lights in this lamp (the other bulb didn’t).  If the best tester bulb doesn’t light up then we know it’s a lamp issue, because we know this bulb works since it came out of a lamp where it worked.  You need to prove if the bulb is any good and, likewise, you prove if the lamp has any issues.

Essentially, this extreme contrast is helpful to drive better dialogue in the Bubble because it’s a line of thinking that contrasts meanings of things against a standard (a Best or a tester).  It’s a process of holding up ideas to a standard that’s already in place (like our working lightbulb and working lamp).  We test what seemingly doesn’t work against what is already working (logically).  But so as not to confuse you, reader, just think in terms of these types of good questions that are outside the realm of feelings and peer inside at the dialogue, objectively:

Are the facts driving the logic? Does the logic align with the facts? Am I being accurate in my thoughts by holding them up to a firm standard or next to a working theory?

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
-- Albert Einstein

Leila’s aim in questioning her readers and commenters here is to promote thinking in a culture that, quite honestly, doesn’t “think” as much as it “feels”.  This is a common complaint we raise here at the Bubble, and the factors that contribute to this intellectual cultural laziness are many.  But this quote above attributed to Einstein should hopefully inspire us to stick with the learning process in order to acquire the skills to learn how to think better.

And this quote below from the late, great Pope St. John Paul II should inspire us as to the “why” it’s important to learn to correctly put the right questions together:

"Step by step, then, we are assembling the terms of the question. It is the nature of the human being to seek the truth. This search looks not only to the attainment of truths which are partial, empirical or scientific; nor is it only in individual acts of decision-making that people seek the true good. Their search looks towards an ulterior truth which would explain the meaning of life. And it is therefore a search which can reach its end only in reaching the absolute.” 
-- Pope St. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio


  1. Thanks for the kind words and for the blog space, Leila. It's an honor, and it was fun writing a post for the Bubble.

  2. Good one, Nubby! Friend of mine used to like to quip, "Think before you think!" Meaning, sometimes we do well to analyze our own thinking mode, given that ever so often, closed mindedness, prejudices, or more commonly, subtle ole confirmation biases, play havoc with our thinking. And then with our conversations.

  3. Thanks, Francis. I agree and I think Leila's 'conversational comments' design here works well for bouncing thoughts off the wall so that we can literally hear ourselves think aloud.

    We don’t know how we sound until our thoughts are put on the table to be challenged. And challenge is good because it means better interaction, better conversation, better mental effort toward a logical (and even at times, very creative) end. Otherwise, we just have a bulletin board of random interjections and no real interaction, ya know?

    I think a main strength of Leila’s blog is that she’s willing to draw people out into deeper intellectual waters if they’re willing to go there. Synthesizing can only come after analyzing, right.

  4. Great post! If anyone hasn't read this book and has the time to read it, I recommend "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer Adler. The books is obviously aimed at intelligent reading, but I think the basic structure can pertain to debate and discussion as well. First, one must truly seek to understand the author -- define terms with intended usage, define the problem that the author hopes to solve, outline the overall and detailed structure of the book, re-state the basic arguments by pulling out key sentences and terms, define assumptions and go with the assumptions for the sake of understanding the argument, etc., and do all this without offering judgment first. Only after one understands the argument can one actually decide to agree, disagree, or seek further information. Too often, we start by agreeing or disagreeing, jumping into the debate, without first understanding the author's actual position, goals, or arguments. And then we miss the whole point. We fail to build on any logical foundation.

    While one can't usually debate in real time with a book's author, we have the benefit of doing that here. Leila's blog does start with a basic text, the original post, and it helps to first understand the original post (and subsequent comments) before discussing further. We can waste a lot of time and gain very little if we don't first seek to understand each other before exploring the problems further.

  5. Nubby, this is very good. I appreciate someone teaching me how to think. I like thinking, but was never taught how to do it well. I can safely say that 80% or more of American schools (through high school) do not teach us how to think logically, they do not challenge us to think logically. I am very saddened and embarrassed by it.

  6. And then when you understand the argument and disagree, I appreciate Adler's general rules of criticism:
    1. Show wherein the author is uninformed.
    2. Show wherein the author is misinformed.
    3. Show wherein the author is illogical.
    4. Show wherein the author's analysis or account is incomplete.

  7. Thanks, Elizabeth. Adler uses a basic logical approach to problem solving there. That’s a good recommendation. Defining terms is key, as we know here in the Bubble. We get hung up on that step quite a bit here, especially as it relates to all the gender confusion and ssm marriage comments/arguments at times.

    How can we argue it if we don’t agree on what’s what, right? If I put this particular term on a whiteboard and Jacob puts the same term up there with a different meaning, then we’re not even off the ground to begin argue. Ha.

    Even defining a basic premise is a challenge with commenters sometimes. I think one time on the Bubble it took well over 400 comments before any non-believer posited a basic premise to even begin the arguing process which was, “where do morals come from, if not God”. We spent so much time trying to get them to see how they were not even thinking about thinking. That was both interesting and exasperating. :0) Hopefully it gave people pause, anyway.

    Thanks for the kind words, mom of 6. I completely agree that people are not taught how to think and it’s actually a detriment to creativity as well as to mere logical problem solving. Critical thinking includes innovation as well logic and facts. Look what Einstein was able to do by being innovative enough with what he projected out intellectually, being so trained in his specialty. He was trying to solve something within the realm of science, yes, trying to figure it and articulate it, but that required amazing creativity and vision- those are things that can be taught, believe it or not, just as logical thinking can be taught. Glad you enjoyed the post, thx.

  8. Really great post! I had to have a cup of coffee before I 'got it' but second time around and 6 ounces later I totally do. Thank you!

  9. Thanks, Monica. I guess I could've compared these techniques to how we approach story problems, as well. We have the info in front of us, we extract what we know, and we can see what we still need to know or figure out, right. It's a question of "What is the need here?" It's parsing and then piecing then tying together.

    Logical thinking is typically systematic, but it's much more than just, "Here's a problem, solve it. Here's a problem, solve it. Etc." We can actually be trained to become more intuitive -- if only the educational system helped this along. It is an important skill set to have for use in life, in general.

    I appreciate that Leila encourages this skill here on the LCB with her conversations that are designed to gather ideas and then walk through those, as people may never have considered logical thinking nor been taught it before. It's a perspective that can give clarity and, even therefore, peace of mind in a culture that seems to eat only a main diet of hyped-up drama, regardless of the bottom facts.

  10. What is really great about this discussion and this forum (being able to comment and hash things out) is that it has actually helped me separate my own thoughts (logic from emotion) and also a few things have stuck out to me. I remember once I said something about how would Miss Gwen's friend's child feel when she one day discovered that Miss Gwen (whom she loves) had offered to pay to have her aborted, and Miss Gwen told me "I thought you said we are not to go by emotions/feelings" (or something like that, forgive me if I have the details wrong). I was able to clarify that as humans we DO have emotions and that is a very, very good thing; no one was arguing that emotions are not important and real and good. Emotions often help us feel truths more deeply. But the problem comes when emotions are at odds with the Truth, when they take us away from what is true, or distract us from what is true, rather than simply (and rightly) reinforcing what is true and good and right.

    Hope that makes sense!

  11. Exactly, Leila. Emotions serve a purpose, no doubt. But that doesn't make them the the sole criterion of what is true or what makes something "right". We don't analyze with emotion, we use our logical reasoning capacity, a completely different area of the brain, even.

    Even if you may not like what you're analyzing (emotional reaction), you don't chuck it all and quit the analytical process. You still call on your logical reasoning to finish the job.

  12. Readers: Here’s a glaring example of how not to think, especially in the sciences, and then two points I’d like to make in my critique of this.

    The people mentioned below have failed to critically think in the design of their test. Therefore, they cannot reproduce their findings which basically means… the results are not useful:

    “In August, a very large group of researchers published a study in which they tried to recreate 100 psychology studies that had recently been published in major psychology journals. They found that only 39 of those studies’ results could be replicated. The scientists suggested two possible explanations for finding: it could mean that the studies were wrong, or it could mean the difficulty of designing a reproducible study got in the way.”
    - “A surprising number of psychology studies can’t be reproduced” – by Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge News

    39%?? And the amount of researchers re-producing these tests per the article is 270. A team of this size could not reproduce these findings? How awful was the initial design? I don’t know whether to hiccup or do the hula.

    Point 1: They should understand the snapshot of the methodology, mentally-speaking, before even designing the test.

    Step One of critical thinking in terms of testing is, “What will the design of this test look like? What will it include, exclude, or indicate based on what we’re trying to capture or predict? What’s our criteria going to be? We need to be sure that it’s all measurable, re-producible, and predictable, from the same ‘zero point’.” To say the least. Then you design it for that purpose. It’s a very basic starting point before you even put pen to paper.

    Do they calibrate their tools, which includes their method and their philosophy?

    New bumper sticker idea for test designers in the psychologies department:
    It’ll be heavy competition for our “Co-exist” friends, because “Co-calibrate” actually has real sense behind it.

    Point 2:
    Critical Thinking Question: If you’re not paying attention to the design, or it’s too difficult to design a re-producible test, then what exactly are you doing? Just doing “stuff”??

    “Oh, you know… just… gathering info and having some fun.. doo-ta-dooo… this is super work sure to promise super results, huh?” No.

    Psychology won’t be 100% reproducible, okay, maybe, fine-- but it should sure as heck be showing results greater than 39%. That’s just awful design. So critical thinking was really not even part of the equation here. We need to learn to ask the right questions and how to ask those.

  13. Nubby, please come teach my kids. What you describe is the opposite of how our culture converses about things. The typical conversation now-a-days is a simple race to "each person can believe whatever they want" without ever identifying what the key components "are". All emotion and feeling and no agreed upon truth. Marriage is a perfect example. Nobody will define it because that will erase most of the relivancy of their feelings. And God forbid we eliminate that highest level of evidence! ( your feelings that is). Relativism rules and simple truth and defining terms takes
    a back seat. This is considered high end intellectual thinking. 10 minutes spent on how you feel and everybody can rest in their "secure space".
    You should apply for the dorm mother job at Yale. I'd be happy to slow slide pucks to you so you can slap them into the crowd. The first kid who fights back get an "A" and becomes a block captain or something.
    I also love LCB for the same reasons. Leila takes questions all the way out as far as they can go. You and All the commenters don't rest and that is very attractive these days.

  14. Haha, I'd love to help teach your whippersnappers. I average 5-6 hrs a month volunteering at the school here and love every minute of it. It's always been one of my favorite things to do- teach.

    I totally agree that no one defines anything-- or they re-define it to include everything-- so that it renders everything meaningless. If I have 54 labels just to determine my "gender" of the day, then I've not only failed to simplify and clear up any confusion, but I'm living under "labels" and "sub-labels" which is supposedly a no-no in our culture, anyway.

    Illogical alert: Which is it? Am I to be over-labeled because that's what I prefer, or not labeled at all because of the new stress of "micro aggression"? It's like, no kidding that everyone's confused on where to stand. Label-overload in a culture where definitions mean anything and, therefore, mean nothing, is not exactly healthy mentally or logically.

    I would last a whole two minutes at the dorm job- if I even got a second look passed the interviews. "Rule #1: Any of ya's cries ta me about something as moronic as what to wear for holidays, and I'll make you stand in as the new pylons during puck possession drills. You won't like it.".." Lol....

    Get jumping on that Aquinas... we need brilliance in droves cuz the internet is so dumb to read.

  15. Question for Nubby or Leila because they always have great answers, and I'm sorry if it's a bit off topic. someone said the catholic faith actually teaches that we don't need to suffer/shouldn't suffer because Christ suffered for us. Response?

  16. Hi Beth,
    No worries. We're going to look at this question logically. :O)

    What's their logic? Their logic is that because Jesus suffered and died for us that somehow we should be given (or have been given) a pass from all suffering.
    Is that what the gospel really teaches? No.

    The whole point of Jesus’ suffering was to give us salvation by Jesus' suffering, dying, and rising again-- not a promise to be free from all suffering while here on earth.

    Besides, look at what that remark of that person fails to take into account:
    1) St. Paul wrote about suffering in Colossians 1:24- you can show this to the person who remarked to you. Suffering can be joined to Christ's suffering for salvation of souls. In other words, it's useful if offered up. Straight from St. Paul.

    2) We're part of a fallen world and suffering is part of our existence. Do we need to seek out suffering? No. Can we avoid it and alleviate it? Yes.

    3) The idea that we should always be free and clear of suffering is a "prosperity gospel" belief. We can do what we can to be healed and cured and can receive that as God wills it, but Catholic teaching is never split off from or removed from the central idea of the Cross (suffering).

    How, logically, could it be, when Jesus taught that no servant is greater than His master, and that anyone following him must "take up his cross and follow me"?

    Do they just ignore that whole "cross" sticking point?

    1. Let me clarify this -- * Can we avoid it and alleviate it? Yes. However, euthanasia is never morally acceptable so there are moral limits explained in the Church's moral teaching. It's not a blanket "yes". I wanted to be clearer on that, since people can run with the notion that since we can avoid suffering, well, what's the harm in euthanasia? The harm is that it is morally unacceptable and expressly forbidden.

  17. That person is basically binding Jesus to his own ideas, his own will, by forcing Him to perform on demand. Not gonna happen. Jesus' plan for redemption of souls is a method we don't understand and it most always includes some form of human suffering that glorifies God and saves souls.

    We have no clue about the method. And we cannot superficially project our wishes onto Him and demand that He owes us freedom from suffering, just the way we want it, because "He already took care of it" on the cross. No. He's not a puppet, right. He heals as He wishes the way He wants. This is part of humble submission. This is part of the mystery of God. This is part of what it means when Scripture says that eye has not see, ear has not heard, the things that God has prepared for those who love Him. 1 Cor 2:9 It's a matter of trust.

  18. Can someone explain to me the logic (!?) of Common Core's math instruction here. The math problem was this:
    “Use the repeated-addition strategy to solve 5x3.”

    And they mark 5+5+5=15 as incorrect.
    Can we just ... can we have sane instruction in our schools?

    Logic. So important to teach our kids.

  19. I got it! 3+3+3+3+3=15. Now that's correct.
    Touchdown dance!
    You of all people should know that.

    Beth, was it catholic saying that or a protestant?

  20. Thank you, Nubby! You make so much sense and are so calm and rational, while my first instinct is to shout, "you're wrong - end of story!" Chris, this comment was made by someone I don't know but who is Catholic and wrote that everyone was so wronged by JPII and Benedict, and that once she learned the faith properly from Jesuits, she learned we don't need to suffer. This was people commenting on an article about the bad side of Mother Teresa and how most people don't know horrible secrets about her. Sigh.

  21. Heheh, yea, boss, um... they're both correct. Repeated addition is just a commutative property. Order of factors or addends doesn't matter. Common Core's "reasoning" was that they're looking for "grouping". Well, Common Core, order of grouping is irrelevant in multiplication.

    This did not happen in my school system. I'd be knocking on the principal's door faster than you can say, "Can you even multiply?"

  22. Don't get me started on Common Core!! Lol

  23. "If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign that He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint. And if you wish to become a great saint, entreat Him yourself to give you much opportunity for suffering; for there is no wood better to kindle the fire of holy love than the wood of the cross, which Christ used for His own great sacrifice of boundless charity."
    Ignatius of Loyola

    Now who moved?

  24. Off topic but since Leila is not watching I wanted share this. Unique in today's sport's world and good to share with teens. Solid.

  25. I like Rivers but I never watch a lot of AFC football. NFC fans here. I saw his conversion story years ago. It was interesting.

    One of my favorites is Roger Staubach, have you seen his story on "A Football Life"? He's the one who dubbed the "Hail Mary" pass because he threw it 50 yards as he said a Hail Mary and they won their playoff game. Just a hugely talented (legendary), humble, giving guy. Really interesting story.

  26. Hi Joan of Arc! Great post! What do you make of the following:

    The emotions (feelings) that can get in the way of a logical argument are "the gut" - something much emphasized in today's culture. "Do what your gut tells you". "Follow your deepest desires". "Do what you're passionate about". This can be good, but it's not enough. The gut wants something uncritically. The gut also beholds the beautiful.

    One step further, we come to Joan of Arc of America - we engage the brain. This is troublesome, because a) it requires effort, and b) it might tell us that what the gut wants actually doesn't make sense, it isn't true. The brain, logic, discerns what is true and untrue.

    But what's true isn't necessarily good. We can clone human beings - science, i.e. the brain, got us there. Obviously, many people's guts want it strongly - picture a mother who lost her beloved child to an accident.

    So we need the heart, the will, a well-formed conscience - even harder than critical thinking (though much easier if we ask for the Lord's help and trust Him unreservedly - that's the only hard part). The heart - God - tells us what's good, even if we don't like doing it at the moment, even if it's technically possible.

    My question: Shouldn't we aim to integrate emotion (the beautiful), thought/logic (the true) and the heart (the good) in all our decisions, including how we conduct an online debate? Am I mixing up categories, or off topic?

  27. Hello, St. John the Apostle! :o)

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. It’s good to consider what you wrote because we can line up a few things, in my mind, anyway.

    The gut wants something uncritically.

    Yes, and this isn’t always bad. The trick is to know if what we want is morally correct according to Divine law.

    If we’re going on just passions alone, you’re right that doesn’t mean we’re critically thinking, necessarily.

    But passion can be a great thing. Look at the great passion the saints have for God. Look at the passion of the most talented musicians, the most talented artists, the most talented athletes. Ask them what makes them great and they all say, “I have passion for what I do.” Or, “I have a passion for serving God.” It’s their drive and it’s morally neutral.

    It’s only when passions are “unruly” (immoral), as St. Paul says, that we have to bring them under control. Otherwise, passions are great, they are what make us truly alive in this human experience, really.

    But what's true isn't necessarily good.

    Right. Facts are just facts, right. They are morally neutral in terms of reasoning. Facts talk to logic. Logic talks to clarity. And from there we see a solution/answer or a potential one.

    More in a second…

  28. So we need the heart, the will, a well-formed conscience - even harder than critical thinking (though much easier if we ask for the Lord's help and trust Him unreservedly - that's the only hard part).

    I think all three (willful obedience, heart toward goodness, and critical thinking) are difficult, but all are skills or virtues that can be acquired. I mean, our hope is to live life fully by becoming virtuous, right, and using our brains is virtuous, as it falls under Temperance, which relates to my point of the post here.

    I don’t know that we can say which one is more difficult, generally speaking. I think most people may have a natural gift toward one of the three —the “heart”, the "will", or the “mind” -- but the good news is, we can be trained to be “heartfelt” people (with God’s grace), to be people of good will (which is really heart and mind together), and “mindful, thoughtful, reasoning” people if we get the training we need.

    The beauty of being human is that our capacity to receive, therefore, to give, is huge, whether it’s sharing “heartfelt” truths or sharing a new intellectual perspective. We have a lot to gain and a lot to give as human beings, and especially as Catholics. This is why we think with the mind of the Church, because we know that's the highest road to human experience and communion with God.

    One more thought coming...

  29. My question: Shouldn't we aim to integrate emotion (the beautiful), thought/logic (the true) and the heart (the good) in all our decisions, including how we conduct an online debate? Am I mixing up categories, or off topic?

    Right, if what you mean by the parenthetical definitions you put here is that we should aim toward holiness, I agree. I don’t know that I’d be strict with those terms as such, because those words include more than just the one-word definition (ie., emotions can be ugly, too), but I get your point is that you’re talking aiming toward the highest good with those faculties, right?

    We have free will to act however, right, and the virtuous choice is always better because our belief is that our existence is really about being and becoming holy in order to be with God for eternity. That’s the bottom tier there.

    We have these gifts – reasoning and feeling and physical bodies and souls- they are all given for a proper use. That’s key and it’s a lifetime to get those to cooperate on any level, if at all, right? LOL

    It’s a constant challenge of mind, body, and soul to choose the good, choose the good, choose the good. Part of choosing good, as relates to this post, is to choose to form our intellects better, that we may better understand ideas and people and human experience, really. In the end, once we start unwrapping that, we can see God's existence, really. Once we start on that foot chase toward intellectually understanding the better questions to be asked, the deeper questions, and how to get the skills we need to understand those, we find that we do grow in wisdom, which is more than mere knowledge. That's key.

  30. St. John the Apostle, you've got to be kidding... You would laugh out loud if you really knew me.

    I couldn't bring myself to call you St. Joan of Arc, because you are not (yet) canonized LOL.

    Anyway, thanks for not shredding me to pieces and introducing higher mathematics to the argument ;-).

    I'll just pick out one thing for now that you said, before rushing off to pick up the kids from ruining everyone's afternoon with their recitals of the three Magi (mine are Caspar and Balthasar).

    "It’s a constant challenge of mind, body, and soul to choose the good, choose the good, choose the good." Yes, the consequence of original sin. Without it, what the gut or emotion wants certainly always aligns with what's good and true and is thus in perfect harmony with God's will. And when we manage to bring the three in alignment - emotion, thought and will - and produce something beautiful, true and good, we touch heaven at that moment.

    Enjoy your day! Always a pleasure to read you. More perhaps later.

  31. A last thought before I run off to help teach the tots-- sorry if it's a bit scattered.

    The Church is huge on habit-forming, right? The Church teaches us about forming good habits that we may more readily be able to choose the good, in any situation-- morally speaking, yes, but in every situation, really.

    Good spiritual habits, good physical habits, good mental habits, these are key to fullness of life. The Church encourages a strong work ethic so that we can acquire strong skills and strong exercising of our faith.

    This is what is great about being Catholic, when you realize the Church helps us form ourselves with God's grace to become "better", holier, more-whole because we draw on Him to do all of this habit-forming, right?

    It's literally partaking in the Divine Life. It's not just habit for the sake of habit. It's habit forming for the sake of self-training which engages the entire person. It helps us choose the good for God's glory. It all ties together so perfectly. Good habits make good character. We train to be this way. We train our bodies, our minds, our souls. We train to run the race (per St. Paul).

    Logical thinking is a great habit to get into, and it's a skill that can be acquired. It's what opens up a whole world of creativity, and look how we glorify God when we tap into that creative side. Look how we co-create with Him. I can take one example from the business world and dovetail that with logical thinking.

    Or I can even take Einstein as an example and tie that to logical thinking and the whole new environment he created because we can look at the needs he saw and that he met with his expertise and asking the right questions. Whatever subject, right? I can attach that to the Church as it pertains to training of the entire person. It's all bundled up together, actually. It's humbling to realize that God really gives us all we need through the Church.

    I'll touch on your comment in a little bit-- I just saw it now, Sebastian! Thx

  32. One more thing: When I say "heart" I mean the seat of conscience, and of the will. Where God speaks to us. That we can open to Him, or not, as the case may be. Certainly not emotions. And in my mind, it's the most important of the three (gut/feeling/passion, thought/mind and heart) and the one equally accessible to all people, unlike the other two. I can have a really low IQ and little natural ability to acquire critical thinking skills, and I may have a phlegmatic character that doesn't get much excited by anything - a bit of a bore perhaps. But I can always decide to do what's right, which is generally accessible to all, and thus keep the door open to heaven, so to speak. Jesus says in the sermon on the mount "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" and "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God". This is really liberating (if not always easy), because it is so democratic. The Catholic Church is really for all, that's one of the things that make her so great.

  33. Anyway, thanks for not shredding me to pieces and introducing higher mathematics to the argument ;-).

    Ha- don’t sell yourself short. Math is just logical thinking. You get trained in what to accurately “see” when you look at a math problem. That’s all that is. When you see this:

    ax²+bx+c=0 (a quadratic equation) you know that your graph will have a u-shaped curve because of the roots, and you know which direction the u-shape will take depending on positive or negative solutions.

    Math skill literally “becomes intuitive” because you become familiar with what you’re looking at. You have an idea of what the solution should look like, right? A mental snapshot. You acquire that skill just like any other skill we acquire. Repetition gives know-how. It’s just compartmentalized thinking. Applied thinking.

    The beauty of it in action really is when this know-how (this skill) opens up a whole new world of thought. A whole new “ecosystem” of thought, so to speak.

    Going back to my comment on Einstein – just to chew the fat here and give a concrete example of how we see this in action-- part of Einstein’s genius was that he was able to say, “What’s the need here? What’s out there that no one understands yet?”
    In his field, in his specialty of physics, there was a need to understand the various aspects of physical laws and the physical reality of energy in our world.

    The first thing to consider in this type of critical thinking and logical mode, is just to understand what we don’t know or have yet. What’s the missing variable?

    Einstein worked on understanding the universe, right? So, he maybe obviously thought, “There has to be a solution for the universe, an equation.”

    So, just by his considering that mind-blowing concept alone, that took him down this one particular trail of thought where he just looked at the energy aspects of science, right?

    He had a narrow focus on what it was that we needed to know to drive toward a creative solution. He got the help of many people (Fr. Lemaitre, primarily) and collaborated and theorized and considered the whole context.
    He asks the right questions, “How do I understand the formula?”
    He sees the need to know, right?

    Compared to if we just begin within the “problem realm”, so to speak, we’re never going to really go beyond that, and we’ll just be solving existing problems.

    That’s not really critical thinking and it’s not innovative or creative, really. It’s useful, but it’s limited unless we’re able to go above and beyond what we see once we determine the need to be filled, in whatever subject, on whichever topic.

    We can even look at amazon as an example from the business world, right? Their approach in the beginning was probably to view what was already in the world and to see a need or a new need that would spawn. “Why sell this many books, when I can sell that many books; and, oh, by the way, I can offer it like this and that…”

    Looking at Einstein or even at great business minds- these guys created an entirely new environment, which contained new problems within it. That’s their genius. That’s their critical thinking on display.

    It can be learned. I know just from learning, myself. These skills can be acquired and should be, depending on our passion, our desire to know, and our desire to keep pushing out with the right types of questions.

  34. "ax²+bx+c=0 (a quadratic equation) you know that your graph will have a u-shaped curve because of the roots, and you know which direction the u-shape will take depending on positive or negative solutions." Chris/Nick of Smyrna, I'll let you take first shot at that one and expand on the concept Joan of Arc introduced here, and we'll take it from there.

    Nubby, you say it can be learned. But surely you need a minimal inclination or natural ability? I know Einstein was supposedly not a good student at school, but still, his IQ must have been right up there, it just wasn't tickled by what he was taught in school?

  35. LOl- sebastian! Chris actually prefers cubic equations...I can tell ;) Really, it's just about getting a mental snapshot and then doing the algebra at that point. Just another skill! ;)

    Re: Einstein
    Yes, I agree we are all born with natural inclinations and gifts of the intellect, but Einstein had the tools he needed because he learned those.

    He had learned so much specific skill in his specialty that he then applied to wider questions. He had the tools, the techniques, to have those "better conversations", right? We can all learn those to have those kinds of loftier or much needed conversations-- no matter the subject. I mean the energy equation didn't just pop into his head as he sat there. He worked through so much with the tools he had just even in his approach to the problem. So creative.

    I know from the business world they teach some phenomenal business strategy at seminars and at workshops. It really all can be taught. We can acquire so much skill in how we think and in what we even consider. This is the beauty of using our brains.

    Most people are not "born geniuses" or "born visionaries", nor "born leaders" for that matter. We learn how to think and how to apply that. We should, anyway.

  36. Wait a minute, I've taught business strategy years ago. Yes, it can be a useful tool (I think that's what you're saying), but the best strategist can be a really poor businessman. Many successul entrepreneurs never took a class in strategy, but lots of strategy students failed in business. One of the things you do need, however, to be successful in the long term, is judgment. That's another word for wisdom. Even the uneducated can have that.

    What's my point? The skills are useful and important, and we have a duty to acquire them in order to develop our God-given talents and put them at the service of His plan for us (in the family, the job, relationships, citizenship, online debates...). But they are just that - skills - and not enough by themselves. I think we agree on that?

  37. Yes, skills and judgment need to work together.
    Skills are neutral. They're necessary to do a job. To know them is to apply them (hopefully).

    Yes, judgment is important, and we have to learn how to be good and wise judges, esp in terms of business plans and business success, etc.

    There are a lot of factors that go into successful business. One of the overall strategies is not merely just to have a "unique vision" but to have that unique vision from a single point, in order to make uncertainty a lot less. Unique just means foreseeing a "need" and a way to fill that need that will spawn from today, say, in five years. It's trend analysis. It's economical projection.

    Yes, we need judgment to be successful in business, but we also need a special skill set and a wider context to swim around in, so to speak. Creativity needs to blossom.

    One wishing to be successful in business should absolutely learn from seminars and workshops, no doubt. This is how we learn tools to think innovatively, no matter our product. Right? We do case studies. We break down analysis of what has worked in particular studies, we see the questions that were asked, the info gathered, etc. We use our tools that we use from workshops and apply it to our own "bubble", our own product, so to speak. It doesn't matter whether my product is tires or tupperware, right? The principle is the same. Do I see a way to fill a need that will spawn? Have I created a whole new world ideas now just from that one need that has spawned off?

    Einstein's "product" was science, you could say. He couldn't improve upon the product without his special tools (skils). His judgment was tailored-- he knew what to look for, what questions to ask. He was a genius because of how he applied what he knew and how he asked about the things he did not know, right. Critical thinking creates a whole new world of thought and brand new problems and new solutions to those. Really gives glory to God.

  38. I see what you're driving at and I agree. Thanks for taking all the time and trouble to flesh it out! Happy Feast!

  39. No prob, Sebastian :O) It's been fun talking out loud.

    I just wanted to point out that critical thinking means thinking creatively, thinking outside the box (as they say in the corporate world), thinking innovatively, with what we already know and towards what we see coming down the road. These are markers of critical thinking.

    It’s about more than taking a survey to measure a sampling, right, because surveys are deficient when it comes to getting hands-on results of the real picture/solution. It’s about thinking of ways we’ve never considered before.

    And it’s useful technique here in the Bubble, when we consider the deeper questions of God’s existence, of our existence, of the idea that Divinity came to earth and established a Church, etc. It’s taking ideas and examining them (at whatever skill level we're at) so that we’re not just merely talking about feelings, but about what really points to what in terms of reasoning. Thx for your thoughts!


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