Thinking About How We Think

In this article I will attempt a review of what Philosophers and some other thinkers, including myself, have come up with as to the ways in which it is believed humans think, and how those ideas have affected the human ability to think rationally. In actuality, the majority of adult individuals do little, if any, actual thinking at all. What passes for thinking is usually made up of: fantasizing, worrying, planning, rehashing prior experiences of all kinds, etc., etc. The vast majority of individuals are not even aware of what is taking place in their mind at any given time, let alone to spend time thinking about how they think.

Socrates is quoted as having said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” A short search of the Web will bring up many references to his, above quoted, statement. To suggest that one can examine one’s life, implies thinking about it. As indicated, still, in modern times it is a minority of individuals who can be said to be thinking for even short periods during the day, let alone about their lives.

To, “think” implies processing information. Dictionary.com defines, “thinking” as, “rational; reasoning: People are thinking animals.” Thinking, in other words, being able to think and reason, according to this definition, is what is supposed to be the defining factor of what makes humans, human!

Someone who is able to think and reason is considered to be, “rational.” Conversely, a rational person, is considered to be a, “reasoning” person. The word, “rational” is also the root of, “rationale,” the reasons given, or basis for, behavior, beliefs, actions, etc., etc., as well as, “rationalization”; something we humans are very good at. Discussion of this type are generally considered to be the province of Philosophy, and Philosophers have done a good deal of haggling about the subject of thinking. It is time, however, that this discussion be taken up by the general public, especially so as it is supposed to be a defining factor of what makes us human!

I, personally, am convinced that Philosophers have gotten badly off track regarding this subject, having, primarily, been influenced by 18th Century thinkers. Those Philosophers determined that there were two main forms of thinking: Empirical Thinking, and Rational Thinking, both of which having now been replaced by the dominance of Scientific Thinking.

Empirical Thinking is considered to be thinking which either originates in, or is based on experience, and is called, “Empiricism,” Empiricism, as indicated, is based on the belief that what we personally experience, or have examined carefully, is a valid way of obtaining information about the world around us. Empiricism, was expounded by Philosophers from Locke to Hume, (17th & 18th Century) in Britain, (who were called “Empiricists”).

Knowledge based on Empiricism still lingers, however, in the, so-called, soft Sciences. Soft Sciences being those for which it may be difficult, if not impossible, to establish measurable criteria for conclusions.

Rational Thinking, or “Rationalism,” on the other hand, is the Philosophical, “doctrine that reason alone is a source of knowledge and is independent of experience”. Or as a general definition, “The principle or habit of accepting reason as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct.” (Dictionary.com)

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Rationalists claim that there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience. Empiricists claim that sense experience is the ultimate source of all our concepts and knowledge.” With the advent of, “scientific” ways of gaining knowledge, Empiricism, in particular, was attacked and debunked. Currently, at the forefront of these attacks are the professional, “skeptics,” who sneer at people who believe that what they personally experience has validity.

Scientific Thinking is the system which has essentially replaced Empiricism and Rationalism, as a way of gaining knowledge. Scientific knowledge is gained primarily through experimentation with controls, (that which is not influenced by the factor of what is being studied through experimentation). The scientific method also involves the breaking down of everything into small aspects, and then studying the aspects. Rarely is an attempt made by the hard Sciences to study the whole of anything, other than, for example, Astrophysicists. (Those sciences called, “soft” do make an attempt at a holistic approach, such as Ecologists, Anthropologists, Archaeologists, etc.) Thus, using the Scientific Method as an educational model, Scientific Thinking discourages a generalist and/or a holistic approach to gaining knowledge.

Currently, what is considered to be, “Scientific Thinking” is simply building upon past scientific published writings as authority and fact. Successful younger researchers go on to extrapolate from the established facts to add new knowledge based on the old. Those younger Scientists who manage to get Doctorates in their field and who, subsequently, dare to challenge the accepted Facts have a difficult time getting their work published.

In the last number of years a large amount of this former, “fundamental” research has been found to be flawed, if not pure fabrication. This information has not been widely dispensed, however. As to current research, noted Scientific Journals have had to admit that what has been published over the years has frequently been submitted by those who have had a vested interest in the outcome of their research. Nonetheless, Scientific Thinking is now the overriding system that is taught in colleges and universities today. Hence, it is likely to be the basis of any kind of thinking currently being done by individuals who consider themselves educated.

The basic underlying structure of Science is based on Reductionism; the belief that it is possible to come to an understanding of the whole of anything, by studying its parts. Studying, “the whole of things” is left to Philosophers and Religion; both areas considered non-scientific and, by definition, and not rational. Another primary underpinning of Science is the doctrine that that which they are studying is only physical in nature.

Those individuals who have not been indoctrinated into Scientific Thinking, by an overdose of education, will naturally base their thinking on what they have learned empirically. Others, including educated, but independent, Philosophers, such as myself, have come to the conclusion that the whole process of Scientific Thinking is fundamentally flawed, due to these two basic underpinning premises.

The advent of the science, “Ecology,” in the 1950s, for me, challenged the fundamental reductionist principal of all recognized science. Dictionary.com defines, “Ecology” as: “the branch of biology dealing with the relations and interactions between organisms and their environment, including other organisms.” The original definition left out humans as part of the biological equation, a major error in my opinion. Subsequently, another category developed, called, “Human Ecology, defined as: the branch of sociology, “concerned with the spacing and interdependence of people and institutions”.

There are other ways, going back in time, of Philosophers thinking about thinking, which influence how many people think still today; one of these is the Philosophical writings of Aristotle. Aristotle, among other philosophical ideas, introduced what is known today as the System of Logic. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Aristotle’s logic, especially his theory of the syllogism, has had an unparalleled influence on the history of Western thought.”

There have been modern attempts to challenge the Aristotelian influence on thinking, the primary one having been General Semantics, founded by Alfred Korzybski, who wrote the book, Science and Sanity. (As I recall, Korzybski was a mathematician.) General Semantics was self-called, “A non-Aristotelian approach to understanding how people think, and the multiple errors in how people process incoming information.”

I studied this system in the ’60’s and credit it with helping me to understand how I, and others, incorrectly process information. I am still a supporter of the tenants of General Semantics. Unfortunately, General Semantics seems to have been, for the most part, relegated to the past. As a method, it still can assist people in clarifying how they think and process incoming information, should one wish to pursue its study.

Although the idea of being able to think clearly and critically, can be traced back at least as far as Aristotle, there has been a resurgence in the use of the term, “Critical Thinking” to the point that one writer on the subject stated in his work that, “… in recent years ‘critical thinking’ has become something of a ‘buzz word’ in educational circles… “

I believe this modern interest in the idea of thinking critically was brought about primarily by Dr. Richard Paul’s ideas regarding, “Critical Thinking.” Dr. Paul was the Director of Research and Professional Development at the Center for Critical Thinking at Sonoma State College in California, and Chair of the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking,

After hearing Dr. Paul speak at a public forum to an audience of, mainly, teachers regarding his ideas. I thought that this was right up my alley, so to speak. As I lived not far from the College, I personally contacted Dr. Paul, at Sonoma State, and, introduced myself, including some of my background. As a result of our discussion, Dr. Paul invited me to attend his classes and seminars

I did attend a few of his classes, as well as attending a few Seminars for advanced students. Unfortunately, by experiencing his teachings first hand, I found that what he was teaching as, “Critical Thinking,” incorporated several then popular Belief Systems as, “fact” and that in Critical Thinking one must accept these, “facts” as basic, in order to think, “critically.” (The primary Belief Systems in Dr. Paul’s Critical Thinking are: the whole of modern Scientific Thinking; Gurdjieffian material; Piagets ideas on child development, and other Beliefs held as valid by Dr. Paul.) In other words, modern Critical Thinking has the same fundamental problems as Scientific Thinking; being based on fallaciously determined, “facts” a priori. As a result of this revelation, I did not pursue this course of study.

One needs to have some familiarity with Gurdjieff’s teachings, which I did at the time, to be able to spot their influence, such as revealed by Dr. Paul. Gurdjieff’s teachings, which were called the Fourth Way have had a strong influence on the thinking of a number of educated individuals, most notably through the influence of P. D. Ouspensky, a major contributor to Twentieth century ideas. This is interesting, given that Gurdjieff’s teachings were developed from his travels in the East and visits with multiple Guru’s and other esoteric teachers. He stated, “Upon entering the Fourth Way, sometimes called the way of the ‘sly man,’ a man does not give up anything in his ordinary life. He stays in life and works with all three sides of himself, his instincts, emotions and intellect; this re-aligns and balances him.” ( http://www.fourthwayteaching.org/ )

Gurdjieff, did his best to retrain his followers in developing consciousness, however, it seemed to me that those ideas were little understood, and, basically, have been transformed, by the West, primarily into the development of the intellect. This, I believe, was primarily due to Ouspensky’s influence.

Ouspensky fully acknowledged his debt to Gurdjieff in this regard. “Ouspensky: Gurdjieff gave me many new ideas I did not know before, and he gave a system I did not know before. About schools I did know, for I had been travelling and looking for schools for 10 years. He had an extraordinary system, and quite new. Some separate fragments of it could be found elsewhere, but not connected and put together like they are in this system. And certain things, particularly belonging to the psychological side, were quite a revelation. And also on many other lines. This was sufficient proof for me that this system was not a thing one can meet with every day. And I had already met with a sufficient number of schools to be able to judge.” ( http://www.ouspensky.org.uk/ongurdjieff.htm )

Unfortunately, the Gurdjieff and Ouspensky ideas have not resulted in any clarity in thinking in the West, in my opinion.

My personal Philosophy regarding how people think is that, in order to be able to think clearly, it is necessary to know what you believe. The reason for this is that, underlying everyone’s thinking process is their personal Belief System. All members of all cultures and societies are Programmed by their parents/families, from childhood, as to what it is acceptable in their Culture/group to believe, as well as the proper way to behave within given roles. Added to this base has to be any additional acculturation training offered, such as: men’s/women’s societies, and other religious and cultural teachings in addition to, in the larger Cultures, if available, regular schooling

In societies, such as in the West, young people are sent off to be taught by others, called, “getting an education,” which entails memorization and regurgitation of information. In this way, on top of the basic Programming, young people undergo a process of Indoctrination as to what to Believe. Subsequent to acquiring the rudiments of learning–reading, writing and arithmetic–in the Western education system, that indoctrination includes Scientific Thinking as the only acceptable, rational way to learn. Other areas of education, such as History, Geography, and Social Studies, of course, also Indoctrinate students as to what to believe is Fact through memorization, followed by testing, to make sure it has been internalized.

To review, everyone, therefore, has acquired their own Belief System made up, firstly, of one’s culture, family religion, proper social and role behaviors, etc., etc. Subsequently, such early family Programming is followed by whatever educational opportunities are offered by the area in which one lives. Depending upon on how much education an individual is exposed to, including any involvement in Military, and Religious Training one might have had,. the personal Belief System will include, as much material as was absorbed, as Facts/basics, which are, thereafter, used as the basis for any kind of thinking one might do. I emphasize, the vast majority of individuals, who think they are thinking, are thinking with their Beliefs.

Exceptional individuals will also hang onto material they have learned through their personal experiences throughout their lives. Such individuals will learn that basing any thinking they might do, incorporating such information, will be discouraged throughout their lives. As noted, such reasoning is called Empiricism, and the intellectual elite does its best to denigrate any such use of personally-gained information in thinking.

I am serious in using the words, “Programmed,” and “Indoctrinated” in referring to what is the basis of essentially ALL of which underlies what we Believe. That is, unless one has tenaciously clung to what one has learned through personal experience, i.e. Empiricism. The first hurdle in gaining an ability to think critically, is to accept that everyone, including oneself, has been Programmed and Indoctrinated all of his/her life, and that it has been deliberate, with the best of intentions, of course. In particular, educated Western humans, think almost exclusively with their beliefs, this is why it is so difficult to, “Think outside the box”; “the box” is ones Belief System.

To summarize, without understanding what one’s underlying beliefs are, and how one has acquired those beliefs, there is no way an individual can achieve enough clarity in order to even begin to think clearly and rationally.

What is Physical Anthropology?

Anthropology is one of the most widely misunderstood scientific disciplines. This might be expected, since the word anthropology literally means “the study of man.” That is quite an ambitious discipline! Because of this, anthropology often intersects and is informed by a wide variety of disciplines, such as: history, psychology, sociology, literature, religion, biology, political science, and philosophy.

Modern anthropology is divided into four major branches. These are: Cultural Anthropology, Archaeology, Linguistics, and Physical Anthropology. This article will take a closer look at physical anthropology.

Physical anthropology, often called biological anthropology, is the study of the physical development of the human body and the human species (especially compared with other primates). Physical anthropologists also try to trace the evolution of humans and other primates. Physical anthropologists, above all things, love bones! Bones are the most common form of fossil evidence, and are a great way for anthropologists to trace the development of our species over time.

Physical anthropologists are usually pretty good at putting together a detailed profile of someone based only on a small bone fragment. By only examining a small part of a bone, they can often determine whether the person was male or female, what race they belonged to, their approximate height and weight, and their age. Because of this skill, physical anthropologists are often consulted when a police force is trying to solve a crime, and many pursue careers in CSI work.

Because of its extremely technical nature about the human body, an undergraduate degree in physical anthropology is often an excellent preparatory course of study for admittance into medical school, though it is not the most common route.

Physical Anthropology can be grouped into several sub-branches. Some of these include:

Genetics:

This is the study of human DNA, how each person’s DNA differs from another’s, and how human DNA differs from related species.

Primatology:

This is the study of other primates. By studying apes and monkeys, anthropologists hope to gain more insight into human nature.

Behavioral Ecology:

This usually involves the study of modern hunter-gatherer groups. Cultural anthropologists are often interested in learning about the cultural practices of hunter-gatherers, but when physical anthropologists study them, they usually take more detailed measurements on things like: calories consumed per day, calories expended, time spent hunting/foraging, age at reproduction, death and birth rates, etc. By collecting a large amount of data across many hunter-gatherer groups, anthropologists hope to put together a picture of the characteristics of a “natural” human.

There are many other sub-branches as well. Neuro-anthropologists study the human brain, and paleopathologists study diseases in ancient skeletons. Lately, physical anthropologists have been branching into the field of nutrition to share their ideas about the proper human diet based on their study of hunter-gatherers.

Hopefully this article taught you a little about the fascinating field of physical anthropology. Although the field is unknown to many people, physical anthropologists are diligently working to try to solve some of the most central problems of the human condition.

Careers in Environmental Science

The environmental scenario is rapidly worsening and natural resources are fast depleting. The need of the hour is maintaining a balance that is beneficial to both humans and the environment. In the last two decades, there has been a growing awareness that the physical environment must be protected from the ravages of a growing population and economic development.

A course in Environmental Science is best suited for individuals who are passionate about wildlife and committed to the conservation of the environment. The truth is that only specialized individuals can understand the issues involved in the protection and preservation of the environment.

What is environmental science?
Environmental science is the study of environmental problems, especially those created by pollution. It is also known by names such as environmental technology, ecological sciences etc. An environmentalist is a person who studies the problems of the environment and effects of uncontrolled pollution on the earth’s atmosphere. A course in environmental science is designed to help students enhance their knowledge of the environment and expose them to the current issues in environmental science and public policy.

Personal skills
Environmental courses are multi-disciplinary in nature. The candidate should have a strong interest in environmental and public health issues. You must also be passionate about building a career in environmental advocacy and organizing. You should be highly motivated and capable of leading a team.

Courses
Postgraduate courses as well as short term courses are available. These courses are designed to give students a better insight into the environmental issues confronting the present generation.

Short term courses
Some New Delhi based institutions (Wildlife Institute of India and Centre for Science and Environment) run a number of short-term courses and work shops of one to three weeks duration. The Sikkim Manipal University also offers some short-term courses.

Graduate level courses
A number of universities offer B.sc. in Environmental Science. Some universities have also started offering a three year Bachelor degree course in Environment Management (BEM). Students who have successfully completed 10+2 in science (including biology) or an engineering diploma can apply for graduate courses and short term courses.

Post graduate level courses
Courses offered at the post graduate level are M.Sc. in Environment Science and M.E./M.Tech. in Environmental Engineering. An environmental engineer deals with a variety of issues like pollution, oil spills and toxic waste. They are also involved in designing recycling or waste management systems. B.Sc. graduates with biology/life/environmental/agricultural science can apply for a post graduate/master’s degree in environmental science. A degree in chemical or civil engineering is the basic qualification required for a post graduate degree in environmental engineering. Candidates having BE/B.Tech. in Mechanical or Electrical engineering can also apply for these courses.

Job prospects
Upon successful completion of the course, you can work with both governmental and non-governmental organizations. Working with NGOs will give you rewarding exposure in the study of specific projects, issues, places and people. At an NGO you can be employed as Project manager, project officer, legal assistant, NGO manager etc. Entry level positions will fetch you a salary of Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 per month.

Graduates in environmental science can appear for competitive examinations like the Indian Forest Service. Employment opportunities exist in public sector undertakings too. Government also recruits environmentalists from time to time in different ministries and other bodies and institutions.

Evolution and Fossils

The Universe most probably began with a great explosion of gases, which slowly cooled and condensed to form the planets and the sun. As the earth cooled various chemicals formed which reacted together to form new substances. Some of these chemicals dissolved in the warm seas and lakes forming a rich ‘primeval soup’, and it was from these chemicals that life formed.

The first living things were simple celled organisms and gradually over thousands of years these developed into a blue-green algae, which through fossil evidence were the first life forms. Organisms continued to evolve from this primitive beginning until the start of the Cambrian period around 570 million years ago where many forms of life existed and flourished in the sea. Fossil evidence suggests that most major invertebrate groups, (which are animals without backbones) developed during this period, and some of these slowly changed into present day forms.

Life probably evolved to land around 420 million years ago, when the first land plants developed, and it is assumed at this time fish, from which amphibians evolved, were in abundance. The first true land animals being reptiles, arose in the Carboniferous period where one branch gave rise to the Dinosaurs which ruled the land before their extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period.

Mammals evolved rapidly after the extinction of the dinosaur and eventually around ten thousand years ago Modern man emerged.

The number of different species gradually increased until they reached the varieties seen today. Fossils allow us to trace paths by which animals and plants developed into their present forms. Remarkably some have changed very little since they first appeared whereas others, like elephants and horses have changed a great deal. But some species have died out completely, and we only know this by their fossil remains.

Fossils can be used to reconstruct the history of earth and to help piece together the mysteries of evolution. They can also help to determine whether sediments were laid down in shallow or deep seas, in rivers or on land, a guide to the geography and ecology of ancient earth and to the climate.

Some fossils are also a source of natural resources which help us survive. In my next article l will cover some of what l call, useful fossils, and how important they are, and how they were formed.