Critical thought is our cognitive immunity system: the blurred line between doubt and superficiality

All people in finance are sharks, politicians are opportunists and philosophers are the unemployment of the future. False. But partly also very true (especially the part about philosophers).

Lately I was confronted with a very different scene; one that I have always seen as the “money-making-regardless-of-any-ethical-judgment” scene; one that I sometimes have the feeling to be surrounded by in my close family (even though I have been proven wrong about that quite often). But this time, it was not some older family member, but persons one could actually like without the need of consanguinity. For the first time, I was confronted with a giant assumption of mine: whenever a person takes a certain road, that person will lose any critical view on things.

Now that I spell it out I somehow shame myself for presuming such unfounded correlation between working with sharks and shutting one’s brain down to any sort of critical thought: seriously, where did I get this from? Moreover, I even continued by generalizing this correlation not to just the statement “some people shut their brains down for solely concentrating on their aims” but rather, that “ALL people working in a specific scene” do so. How childish. Or better, how unreflected, since I should know that to contradict the latter statement one example proving the contrary would be sufficient. And I can think of at least two examples of persons that did actually continue to have a critical look at things. All in all, this assumption in the back of my brain was left unreflected for way too long and since recent events gave me hope to start believing in the contrary, I decided to write about collapsing and reconstructing one’s convictions.

I once read this quote, that sums up what the topic of this entry is all about: “critical thoughts are our cognitive immunity system” -it´s a shameless book-padding of some genius whose name I cannot recall-. Now, what do I mean by critical thoughts? I mean an as banal as fundamental principle that has been claimed to be “the essence of human being” (whatever that should mean) since forever:

mesdames et messieurs, it is with utmost pleasure that I introduce you to one of the most discussed topics in human history: the DOUBT.

Why did I choose to determine critical thought by starting with the concept of the doubt? Because as soon as we have doubts, we try to check upon our convictions; we are not sure anymore and not being sure of something makes me hold that we will seek for truth.

Before I start going more into depth into the doubt-issue and how it should rule the world, let me note: In some (and probably all) cultures doubting is essential (at times even for survival). For instance, I was lately introduced to a theory about how the constant reading of theological texts (which equals the re-interpretations of the same texts at different levels of depth and understanding) improves those persons´ thinking skills in completely different areas, such as finance. Their theological-cultural education equips those people with more precise weapons to beat the enormous flow of information, extract the crucial pieces and make meticulous use of it.

Obviously, reading -a.k.a. interpreting those texts- is just one out of many possible sufficient conditions for developing critical thinking. But the theological-interpretation-theory was the trigger to this entry and I somehow felt it needed to be mentioned in this context.

Now, I believe the final goal of any kind of education is achieving every individuum´s indipendent, lateral, critical thinking. -Yes, I know it´s not such a revelation, but wait-. What does it really mean to think independently, critically, “outside the box”? If we were to be completely loyal to thinking critically, we could never let our guards down and that is somehow utopian, how are we supposed to enjoy life, if we need to reconstruct every assumption made and every argument ever uttered? Sooo true. I´m not sure the number of times I asked myself this question is finite anymore. Holding up one´s guard 24/7 IS utopia. Probably the old Confucius was right when preaching about the “middle way” after all. The problem is of course to delineate the balance between wanting to check the validity of statements and facts while still having a normal, maybe superficial, conversation sometimes. And let´s not deny it, sometimes we need to be superficial, otherwise “life would be violent and all would be lost”, as Chaplin would say.

So, how to deal with the blurred balance between doubt and superficiality? Maybe we can be critically superficial. After all, by knowing that we´re giving in to a superficial momentum, we are consciously doing so. If we consciously slip into superficiality and ambiguity, we can always go back to our methodological doubt; as a fact, we can even question our superficiality.

However, there seem to be some essential things in life, which we should always doubt. If I were to make a list, I would probably place my own convictions, of any sort, on top of that list. We should even -making this whole discussion a metaphysical issue- doubt whether doubting our convictions has any sort of importance. Second place on that list would be convictions of others. Does climate really change? (lower your weapons, it´s just a provoking question)

Don´t we have to give some answer to our doubts in order to have a basis of assumptions to start with as to continue doubting on other topics? Probably yes. If at some point we do not assume that climate really changes, we cannot continue our questioning on whether Trumps environment-related decisions are justified or not. But how can we ever gather enough pieces of information to build a basis of assumptions? That´s a really tough question. Maybe it´s impossible. Probably it is.

When it comes to elections I´m always reluctant exactly because of this reason. What if by crossing out my choice I initiate a causal chain of consequences I am unaware of, just because not being informed well enough? More concretely: should I buy a Tesla? Yes! It´s the most environmentally friendly private commuting method. NO! To build a Tesla x tons of Lithium are needed and Lithium is the worst! – Now seriously, how can Ginni, the philosophy student, who might have taken her A-levels in Chemistry, but knows exactly nothing about Lithium, take any decision? Probably the truth is, even by asking professionals for help and by informing ourselves, we will never gather enough pieces of information to make such decisions. In this case, maybe the best thing to do is in fact to doubt.

The critical, doubting thoughts will then be some sort of shelter for ourselves and for others. A shelter to protect us from suppositions that do not hold truth, that are not grounded and might have negative consequences on the development of ourselves as thinking beings.

Doubts as an immunity system ready to attack unfounded beliefs and dogmata, sneaking silently into our cognition and changing our perception into deception.

One thought on “Critical thought is our cognitive immunity system: the blurred line between doubt and superficiality

  1. Dubito ergo sum. In dubio, Pro reo. The pillars of our culture are built upon doubt and the avoidance of superficiality in ascertaining the reality (I would have said, the truth, but the concept sounded too ambitious. In any event: thank you Ginni for crediting us the benefit of doubt!

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