Listening to the media and politicians are almost enough to find a mountaintop and retreat from society. One of my favorite books in high school was “Whatever Happened To Justice” by Rick Mayberry. Now I ask, whatever happened to clear thinking. I wish to encourage clear thinking.
There are many tools in our arsenal which can be used in our exploration. The main tool will be an unabridged dictionary. I use the Chambers Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary as my main references.
Words have meanings. Most of the time, they have multiple meanings. A word has to be taken in context to understand all the nuances of the intended meaning. Other tools we’ll use are logic, reason, and discernment.
My first example will simply be an analysis of my opening statements. Through this analysis, you will understand my intentions.
Understanding is the key. We can gain a lot of knowledge from reading and listening, but it takes something more to understand.
Understand has a lot of definitions. Some of them are to comprehend; to grasp with the mind; to be able to follow the working logic, or meaning of; to be expert in; to assume; to imply; to interpret as.
As you can see, there are a lot of nuances. The first definition in a dictionary is the primary definition; the one used most often. In this case it is to comprehend, which means to grasp with the mind and to understand.
It looks like we have a bit of circular reasoning going on with each of the words used to define the other. This means we need to look at the other nuances to build a word picture of meaning. We build our understanding of a concept by comparing how it is used in different contexts. When we understand something, we are able to figure out how it works; We are able to make good assumptions on how it can be used in other situations; We can see and follow the logic behind its interactions with other things.
I wish ( want, desire) to encourage (inspire, spur on, sustain) clear (pure, free from difficulty, plain, obvious, lucid) thinking (opinion, judgement).
Our main arsenal (stock of anything with potential, storehouse) is a dictionary. The meaning of a word portrays its intention, significance or design. Through the meanings, we understand how a word’s usage was intended.
When we think, we consider the meanings of the words associated with an object or concept. We use our imagination to put it into other contexts. We judge various aspects. We try to determine purpose.
This can get very complicated and tiresome, but the benefits far outweigh the expenses. The simplest tool we can use to aid our thinking is logic. Mathematically, logic can be pretty abstruse (difficult to understand), but the basics are pretty straight forward and usually all that is needed. There are only three concepts we need to consider.
First, “not.” “Not” or any other term denoting negation simply means that in a specific context, something is not true. This may be as simple as grass is “not” purple. If you are standing on someones well manicured and watered lawn, in all its lush greenness, you might make this statement. In this context, your statement is valid. If you were at a party celebrating the Vikings finally winning a Super Bowl, the statement may be true if the grass had been colored purple in celebration.
Negation is normally pretty straight forward until you start making statements about larger concepts. For example, “No politician tells the truth.” While this may seem true, there may have been an exception at some point in the history of mankind. Because of this, our assertion is not valid as stated. To get closer to the truth, we might alter our statement to “politicians seldom tell the truth,” or “politicians do not always tell the truth.” Notice the difference between these two statements. They, sort of, say the same thing, but they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The first implies more often lie; the second implies they more often tell the truth. All these variations have an aspect of negation.
The next most important logical operator is “and.” The word “and” and similar combining words, relate concepts from one group to another; it says that two things share some commonality.
An example of this would be “apples and pears are fruits.” If I then stated “cut apples turn brown in the open air due to oxidation,” you could imply that “cut pears turn brown in the open air because of oxidation.” This happens to be true when considering only apples and pears, but what if we used apples and oranges? An orange is a fruit. but it doesn’t turn brown in the open air. The acid content protects it from oxidation (this is why dipping your apple slices in lemon juice keeps them from turning brown), so it will not turn brown; it will simply dehydrate.
We’ve now seen the yes and no concepts. The third main concept of logic is ”or.” This is the maybe option. This concept is used in our world to obfuscate (confuse) the issues. Once you throw in a maybe, all bets are off. Once you throw in a maybe you move into the world of probabilities and are not able to be 100% sure. Black and white issues are a lot easier to deal with than gray ones.
To deal with the gray areas, we need to move on to one of our other tools, reason. Reason has a lot of meanings. Some of them are: support, a premise, a motive, underlying explanatory principle, a cause, sanity, drawing conclusions, and determining right and truth.
To choose between alternatives, we need to gather data. Should I have a salad for lunch, or should I have a piece of chocolate cake? The answer to this question is obvious, but let’s explore the reasoning. We have lots of data to consider.
From the salad side: Salads offer complex carbohydrates which have a broader use in our bodies; salads contain a higher percentage of needed vitamins and minerals. Salads have good amounts of fiber which aid digestion.
From the chocolate cake stand point, cake has simple sugars which can be utilized by the body very quickly; The brain works on simple sugars. Chocolate has great antioxidant potential, may lower cholesterol, may prevent cognitive decline, may improve cardiovascular health, has over 600 flavor compounds, lots of minerals, and the flavonols can actually improve the skin.
With all this data, the chocolate cake seems to be the obvious choice. But still, we can’t make a good decision. We need more. We need to move on to our third tool, discernment.
Discernment is the power or faculty of discriminating (noting the differences, distinguishing, selecting one from another), or judgement. In our politically correct world we are not supposed to judge, but without it, we are not able to think.
Adding discernment to our mix, we look at what activities are happening after lunch. If you are not doing anything special, then the salad might be better because it supports our general health the best. If we are analyzing some data and need our brains to be in sharp focus, then the chocolate cake might be the winner. Putting all of this together, the cake still wins (in my opinion), but the real value is that we used logic, reason, and discernment to evaluate the situation and thus came to a supportable decision.
This process has gone out of use in our world. Most people simply parrot what they heard from someone else without even a quick verification based on simple logic and reason. We are brought up to avoid any topic that requires discernment or judgement to understand. Society forbids us to be politically incorrect.
But, the politically incorrect topics are where we need to get a handle on thinking clearly. I do not abide (tolerate, dwell in, conform with, comply with, obey) with the concept of political correctness. Thus, I use the areas that have the least amount of clear thinking in my examples. Henceforth, I’ll simply eat my cake and focus on the abstract concepts that are misused and abused in out world.