Here are the 3 levels of thinking.
1) A knee jerk reaction is when the doctor taps your knee sending a message up to your low back, that turns right around and comes back down and makes your leg kick. The brain is not involved, there is no thinking, just an automatic reaction. Hence the knee jerk reaction is an opinion that involves no thinking. Often these opinions can be described with a short pithy statement such as:
I’m Pro-Life (or Pro-Choice)
Black Lives Matter
Some people that hold these same opinions have engaged in a thought process so the opinion itself is not necessarily a knee jerk reaction for everybody.
2) Emotions are feelings people experience such as love, hate, fear anxiety, or happiness. Emotional reasoning or emotional thinking are terms we use to describe when people interpret their emotions as truth. An example of this type of thinking is:
“I saw the commercial on TV of him pushing the old person in the wheelchair off the cliff to save money on Medicare. I love meemaw, so I’m voting for the other guy.”
Sometimes the reasoning described above is subconscious. Whether conscious or subconscious the reasoning is based on emotions: fear for old people and love for ‘meemaw’.
Sometimes emotions are triggered based on appearances or similarities to previous events. Examples could include:
a person who responds negatively when receiving dietary advice to stop a certain food he associates with his mother.
Or a patient reacting with hysteria years after being raped when a new doctor resembles the rapist.
In examples like this when the emotion is based on a previous, possibly forgotten, event, it is called ‘baggage’. Emotional thinking, whether based on feelings or baggage, is not based on logic or facts. Because decisions based on emotional thinking aren't based on logic or facts, they are more likely to be wrong.
3) Critical thinking involves the cerebral cortex and is the highest level of thinking. With critical thinking we can actually evaluate evidence, weigh pros and cons, and make logical and rational decisions. With critical thinking 2 + 2 always equals 4. It is only with critical thinking that we can reliably grasp the truth of any given situation. Decisions based on critical thinking tend to be more durable than emotional decisions. IE emotional decisions often bring immediate rewards followed by regret, whereas decisions based on critical thinking generally bring more long term success.
The problem is most people are not adept at critical thinking. Many college programs try to teach critical thinking and it is not an easy skill to learn. Hence most decisions for most people are based on emotions, on how they feel about things, not on facts and logical thinking.
Emotions worked in the distant past because they allowed for quick conclusions, leading to fast responses and increased survival. Think of seeing a large black figure approaching which you identify as a bear and the immediate reaction is fear. The fear diverts blood away from the digestive organs and to the large muscles of the arms and legs, to facilitate running and greatly accelerates the heart rate as the person runs for their life.
Or as a child you see your mother approach with food. You respond with the emotion of love, which causes you to relax and your stomach prepares for food by secreting digestive fluids. Emotions worked well when the choices were simple: either BAD-fight or run, or GOOD-embrace and accept.
The problems with emotions today is that sometimes a large black figure is just a man in a black coat. And every friendly woman is not your mother bringing food. Emotions are fundamentally unable to guide us in the complex situations we face today.
Every day people will try and control your behavior through your emotions. Your boss will try to get you to work harder through the FEAR of losing your job. Advertisers will try to get you to buy their product by suggesting how HAPPY you will be, or how LOVED you will be if only you used their product. Politicians will use FEAR by letting you know how bad it will be if their opponent gets elected, or possibly use LOVE by suggesting that voting for him/her will make the world a better, safer place for you and your loved ones.
If an influence in your life, from a person, group or political party, keeps appealing to your emotions there may be a reason. They may know that if you look at the facts you might draw a different conclusion than what this person, group or political party is selling. Remember 2 + 2 will always equal 4, but if they are trying to sell you on 3 or 5, they will try to substitute emotional thinking in place of facts and critical thinking.
Emotional thinking might say:
"Me and my friends will have so much fun in this car. I'm buying it!"
Critical thinking might say:
"I would have to get a second job to make this car payment, then I wouldn't have time to have fun with my friends anyway. I can't afford this car."
In this situation you can see why an unscrupulous sales person might promote emotional thinking. Imagine how other persons, groups or political parties might similarly appeal to your emotions to induce you to make decisions that are not in your best interest.
This failure to put aside emotions and to consider the facts in an intellectual, logical fashion is the biggest threat America faces today.
The good news is that when people do engage in intellectual, critical thinking, they almost always arrive at the same or similar conclusions. Because 2 + 2 really does equal 4. Facts don't lie, but emotions are inherently inaccurate. Critical thinking is our only hope as a society, as neighbors, as family members to arrive at unity.
Discussions involving critical thinking can help family members to reconcile, assist neighbors to resolve their differences, and lead presidents and prime ministers to find peace. Great things can happen when people drop the knee jerk reactions, get past the emotions, and engage in critical thinking and discuss things honestly and openly.
Almost every problem plaguing society today could be resolved if the appropriate people engaged in these types of discussions, and I know of no problems that can be resolved without these discussions.
This newsletter is my attempt to initiate discussions based on critical thinking that I feel are vital for our society. Please join in the conversation, by sharing your point of view in the comments, or sharing this newsletter with others.
Cary "CW" Jasper
April 21, 2021