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When NOT to engage in a discussion

14 Oct

“We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN” 

Thus reads the headlines of the Guardian’s website last week.

A couple of days later,  I overheard two of my middle school colleagues planning a combined 8th-grade science/math unit, designing it to deepen students’ thinking skills and alert them to a ‘real-world’ problem based on this recently released UN report.

As they talked about this ‘climate catastrophe’ I felt the temptation to butt in and question the validity of the data behind the United Nations’ proclamation. But I dismissed that urge.

Why?  because although I had listened to news about this proclamation via Spanish and French news podcasts, I had not read the UN report, let alone absorbed the content and formulated talking points. I realized that in engaging my colleagues, I’d be in territory over my head.

But there was a third option.  To engage or remain silent were not my only choices. The other way could have been to pose questions about the report with the goal of understanding the UN’s position and the reasons why these two teachers believed it was credible.

To be honest, I didn’t feel like investing the energy to do that.  Besides, they were actually doing some curriculum planning and my questioning would have interrupted them.  Nonetheless, the reminder to either ask questions or be up to speed on a topic re-motivated me NOT to neglect my calling as a ‘logical gal’.

I also recognized a presupposition I hold. And that realization subdued me.

My ASSUMPTION is this: Reports like the UN’s are little more than scare tactics, motivated by someone’s concealed special interests or agenda.

It’s a routine practice for each of us logical Joe’s and Jane’s to work at identifying our discourse partner’s presuppositions, ONCE we’re trained to seek them out.  But we must not be blind to our own assumptions. Let me give you an example:

Last week I listened to an hour-long podcast about how Australian Dr. Gary Fettke has been finally vindicated in his researched beliefs about nutrition.  He had been legally silenced by the Australian Medical Board for counseling his patients to follow a low-carb eating protocol for health reasons.

As of last week, this official organ of Australian medical licensing reversed their position reinstated his license and wrote him an apology.  During the interview with Fettke, I learned that the dietician who had lodged a ‘complaint’, which prompted the eventual shutdown of his practice and ensuing legal battles, had been merely a pawn.  The Dietitians Association of Australia and the Heart Foundation together with some of the processed carb major players like Nestle, Kelloggs and others had colluded DUE to decreased sales of cereal over the previous few years.  So…the axiom – Follow the Money seemed to explain Fettke’s experience.

That podcast conversation, resting in my short-term memory, mingled with reports on similar ‘collusion’ within the climate-change-is-a-crisis-focused lobby. So….. when I listened in on my colleagues’ conversation, I automatically ‘assigned’ the same motive to this UN report without investigating the content myself.

Humility is good for us!  We are all capable of committing the very same logical errors we spot in others.  It pays to think before I open my mouth!

 

Am I a good thinker?

11 Aug

Logical minds are those that operate clearly and rationally.

So, it pays to check, from time to time, the state of our minds.  Are we thinking rationally?  Are our premises true?

Examining my notions and beliefs has preoccupied my thinking this summer!

My conclusions about thinking fall into 2 sections:  How God is cultivating my thought life and worldly truisms that contain wisdom and help in pruning one’s beliefs.  First, the Master Gardener’s work:

Through a series of trials, God has pressed on me the need to abandon worry…..completely!  In a post on my other blog site, I wrote about pulling my thoughts back (numerous times in a day) from the constant pattern of worrying or daydreaming what-if situations.

The night after writing my post, I fell into a different kind of thinking – the quicksand variety that pulls one down into an endless do-loop.  Not ACTUAL thinking but ‘stewing‘!  It all started after that wee-hours routine stumble into the darkened bathroom.  Back in bed, I simply stayed awake and segued into pondering several situations.  Not problems, not trials, just specific issues like:

  • teacher workdays starting very soon and the need to plan lessons
  • researching more portable hiking snacks that fit our Keto lifestyle
  • the need to prioritize and streamline activities during my non-school hours

I couldn’t fall back to sleep.

Can you relate?

When I finally arose and headed downstairs, coffee in hand, for my time with God and His Word, I was saying to myself, “Maria, you are such a mess!  Look at what you wrote in your blog yesterday and look at you now!”  I flipped open my Bible to the section in Philippians where Paul addresses worry:

Philippians 4:4-8 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Square in the head, it hit me.  The problem with ‘stewing’.  It has no purpose, it has no endpoint.  It can go ON and ON!  Most importantly, it doesn’t fit the definition of a REQUEST to be handed over to God.

So, what is the solution?  A grid to sift my thoughts, a form of triage or consideration whereby I evaluate thoughts, draw distinctions and dispose of them:

  • I already have a category set up called:  Sinful worry or meditations on what-ifs, positive and fearful.  Solution?  Stop it and repent!
  • Nighttime Stew topic, Step 1:  can this concern be formulated into a succinct prayer request to hand over to God to take care of?  Yes? – cast it on Him.
  • Nighttime Stew topic, Step 2:  what remains from that which canNOT be reworded into a prayer?  If anything, then just stop the thoughts. How?  By God’s power for those who are worshippers of Jesus. AND by substituting new thoughts.  Per Paul’s formula, as follows.
  • Alternative meditative topics for the middle of the night: Think about what is praiseworthy and beautiful and true.  And what is the noblest of subjects, if not Jesus and His death and life for us?

Second, from the category of sources other than the Bible, I have heard two new messages.  Each has caused me to question the accuracy of my mind and my brain:

  1. What I think about me might not be true!

My pattern up to now has been to accept this: I AM my thoughts.

I take for granted that what I believe is true.   Okay, maybe not about political issues or even some difficult cultural controversies.  But when it comes to what I take as TRUTH about me, I rarely doubt those conclusions. What I think about me IS me. What I think about me IS true, for who knows me better than me?

I began to doubt my mind’s ability to be accurate about Maria when I heard a gal on a podcast say we are to verify or authenticate the content of our self-talk:

  • How do I know that ‘I can’t change X about me because I’ve always done ‘it’ that way?  What are my reasons? Where is my evidence?

That startled me because I had never applied Logic to what I believed about me, who I am.  The next day, a surprise guest, a ‘motto’, came to lodge in my mind: Be Flexible. I am NOW practicing doubting and questioning my thinking about me.

The other message that has challenged me positively and been a REAL help is this (again from a podcast):

2. The brain seeks ‘pleasant’. 

I see evidence for this EVERY morning. When my alarm sounds, I GROAN inwardly because my routine is to exercise first thing. BEFORE coffee and Bible.  I have battled conflicting desires for years.  But now I know – that’s not me who paints an unpleasant scenario blocking my morning pleasure.  It’s my brain. That bodily organ whose goal is to organize fight or flight to avoid PAIN.

Obviously, but falsely, my brain views 15 minutes of weights plus 15 minutes of yoga as PAIN.  However, with my mind, I can remind my brain of our reasons why health takes precedence over ‘pleasant’ right now. Thank you very much, Ms. Brain, but Maria’s mind is running things, now.

So…..these new thoughts about nighttime churning and limiting beliefs are the fruit of reading, listening, meditating and openness to new ideas.

To sum up, consider how God reveals truth about Himself through the prophet Jeremiah in 11:20 But, O LORD of Hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and mind….

Since we are made in God’s image, shouldn’t we as well test our heart and mind to know if what we are thinking is true, good and helpful?

 

 

 

Personal growth through questions

15 Apr

A young woman I know, a mom with three small children, related a transformative conversation she had with a wise friend.  With her confidant patiently listening, the mother detailed all the reasons why she was going to try homeschooling again. She had resorted to public school for her older two kids when baby number three came along. In explaining the decision to pick up again with homeschooling, she offered what she considered a strong closing conclusion, the following assertion:

  • Besides, everyone knows how much time is wasted in a regular classroom!

The wise friend thoughtfully asked, “What’s wrong with that?”

Startled, the mom paused and couldn’t really come up with a concrete reason AGAINST ‘wasting time’.  In fact, the more she thought about it, she started to see how ‘wasting time’ all depends on how you view time and the purpose(s) for it.  Her thought process led her to ask some good questions, beginning with the one that had stopped her in her tracks:

  • Well, what is wrong with wasting time? Why do I view that negatively and use that kind of language?
  • Do I believe that we don’t ‘waste time’ here at home or would not if I homeschooled?
  • Is being productive ‘all the time’ actually good for my children?  Don’t they need some ‘down’ time, like I do?
  • In fact, is any time wasted in office settings, on the job?
  • Is my view of time universal, around the globe?

Then, in the providence of God, Anne picked up a book called The Yes Brain.

In it, the author described the different kinds of time children AND adults actually need to cultivate and maintain a healthy brain.  One category had to do with time for play; another was focused time for work or study. Then there was the kind of time necessary for us all to exercise our imagination or to meditate.  You know, the kind of ‘lost-in-thought’ ponderings that Westerners often categorize as ‘doing nothing’.

All this to illustrate not only the POWER but the GIFT of a good question.  Questions make room for new insights. Had the friend not responded to the mom’s assertion with a question, this mother would not have had space or motivation to evaluate her belief to see if it really was true!

So how can we remember to ask ourselves or someone else a question?

Look for assertions that you or others make.  In our climate, people are asserting unexamined opinions and beliefs left and right.  A well-timed, thoughtful question can often stop them in their tracks.  Most of us really don’t know WHY we believe what we do.

Don’t just think of the political or economic arenas, as important as they are. I find I’m WAY more excited about the potential impact of questions for personal growth. With God’s help, I want to develop habits of:

  • noticing what I’m thinking or saying to myself
  • wondering why I think something
  • examining what actually supports my belief, if anything!
  • determining if what I think is true.

What comes to mind as a first belief to question?

My heart’s desires – the logical approach

17 Mar

Consider this argument: 

P1 – Designers who manufacture products know best how they should operate

P2 – God designed and made human beings

C – Therefore, God knows best how they should operate

 

Psalm 33:15 refers to God as He who fashions the hearts of them all (the children of man)

Given our topsy-turvy contemporary culture, I’ve been thinking about the desires that pour out of our hearts and incline us to move in different directions.  Society’s icons counsel:

  • Be true to your heart
  • Follow your heart
  • Look within
  • Trust your heart
  • Go after your passion

But that assumes that what the human heart wants is optimal for humans.  This ‘wisdom’ also presupposes that in our reasoning, we know when we should yield to the heart and when we should hold back. (Or worse yet – that the mere existence of a desire MEANS an automatic seeking to fulfill it!)

Imagine a car, fresh off the dealer’s lot.  Having written a very large check for your vehicle that should work well since it’s new, you cautiously ease onto the road, headed home.  You don’t have to drive very far until you notice a distinct tug by the steering wheel to the left. The wheels seem to have a mind of their own, wanting to veer into oncoming traffic.

The way this car operates at the moment is what happens to be natural for it. It ‘desires’ to pull left.

But you, the operator, know better.  And in fact, the car manufacturer knows better.

Yet if your car could talk, he might even argue, ‘THIS makes me feel good, to favor the left!”

Are we any different, from the point of view of being something designed and made?  We human beings have bodies, hearts, and minds purposefully planned and fashioned by our creator God.  Only when we align ourselves according to His Word, the Scriptures, do we ‘operate’ or ‘function’ correctly.

To assume that all desires are GOOD and beneficial for not only us but society is dangerous and misleading.  Yes, people will argue, “That’s just the way God made me.  If he hadn’t wanted me to feel a certain way, he would have designed me differently.”

There happens to be one detail that throws that argument out the window!  Given the fall of one man and woman (thanks, Aunt Eve and Uncle Adam!), all of creation has been disordered.  AND God alone both knows and has the manufacturer’s right to prescribe how we should function to optimize LIFE.

 

If that were true, then EVERYONE would….

11 Mar

The mis-assumed credibility of the ‘majority’ can floor me sometimes.

I’m beginning to see a pattern among people when I suggest an idea that they don’t ‘hear everywhere’ in their culture bubble.

What do I mean by ‘culture bubble’?

It’s that comfortable opinion environment we inhabit.  Technology has ‘advanced’ to the point where we can structure our online feeds to friend/unfriend, to curate interests, to ignore or even avoid hearing dissenting views. We don’t even have to HEAR or read or confront a dissenting view most of the time.

We choose friends, watch certain shows, read selected periodicals and books, worship with like-minded culture-bearers, and participate in rallies with fellow supporters.

So it SEEMS as though everyone around us thinks like us.  It doesn’t take much to then assume that how we think IS reality and not just one competing viewpoint.

I first saw this when I embraced a non-prevailing way of teaching French.  Most teachers use the grammar-textbook approach.  When introduced to teaching via Comprehensible Input, my colleagues balked and told me that this way didn’t work.  That was in 2000 and the majority of fellow Second Language teachers still exalt grammar and vocab list methodologies. But I have gathered MUCH evidence over the past 17 + years helping students acquire French this way.  It works!

Then there is Christianity. Despite much evidence for the historicity of Jesus and the examples of changed lives and societies, the majority of people worldwide reject the claims of Biblical Christianity.  ‘Oh, that’s what primitive people used to believe.  But science has proven….”

Then there is the climate debate. My husband would be quick to point out how Climate Change alarmists tend to cling to dogma over data. “97% of scientists believe X, so that settles it!”  Just what is it about the power of consensus that allows many to stay wedded to a questionable belief or even to be smug about it?

I’m not saying that the views of every majority group are by nature false.  But I think we ought to identify and examine our presuppositions.  What you believe guides the evidence you accept as true.  The opposite should be the case – that one follows the evidence to arrive at a rational viewpoint. And a viewpoint that one is willing to hold loosely out of HUMILITY.

How does humility come into this equation?  Logical Joes and Janes should know by now that a human being cannot be privy to ALL truth.  Pride believes that his or her viewpoint IS the truth – something impossible to verify. Only God, who reigns outside of this created world (for He brought its very existence into being), knows the truth.

The latest example that leaves me puzzled about this tendency toward ‘majority-bias’ is the prevailing view of many regarding nutrition and health.  I’m aware that some DIS-regard the idea that what we eat powerfully influences our bodies.  But the medical explanations from doctors and researchers who have spent years studying this topic are worth thinking about. Then there are the many first-person reports I continue to read.  Accounts from men and women who have switched to a plant-based diet.  It appears that there is a growing body of data that seems to indicate that what you eat can be more influential than genes or even predispositions toward illnesses and disease.

But when I suggest a vegan way of food to those who take meds, AND who suffer the side effects, AND who feel crummy AND who are overweight, they scoff.  Politely.  And say things like, “If this were so, then my doctor would speak up. In fact, we would be seeing this in the news and all over the internet!”

Well, maybe so or maybe not.  But shouldn’t we follow the evidence to where it leads?

 

Extreme - Plant based diets v. surgery

 

Fly-by Sound Bytes

24 Sep

I shouldn’t be surprised.  After all, our son who posts ‘how-to-record-music’ instructional videos on YouTube has stopped checking viewer comments.  People leave hurtful, derogatory, and often unfounded remarks.  What could be so controversial about the music recording industry!?

My husband reports on tech innovation for a national news organization.  He spends hours researching, interviewing, and writing about interesting and new products, services, trends, and industries related to technology.

The other day he held a two-way radio conversation with one of the program hosts bringing her and listeners up to date on thorium, a chemical element that can efficiently and safely power a nuclear reactor.  The 8-10 minute segment was a follow-up to one that aired two years ago in which he interviewed a former NASA engineer about thorium reactors.

Within 6-8 hours of the most recent radio program, a listener had fired off a feedback email.   Invective and name-calling combined to shame the program and the tech reporter.

However, the dissatisfied letter-writer offered nothing of substance.  The editor of the news program responded to the email politely asking for specifics and initially getting no response. Eventually, he did write a detailed rebuttal with some reasons for his sharp reaction.

When my husband analyzed each point, he saw clearly that the listener had misinterpreted much of the report.

How can that happen?

Actually, it’s not all that unusual.  Have you ever heard of confirmation bias?

Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

 Confirmation bias…… is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.

As logical Joes and Janes, we must give people the benefit of the doubt before we jump to a conclusion.  I admit that I have leapt to hasty judgments because I have wanted to think the WORST about someone and their viewpoint.  Not only is that unfair, it is unkind.

So, dear friends, let us be generous and ask questions before we leap to conclusions and criticize.  And never is there an appropriate occasion to unload a putdown on someone. Take issue with the point, not the person.

 

 

Logic in the Music Industry World

9 Aug

A man I know teaches home music recording.  He writes blog posts, records, and mixes songs, markets tutorials, and mentors small groups of musicians who write their own music.  His fellow musical artists tend to be a content group.  Nothing too controversial occupies their common blogosphere beyond personal preference for certain equipment.

A while back, as he tells me, he published his views on pirating music software.  He presented a case along with supporting reasons: that downloading a tool called a plugin without paying the technicians who labor months to create, test and perfect such devices amounted to theft.

Chill musicians suddenly revealed previously concealed claws and let fly demeaning epithets and ugly expletive-laced insults.

Among the kinder and gentler name-calling, also known in the Logic World as the Ad Hominem Fallacy were these frequent accusations: You’re just…..

  • judgmental
  • narrow
  • high and mighty
  • too black and white

….topped off with various riffs on this line:

  • It must be nice to be rich and able to afford these products!

Why do people default to mudslinging?  It’s easy and doesn’t require thinking.  Often a responder will use character defamation in lieu of offering a reasoned argument.  I’ve noticed that more often than not these folks don’t even HAVE a compelling argument!

Well, what about our ‘high and mighty’ blogger with a conscience – how did he reply? Silence.  He simply ignored the hurtful slander.

A different group of fellow musicians apparently felt more comfortable challenging my friend’s definition of THEFT.  This approach is more commendable because the fault finder is at least attempting to THINK!  Here’s the best of those who offered a counter argument:

If someone doesn’t have the money in the first place to buy this music-creation software, then whether he ‘pirates’ it or not, it amounts to the same thing for the software company.  If he had had the money, he would have purchased it. But he doesn’t.

This responder seems to be saying in essence – ‘it’s not theft if you’re poor and you download something without paying.  It would only be theft if you HAD the money and then didn’t purchase it.’

How should a Logical Joe challenge someone who advocates changing the definition of the critical term?  A handy tool is to use the ‘Reduce it to the ridiculous’ response:

So you’re saying that if I don’t have the money to rent or buy a house, and your vacation cottage happens to be vacant, then I should be able to stay in it without paying you or without you even knowing that I am ‘squatting’?   For since it wasn’t being rented out anyway, you haven’t lost any money.  You suffer no real harm!

I know that the above is not quite an exact replica of the original argument, but you get the idea.

One other ‘it’s not theft’ justification focused on the ‘high cost‘ of the product.  According to this line of reasoning:

If the software company sold their product at a more reasonable price, then people wouldn’t bypass paying for it.

This line of reasoning shouts: ‘Arrogance and Ignorance!  For how do YOU know how much money, time, frustration and skill a software team poured into the development and marketing of their software?   At the very least it is based on speculative presuppositions pulled out of thin air!

So what is a quick Logical Jane response?  When in doubt, ask a question:

  •  And just how do you know that? (that people wouldn’t steal the software plugin if the price were lower)

By the way, did you notice how our last reasoner redefined ‘theft’ as bypass paying for it?  That’s a clever tactic that you shouldn’t let slide.

That ploy raises an important point.  If two people on opposite sides of an issue cannot or will not agree on a mutual definition of a key term, then any discussion that follows is a waste of time and energy.

Rule # 1 in Logic: A clear and mutually accepted definition of a key term is the starting point for any productive exchange of ideas.

So how did my home recording entrepreneur friend deal with this surprise dust storm of contrary views?  Besides ignoring the name calling, he did engage in measured back and forth online conversation with one man who ‘attempted’ to offer a charitable and somewhat reasoned argument on behalf of ‘bypassing remunerating’ the software engineers. But when they couldn’t agree on just exactly what constitutes ‘theft’, they had to agree to disagree.  A very reasonable way to leave such an exchange.