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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?

 

 

 

God uses logic and evidence

28 Jul

The handwritten note peaked out between flyers and magazines as if to say, ‘Don’t miss me!’  I scanned the return address, quickly recalling a former student from Virginia.

Along with the graduation announcement and senior photo, he wrote an account of the four years just completed at this classical Christian school in Virginia.  I rejoiced to read his description of the long-term effect our 8th-grade logic and reasoning curriculum had exerted on his life. Encouraged and guided in HOW to question and to think logically had sparked the fuse that propelled him out of complacency in his studies.  Apparently, after I departed, hunger to grow intellectually had gripped him, for he had gained vision and a purpose for learning.  That kind of feedback would energize anyone!

I do give thanks that a middle school logic class birthed this young man’s interest in knowledge and ideas. Certainly, students need to know how to reason well and express themselves clearly in order to advance in academics.  But clear thinking is vital to all of us, even Christians.

Why do I say Christians must know how to express themselves clearly and evaluate arguments accurately?  Contemporary society bombards believers with the false and disreputable view that faith and science or faith and reason are antithetical.  Not true! But we people of the Book must be taught how to gently push back with the truth.  And that takes information and practice, in essence: ‘skill’.

Humans are not born knowing how to reason well. But just like my former 8th-grade student, we all can be taught and equipped with some basic tools and ways of evaluating both written and spoken thoughts.

Why is it important for Christians to use logic? Just today, in Isaiah 41, I read verse after verse where God exhorted His people to argue or reason on behalf of the efficacy of idols. Consider these 3 verses, 21-23 (NLT):

Present the case for your idols,”
    says the Lord.
“Let them show what they can do,”
    says the King of Israel.
22 “Let them try to tell us what happened long ago
    so that we may consider the evidence.
Or let them tell us what the future holds,
    so we can know what’s going to happen.
23 Yes, tell us what will occur in the days ahead.
    Then we will know you are gods.
In fact, do anything—good or bad!
    Do something that will amaze and frighten us.” 

God doesn’t want His people to fall back on ‘blind faith’.  He wants us to believe Him, count on Him, trust Him and thus obey Him having gained true knowledge. Like scientists who collect, observe, and study evidence we also must reason to likely conclusions. Listen to how He chides Jacob in Isaiah 40:26-28, encouraging the people to consider the evidence He provides:

Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing.
27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.

‘Use the eyes, ears, and mind I’ve given you!‘ God seems to argue. From God’s perspective and His true knowledge, only willful obstinacy and sinful desires can explain Jacob’s irrational behavior, since they had been given ample visual and historical proof.

My former logic student probably doesn’t know how learning (and subsequently teaching) logic also changed my life. I had never been taught to think or to reason. No course in grade school or college had guided me in how to begin to evaluate others’ assertions, let alone construct my own reason-based logical argument.  Those six years at that classical Christian school altered my life for good!  I grew into a better reader, listener, thinker, and writer.

Reading this young man’s sweet note re-ignited MY passion for advocating for thinking. As the bumper sticker trumpets:

Critical Thinking - national deficit

 

Logical minds STILL need God’s enlightenment

15 Feb

Sojourner Truth quote.jpg

I saw this quote on a homemade sign carried by a protester in the 21 January 2017 Women’s March in Washington, DC.  A reporter from our local Western North Carolina weekly paper must have snapped it while covering the demonstration.

Having recently read through the book of Genesis again, the story of Eve’s disastrous fall lingered fresh in my mind. Reading the write-up and glancing at the photo almost caused my logical brain to blow a fuse!

Here’s the way Sojourner Truth’s argument appears to take form.

If the very first woman had the power to mess up the world in a catastrophic manner, then the scope of many more women with that kind of power ought to be enough to exercise a beneficial force in society.

What Eve did was evil and deserved immediate death.  It was pre-meditated, defiant rebellion against her Creator God.  How could anyone conclude that MORE Eves working together would have the opposite effect of healing or righting a wrong?

Seeing the quote carried proudly by a marcher made me realize that unless our God sovereignly gives us light to see Truth, our logical minds remain in darkness.  Yes, we can draw some correct conclusions.  But we won’t recognize all truth or all falsity.

Pray for God’s enlightenment, not the radical 18th century age of ‘so-called’ reason that caused many to turn away from the the One who IS light.

John 12:46 – I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness

 

 

 

Do you want to stand out from the rest of society? Then use logic!

6 Apr

And practice thinking!

You’ve seen that smart-alecky bumper sticker:

Critical Thinking - national deficit

It’s actually a true analysis of many Americans.  When I was hired at a classical Christian school, I was assigned one ‘extra class’ to teach: logic….to 8th graders!  Not knowing the first thing about rational thought and argumentation, it took a year for me stumbling my way through the curriculum to begin to understand it.  And as I continued to grow more skilled in the tools I was acquiring, I realized what a treasure I had been handed.

Logical reasoning is foundational to reading correctly, to arguing cogently, to sniffing out holes in other people’s assertions.  This discipline also goes hand-in-hand with apologetics, that body of knowledge that provides a rational defense for the truth of the claims of Jesus in the Bible.

In my personal life, I continue a gentle but on-going campaign, through prayer and conversational engagement, to provoke a family member to let go of her 4 score of false teaching imbibed in a liberal church.  When we start to disagree and I turn to the Bible to back my point, she’ll retort:

  • That’s just man’s opinion!

She does NOT believe in the divine and infallible inspiration of the writers through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Why not?  Because every other Christian she knows, outside of our family and one of her nieces, believes that a ‘fundamentalist’ (her word) interpretation of the Bible naïvely accepts what was the view of primitive men and women, way back ‘then’!

Right off the bat, her argument is weakened by resorting to Chronological Snobbery, that fallacy that rests on the assumption that simply because something is old OR new, it must be better or worse.  No legs under that assertion!

When she restates her attack and critical view of the Bible, she then reminds me that we have travelled this road before, she and I, and we just need to leave it be.

And being the gracious gal that I am, I demur. (I’ll leave you to decide the truth of THAT claim!)

Today, though, I heard a powerful way of reasoning that I think will give her pause.  Let me try out this hypothetical dialogue. Then you can let me know what you think and how she might respond.

me: Just because someone is baptized as a baby, that doesn’t make them a Christian

her: That’s not so!

me: Well, John records Jesus informing Nicodemus that he had to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. And Jesus likens this spiritual birth to the wind blowing where it wants; man does not control or initiate being ‘born from above’.  It’s a God-launched change, unlike man-centered baptisms that ASSUME the efficacy of a priest declaring ‘you’re a Christian by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (and this procedure).

her: (Version A) – That’s just John’s view!

me: What?  John was an eyewitness and disciple of Jesus!

her: (or Version B) – Humph, the Bible was written by men and things get lost in multiple translations and in all the copying.

  • It’s at THIS point where we usually reach our impasse and move on to something else.  I respect her because she’s older and I don’t want to be TOO pushy.
  • But now I think I will add….

me: You do believe that Jesus died for your sins and that you’ll have eternal life with him when you die?

her:  Yes, at least I certainly hope so!

me: And where do you find that in the Bible? What makes you so sure that you are banking on a true doctrine or teaching?   (Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist, advises: ‘Ask a question to make a point.‘)

her: I’m not a ‘Bible scholar’ like you, but I know the church teaches that.

me: Why do you trust what ‘men’ say and teach? What if that doctrine is just a primitive and naïve interpretation?

her:  I have no idea.

me: (another possible question for her) Do you believe the accounts of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus?  If so, why?

her: That’s a solid belief that every Christian agrees on; nothing controversial there!

me: So do you always believe a position to be true because ‘everyone believes it’? Could ‘everyone’ be wrong about something?

I’m not sure how she might respond.  Any ideas?  My fervent prayer is that this dear lady finally abandons her resistance and trust God.  After all, if one can believe the biggest miracle (or fish story!)

  • of the immaterial God coming to earth in the form of another mortal human being,
  • of being murdered under trumped-up false charges,
  • and of then being raised from the dead and ascending to Heaven,

….then why not take Jesus at his word regarding the truth of all the Scriptures?

Matthew 5:18  (Jesus asserts) I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.

Behold, the power of thinking critically and logically!

 

 

The logic behind worry

3 Feb

Weather forecast

I’m preparing to lead a group of students to Québec and God-willing when this blog posts, we will be in the middle of our weeklong French language ‘field trip’.

Travel like all of life is unpredictable, but flights in the winter seem more weather dependent.  The other day during my morning prayers,  I was asking God to grant clement conditions. Immediately I found myself reasoning, “There’s no point in worrying about that!”

Suddenly I found myself engaged in a hypothetical conversation:

Maria 1 – No point getting anxious about the weather two weeks hence!

Maria 2 – Why not?

Maria 1 – Because I can’t do anything about it!

Maria 2 – Right!  but….is  your overall guiding assumption  “One should worry only about those things one can control.”?  Is that it?  Tell me, what ARE the areas over which you exercise control?

Maria 1 – Well, to be honest, I don’t really control anything.

Maria 2 – So why worry about anything?

Maria 1 – Good point.  It’s not rational or ‘reason-able’, is it.

Conclusion: Logic is VERY practical and useful for everyday life.

 

Could Dilbert’s ‘mean’ robot be logical?

2 Sep

Dilbert Robots Read News

You never know where or when you’re going to bump into a logical syllogism. Or shall I say an ATTEMPT at a logical syllogism.

I scan the daily paper, including the comics, for interesting and challenging blog topics. I chuckled recently when I read Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoon featuring a news anchor robot that sports a bad attitude.

Panel # 1 reads:

The Supreme Court ruled that engineers cannot be found guilty of murder

When I encounter a statement like that, my logical antennae tend to perk up. Why? Because I’ve just met a CONCLUSION. Now I need to hunt for the argument, also known as the reasons. Scan on with me!

Panel # 2 reads:

Lawyers argued that any good engineer knows how to get away with murder, so getting caught is proof of innocence. 

This statement appears to be an argument in itself. The telltale two-letter word, SO, often introduces a conclusion. Yet when I tried to tease out the assumptions lurking in this complex sentence I got bogged down.

Part of cartoonist Scott Adam’s humor resides in his deliberately obtuse attempts at logic. Here’s what I came up with as I struggled to make heads or tails out of these tangled words:

  • All engineers who are ‘good’ at being engineers are engineers who know how to conceal their guilt
  • No engineers who are caught in a murder are engineers who are guilty

But then the questions that arose gave me pause; as well they should when anyone advances a belief!  I wondered,

  • How is ‘good’ being defined?
  • And who is doing the defining?
  • Is there a hidden assumption that a good engineer might actually commit murder but be capable of concealing it so that he can’t be charged as ‘guilty’?

Then I saw something troubling in the clause after the comma (‘…so getting caught is proof of innocence’). I would have expected the ‘bad robot’ to have concluded rather:

  • So getting caught is proof that the accused is NOT a good engineer

Since this logical workout comes from a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ comic strip, we mustn’t take it very seriously. But I did attempt to represent it with a Venn diagram.

The red annotation reads: “Set of all engineers who are innocent of murder”

The blue label shows: All ‘good’ engineers

The black set comprises: All engineers who don’t commit murder

Dilbert Engineer Venn Diagram

There is not enough information given in the 3-panel cartoon strip to know how to portray the non-good engineers.  Are they engineers who commit murder and get caught?  Or does the concept of ‘good’ engineer include any other talents than the ability to get away with murder? How and where do I draw THAT set?  Where are there intersections of sets?

I’m not too bothered that I didn’t dissect it to the satisfying point of seeing how it worked. Why not?  Too many fallacies and problems that I don’t have the energy to sort out!  So I’ll call it ‘a day’ and lay aside my cartoon logic analysis.

Nonetheless, I’m grateful for the 30 or so minutes I invested in playing around with Scott’s wording. Actually, the process of drawing different category sets and subsets helped me think. And thinking is never a waste of time. So what if I had to conclude that I was dealing with some crazy robot’s irrational news reporting!

Oh, and in case you couldn’t make out the wording Scott Adam’s concluding cartoon square, here’s

Panel # 3:

The ruling was unanimous because no one could figure out which side was the liberal one.

Maybe I spent my energy on the wrong parts of the cartoon!  Oh, well.  I enjoy challenging myself to think through assertions, whether encountered in conversations, in my reading or in movies. Wanting to grow wiser, my goal is to become quicker to think and reflect and slower to share my views. Join me in being on guard, with a nose ready to sniff out poor reasoning and irrational statements.