How we get our Values: The Thinking Process
In my previous post “So, What are Values Anyway?” dated August 10, 2015 on the Broward Tea Party blog site, I talked about the correct meaning of the concept “values”: those things that are valuable to living creatures of all kinds for the purpose of furthering their survival. For humans values include both necessities as well as things that make life happy and enjoyable like food, clothing, housing, employment, education, camaraderie with other people, good health, financial security, leisure, romance, children, consumer goods, a good credit rating and lots of others. One value, however, is more important than any other for us as humans because it enables us to get all of our other values. That value is thinking.
Thinking (also called reason) is the process of taking in information about reality and turning it into knowledge useful for achieving one’s other values. Taking in information about reality is vital for our survival because reality is always there and always setting the terms of our lives whether we like it or not. What we as humans need to do to survive is figure out the facts of reality and their implications for our continued survival. We do this by means of the thinking process. This process has five steps:
- Observing reality with our five senses;
- Consciously acknowledging what we observe;
- Identifying what we observe in words;
- Inducing the facts of reality; and
- Integrating the facts of reality to understand the context surrounding a particular value, so we can determine whether that value is attainable and, if so, how to achieve it.
Let’s take each of these individually in order. The first step, observing reality with our five senses, means precisely that. We start the thinking process whenever we see, touch, taste, hear or smell something, and it happens for the most part automatically.
Next, to think we have to consciously acknowledge what we observe. For example, rather than just passively seeing a red sofa in a furniture store, we acknowledge to ourselves that we are seeing a red sofa. By doing this, because at the moment we might be looking to buy a red sofa for the living room, we can realize that the red sofa we’re looking at is what we’re looking for, a value. Whereas if we just let our gaze pass over the sofa passively, we might not realize the significance of what is there and pass up a potential value.
I attended a lecture many years ago on the thinking process where the lecturer showed us a picture similar to the one below and told us, in our minds, to acknowledge as many observations in as much detail as we could from the information in it.
Some of the many possible results for this picture could be: green and white bowl on the top shelf in the middle, blue and white bowl on the lower shelf, two rectangular wooden shelves, black and white dish or plate in the back on the lower shelf, framed sign that says “Cedar Mesa Pottery” at the back of the top shelf, etc.
When we consciously acknowledge what we observe, we do it by performing the third step of the thinking process: we identify what we observe in terms of words. Words are labels for the things in reality. All words are one of two types: proper nouns or concepts.
Proper nouns stand for only one particular thing. Concepts, in contrast, stand for one or more instances of things, actions, circumstances, descriptions, etc. that all have certain characteristics in common with each other. For example, “woman” is a concept that can refer to any number of things with the characteristics women have in common, namely, that they are all adult female human beings. However, “Megyn Kelly” is not a concept but rather a proper noun because, unlike “woman” which can refer to any number of people who are women, “Megyn Kelly” refers to only one specific person. (If there happen to be two or more women named Megyn Kelly, or two or more places named Ontario, i.e., in California and in Canada, it is a coincidence rather than because of any characteristics these women or places might have in common with each other.)
More examples of concepts: “a” (or “an”) is a grammatical concept referring to an indefinite article, and it is a concept because it can refer to any indefinite article; “the” is a similar concept which refers instead to any definite article. Concepts which refer to specific types of things are called nouns; ones referring to specific types of actions are verbs; ones referring to descriptions of things are adjectives; and ones referring to descriptions of actions are called adverbs. There are other types of concepts which are made necessary by the logistics of grammar: prepositions, conjunctions, etc.
Concepts can be concrete or abstract. A concrete concept refers to entities that are understandable through sensory observation alone. For example, “woman”, “run”, and “dog” are concepts that can be understood just by looking at the things they refer to. Abstract concepts also refer to entities, but which by their nature can not be understood merely from observation (they’re not something you can “hold in your hand”, so to speak); more knowledge is needed. For example, “bank account” and “financial solvency” are abstract concepts. Important concepts relating to morality such as “friendship”, “enemy”, “evil” and “good“ are all abstract concepts.
Because the relationship of abstract concepts to reality is not self-evident, people need a technique for relating them to reality to be able to understand them properly. The way to understand abstract concepts is to reduce them to the concrete concepts from which they are derived. For example, a “bank account” – a tally for money belonging to a certain person or legal entity placed with a bank for safe keeping – can be explained in terms of a few concrete concepts you can “hold in your hand”: tallies, money, people, and banks. All valid abstract concepts, no matter how abstract, can be properly understood this way, by reduction to concrete concepts. (Even concepts relating to the supernatural including salvation, angels, demons, etc. are reducible to perceptual level concretes because they are allegorical.)
Once someone has identified what he has observed in terms of words, the next step is induction of facts. Facts are statements describing reality. They consist, at a minimum, of one concept (a verb) plus either a concept (a noun) or a proper noun, in the form of “something is (or was, will be, etc.)”. “The dog runs” is a fact. “Instability resulting from the Mexican Revolution caused Mexicans from Juarez to move to El Paso in Texas” is one. Etc.
Induction means gathering and analyzing evidence to determine the nature of a fact. Some facts are self-evident and can be induced just by observing (i.e., the sky is blue). As with identifying what we observe in terms of words, which is generally done at the same time as we consciously acknowledge what we observe, so it is with inducing self-evident facts: we do it at the same time as we identify in words what we observe. For example, I open my eyes when I wake up in the morning, look out the window, and see a large dark cloud in the distance with flashes in it. I identify in words what I’m seeing: “thunderstorm”. I also have induced a fact of reality: there is a thunderstorm in that particular direction. However, many other facts are not self-evident and require a lot of evidence and scientific analysis to be ascertained properly (i.e., a Mojave rattlesnake’s venom is both hemotoxic and neurotoxic, water boils at 212°F at sea level, the orbits of the moon and planets around the sun, the theory of gravity, etc.).
Once one has induced facts, the next step is to integrate these facts with each other, and with the factual knowledge one already has. Integrating facts means connecting them where they have concepts or proper nouns in common. “All men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man” are directly related to each other because of the common concept “man”. In reality all facts are related to each other, even if indirectly. For example: I am living 700 miles south of the State of Michigan where Sleeping Bear Dunes is located which is the location of many summer homes for people from Chicago which is a city about the same size as Osaka, Japan, a country along the Ring of Fire just like Chile in South America, a continent which has the highest mountains in the world outside of Asia, all of which are on the earth, a planet located 2.5 million light years from the Andromeda galaxy… you get the idea. A high school friend of mine had some fun with integration with a little saying of his about why fire engines are red: “2+2=4, 4+4=8, 8+4=12, 12 inches in a ruler, Queen Mary was a ruler, Queen Mary was a ship, ships sail on the sea, the sea has fish, fish have fins, Finns live next to the Russians, Russians are red, and fire engines are always rushin’.”
Part of integration involves figuring out new facts dictated by the integrated ones, called deduction. For example, when one integrates “all men are mortal” with “Socrates is a man”, one can deduce “Socrates is mortal as well”.
The goal of integrating facts is to understand the context regarding a particular value. A context is the universe of facts relevant to the value in question being integrated in proper relationship to each other. When someone understands the context regarding a value, he can figure out whether or not the value is achievable and, if so, how to achieve it. This is because, when someone understands the context regarding a value, he can determine which facts are most fundamental, or important, for achieving it, and which are less so or even irrelevant. For a simple example, your value is to eat dinner at The Habit Restaurant. The nearest Habit is on La Cienega Boulevard near Beverly Boulevard. You are at your house on Santa Monica Boulevard. Santa Monica Boulevard intersects with La Cienega Boulevard. La Cienega Boulevard goes down to Interstate 10, which is past Beverly Boulevard. Here, you can tell that the facts that The Habit is on La Cienega near Beverly Boulevard, La Cienega intersects with Santa Monica, and you’re along Santa Monica, are all relevant because from them you can figure out how to get your value: you go down Santa Monica to La Cienega, turn onto La Cienega and go to the restaurant for dinner. The fact that La Cienega goes down to I-10 beyond the restaurant can be disregarded as irrelevant, because it’s of no use in figuring out how to get to the restaurant.
For a much more in-depth example of forming a context regarding a far more significant value in everyone’s lives, consider the following. The value that you want is a satisfying career path. You have the following hash of facts, all induced and deduced:
- You like cold weather.
- A degree from an Ivy League law school makes you marketable in any state.
- To get admitted to any law school you must take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).
- You’re interested in the rules that govern how people in society interact with each other.
- Spain gets more tourists than any other country.
- To get a job as an intellectual property attorney an engineering degree is highly desirable.
- You aren’t rich.
- Ivy League law schools are extremely expensive.
- There is high demand for intellectual property lawyers in Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Huntsville, and Raleigh.
- People who do well in college tend to do well on the LSAT.
- If you overfill the popcorn popper the top will melt.
- University of Minnesota College of Law isn’t as good as an Ivy League law school but still makes you marketable almost everywhere.
- There is low demand for lawyers and getting a job is difficult.
- There are good LSAT prep courses.
- To sit for a bar exam you have to get a degree from a law school.
- University of Minnesota College of Law is less expensive than an Ivy League school for in state residents.
- Ivy League law schools are very competitive and hard to get into.
- Law is the profession which deals with the rules that govern how people in society interact with each other.
- You did well in college.
- Des Moines is the capital of Iowa.
- To practice law in any state you have to pass a bar exam given by the State Bar Association of that state.
- You’re a resident of Wisconsin.
- You don’t have any idea how well you’ll do on the LSAT.
- University of Minnesota College of Law is more highly regarded than University of Washington College of Law.
- You want to live in Minnesota.
- There are good LSAT prep courses.
- You have an engineering degree.
- University of Minnesota offers cheap in state tuition for out of state applicants who do well on the LSAT.
At first these facts all seem random, discussing cities, universities, the legal profession, sectors of the economy, exams, countries, popcorn, etc. But, when properly integrated, they dictate a clear path to a career: a law degree from University of Minnesota, and an intellectual property attorney position in Seattle.
Here’s how we get there. First, you’re interested in the rules that govern how people in society interact with each other, which is law. So you should probably try to become a lawyer. There is low demand for lawyers and getting a job is difficult, so law may not be a good career choice; however, there is high demand for intellectual property lawyers in Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Huntsville, and Raleigh. Also, to get a job as an intellectual property attorney an engineering degree is highly desirable and, it turns out, you have an engineering degree. So in your case law may be a good choice after all.
For you to be able to practice law in any state, you have to pass a bar exam given by the State Bar Association of that state. To sit for a bar exam, you have to get a degree from a law school. The best law schools are Ivy League law schools, from which a degree will make you marketable to law firms in any state. However, Ivy League law schools are extremely expensive, competitive and hard to get into, and you aren’t rich. University of Minnesota College of Law looks like a good alternative to an Ivy League law school, though, because while it isn’t as good as an Ivy League law school, a degree from there still makes you marketable almost everywhere. And it’s less expensive than an Ivy League school for in state residents. You’re a resident of Wisconsin and therefore not an in state resident, but University of Minnesota offers cheap in state tuition for out of state applicants who do well on the LSAT, which you’ll have to take to get admitted to any law school anyway. While you don’t have any idea how well you’ll do on the LSAT, you’ll probably do well because people who did well in college tend to do well on the LSAT, and you did well in college. In addition, there are good LSAT prep courses available for you to take, and you want to live in Minnesota.
Seattle would be the best city to look for a job in once you get your degree because you like cold weather and it has the coldest weather of the cities with strong markets for intellectual property attorneys. It may still be better to get your law degree from University of Minnesota, though, because even though University of Washington College of Law is located in Seattle, University of Minnesota College of Law is more highly regarded than University of Washington College of Law generally and a Minnesota degree may make you more marketable in the other cities with strong markets for intellectual property attorneys in case you find the Seattle job market a bit tight.
The facts about Des Moines, Spain, and the popcorn popper are irrelevant and can be disregarded.
There is a special kind of fact that aids people greatly in forming and understanding contexts called a principle. A principle integrates lots of other facts and takes the form of a generalization of some kind. “All men are mortal” is a principle. Another: all rattlesnakes are poisonous. In the above example there are a number of principles, including that to get into law school you have to take the LSAT, that the demand for lawyers is weak, that an engineering degree helps to get an intellectual property attorney position, and others. Principles keep people from constantly having to ask questions like, “is that man over there going to die too?” or “is that rattlesnake poisonous too?”. Principles save mental energy. Without them, in order to form contexts people would have to expend much more mental effort to memorize many more facts, making understanding reality and achieving values incredibly more difficult.
It is this process – from observations to concepts to facts to context – by which people achieve all their values and, consequently, civilized living standards. All businesses, interpersonal relationships, technological innovations, production of goods and services, and commerce ultimately result from it. Without it there would be no economies of any size and we would still be in the Stone Age.
As important as thinking is, however, it is not automatic. While sensory perception, the first step of the thinking process, is automatic, the rest of the process is not. Much of thinking is self-evident for concrete concepts; consequently almost everyone can figure out relatively simple matters such as what to wear or have for dinner. For abstract concepts, however, thinking is neither automatic nor self-evident. Reduction of abstractions to concretes is a skill that must be learned to be used effectively. Without learning reduction, someone can not figure out the correct meanings of abstractions and instead will treat them as if they are concretes. For example, the abstract concept “friend” means someone who is supportive of one’s values. But to arrive at this meaning requires reduction. If someone doesn’t understand reduction, he will define “friend” as a concrete concept meaning someone who is openly pleasant, polite or amiable, even if unbeknownst to him this person is a manipulator, schemer or criminal who would stab him in the back or steal his life savings – and might end up treating such a person as a “friend”.
It should be clear the kinds of problems this creates. If people don’t understand abstract concepts correctly, they are unable to induce facts that involve abstract concepts, and thus become unable to integrate those facts to form a context that depends on those facts. Values whose contexts involve facts with abstract concepts include romantic love, an understanding of morality, and successfully running a business, among others. People who can’t handle abstractions end up feeling cut off from achieving these types of values. They end up in broken relationships, operating failing businesses, believing that morality is some sort of a subjective scam to help protect the interests of particularly wealthy, clever or politically powerful people at the expense of others, and ultimately become frustrated if not destitute.
When people feel cut off from values they want, they turn against values as such. Because values are necessary for life and happiness they turn against these as well and become envious and destructive towards those who have them, even to the point of becoming vicious killers. As examples consider the nihilistic behavior of any number of anti-values groups throughout history, from the barbarians who sacked Rome in the fifth century, to the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in 1258 and started the decline of the Moslem empire (and thus helped to create the cultural sewer that is much of the Islamic world today), to the Russian Bolsheviks, German Nazis, Italian and Spanish fascists, Imperial Japanese, Maoist Chinese, or any number of modern Islamic hate groups including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda or ISIS.
Modern American liberals fall into this same category. Nihilism against values, life and happiness is rampant within the American left. Observe the feminists who mutilate human fetuses, the environmentalists who want to shut down all land development and sandbag economic growth with endless regulations, Democratic politicians who want ever-higher taxes so they can confiscate wealth and Obamacare so they can kill people through healthcare rationing, and the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements, who want to bring down law and order. (Look for an upcoming blog post on why liberals are the way they are.)
Today the intellectuals in our universities – precisely the people who are supposed to be teaching everyone how to think properly – are doing the exact opposite, producing freshly minted liberal nonthinkers like crazy. The importance of intellectuals in any society can not be overstated because it is they who are the source of the ideas that cause long-term social trends. Intellectuals have the influence they do because of their research, what they teach students, and the consulting services they provide outside the classroom to businesses and government officials. From them culture-shaping ideas are created, spread and turned into government policies, giving academia a position of the highest importance in influencing everyone’s future.
Instead of teaching people how to think, the overwhelming majority of intellectuals in American universities (and in those of other countries) today are opposed to doing so. They attack every step of the thinking process, claiming that sensory observation doesn’t work, that concepts are at best partially accurate estimations, that nobody can ever be sure whether facts are valid or not, that principles are just worthless generalizations, and to achieve values the best we can do is blindly follow our feelings and “muddle through”, and whatever happens, happens. The result of this attitude is the slow rot of failure and cultural decline we sense all around us today. (Look for an upcoming post on the attitudes towards thinking in Western history.)
Just like the empires before it, America will be vulnerable until this trend is reversed. If there is one issue that is more important than all others – i.e., abortion, deficit spending, immigration, health care, foreign policy, taxes, etc. – for saving this country it is education, and in particular the attitude of our intellectuals towards the importance of good thinking. If the current attitude toward thinking that is dominant in academia is not changed within the next few decades the people who know the benefits of good thinking will die off and America’s decline will probably become irreversible. So I’m calling on everyone to understand what’s in this blog post and make it an issue ASAP. Feel free to comment and ask what can be done.
In memory of Hilda