I’ve Been Thinking about Thinking

As someone who manages a couple of writing centers at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas, USA, I’m often asked, by faculty members of one sort or another, to do writing workshops for students.  Exactly one week ago today, I did a critical thinking activity with a class of writers.  It’s a workshop I’ve done innumerable times with countless pupils.

Toward the end of the hour, a student raised his hand and said, “I want to tell you that your lesson has given me a headache.”  I smiled and facetiously said that that had been my intention.

I came away from the experience reminded that we’re all born with brains, but that doesn’t mean we’re necessarily equipped to think well all the time.  In the same way we need to train our muscles and develop stamina to stay physically fit, we need to give our minds the right kind of “exercise” on a regular basis to remain mentally sharp.  Plus, the way we think—whether we think skillfully or not—is greatly influenced by how we live our lives.  I recently wrote a post about how I’d been doing less reading recently which had negatively affected my ability to think interesting thoughts and write.  If we read, travel, have intellectually stimulating conversations on a regular basis, and seek out diverse learning opportunities of all sorts, we’re apt to grow intellectually.  Bottomline:  Our minds are shaped by the sorts of milieux we create for ourselves and inhabit.

It is often noted that we have a disinformation problem in the world today and that gaslighting and lies spread very quickly on social media.  I’d argue that those who spend a great deal of time on these kinds of networks put themselves in harm’s way. 

Those who formulate “thoughts” and share their “thinking” on such platforms understand that they have to make a big impact while using minimal language.  To achieve this, they rely on the use of memes, gifs, and what rhetoricians call appeals to “pathos” (or emotions).  For posts to go viral, they must be sensational in some way.  Good thinking, on the other hand, is language intensive.  It requires dialogue, debate, and nuance.  Good thinking rejects oversimplification and either/or binaries—the sort of “arguments” one finds on social media.

I used to spend lots of time on Twitter, but then, after noticing what social media was doing to me, I closed my account and did the same with Facebook.  I realized that Twitter was having a bad influence because I was spending all my time debating and trying to “win” every argument.  Often, do be victorious, I was having to stoop to a level that I abhorred in others.  In short, I was becoming the thing I least wished to be.  

Tragically, social media is blurring the lines between facts and opinions.  Being artful, critical thinkers requires that we learn by becoming acquainted with a body of facts about a particular subject.  We can then use that learning—that body of facts—to form thoughts or opinions about the topic under discussion.  It is absolutely essential to remember that facts are objective and opinions are subjective.  An opinion is an assertion that becomes more or less compelling depending on how well or poorly the arguer marshals the facts to support the claim.  Claims do not have power on their own.  They must be supported by relevant and sufficient objective evidentiary details.

After the last presidential election in the US, it was common for some to claim that Joe Biden had won because he’d cheated.  Those making such a claim almost never provided evidence to support this assertion.  They were guilty of confusing opinions with facts and thought that merely stating a thing to be true was enough to make it true.  We must doggedly demand that those making questionable claims provide relevant, sufficient, and compelling evidence in support of such arguments. 

Of course, I could write an entire book about critical thinking and how it works, so I’m not able to fully cover the topic here.  For example, there’s the issue of where we get our facts.  There is a world of difference between reputable sources and those that traffic in propaganda.

Thanks for reading this blog!

76 thoughts on “I’ve Been Thinking about Thinking

  1. I avoid the topic of politics and who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s a losing debate where no one wins because each side whether you’re right or left believe in their candidate. It really takes a lot of strength these days to close social media accounts. Good for you in putting your mental health and sanity first.

  2. Great post. I would add physical exercise also as a requirement for clear, creative thinking. Whenever I’m stuck, I know it’s time for a walk. And based on research I’ve done for a previous blog, I’m not alone. Many of the best minds in history were inveterate walkers.

  3. This post reminds me of the Rumi quote, “You can beat 40 scholars with one fact, but you can’t beat one idiot with 40 facts.” Great post, Troy!

  4. Do do do
    Down dooby doo down down
    Comma, comma, down dooby doo down down
    Comma, comma, down dooby doo down down
    Thinking thoughts is hard to do

    Don’t take your memes away from me
    Don’t you leave my heart in misery
    If you go then I’ll be blue
    ‘Cause thinking thoughts is hard to do

    Remember when you told me what’s right
    And fed me my thoughts all through the night
    Remember all that we’ve been through
    And thinking thoughts is hard to do

    They say that thinking thoughts is hard to do
    Now I know
    I know that it’s true
    Don’t say that this is the end
    Instead of thinking thoughts I wish that we were brainless lots again

    I beg of you don’t say goodbye
    Can’t we give our memes another try?
    Come on, baby, let’s start anew
    ‘Cause thinking thoughts is hard to do

    Now I know
    I know that it’s true
    Don’t say that this is the end
    Instead of thinking thoughts I wish that we were brainless lots again
    I beg of you don’t say goodbye
    Can’t we give our memes another try?
    Come on, baby, let’s start anew
    ‘Cause thinking thoughts is hard to do

    Comma, comma, down dooby doo down down
    Comma, comma, down dooby doo down down
    Comma, comma, down dooby doo down down
    Comma, comma, down dooby doo down

      1. Dear Troy,

        I submitted a comment a few minutes ago to reply to your comment, and hope that it has got through. If not, please kindly check whether it has been inadvertently consigned to your WordPress spam folder.

        Yours sincerely,

      1. how’s your day and the weather conditions going so far over there?

  5. Thanks for sharing this article, Troy–enjoyed reading it very much. Also, I could definitely relate to what you shared about deleting Twitter and Facebook due to the effects you noticed.

      1. You’re welcome, Troy. I’m glad that you’re feeling more at peace. BTW, my “joy” factor went up dramatically, also, when I cut out TV, about seven or eight years ago.

  6. I love to think 🤔 I wrote an blog on altruism today if it exists in this world today. Rather basic but love a good banter of philosophical ideas if interested to take a peek

  7. I reckon social media is very time consuming. But I think it’s one of the easiest way to keep up to date with current events since there’s trending tag on Twitter, give or take? And I frequently observe how people use social media. Kinda makes me think everyone actually being their real selves there…

    I wonder…

    1. Interesting thought, The Mind Report. I’d like to believe that people are better than they demonstrate on social media. But maybe I’m wrong? Thanks for giving me something to think about.

  8. I find great solace from reading your thought provoking points. What I gained from years of introspection is that when people listen to such information for the first time certainly will lead them to a shock since they have no proper wisdom on it. Initially, it will be emotionally disturbing and followed by intellectually exploitative and chaotic behaviour. These are outcomes from misdemeanour and ignorant of its volatility. The key lies in knowing its efficacy and learn to renounce the unwarranted misinformations.

  9. It’s very difficult today to know if our information/facts source is reliable. I try to read as much as possible to form my own opinion. But I always have some doubts.

  10. Thank you for always posting thought provoking posts. I was just having a conversation today with a colleague who has a teenage son, and he is debating whether it is a good idea or not to give the boy a cellphone. We both work for a school district and see how incredibly toxic personal devices seem to be for kids growing up in this generation, and I really empathize with his dilemma. The amount of information we have access to is surely a blessing, BUT, as you said, you need to know how to tell between a reliable source and one that is not that reliable. We now have all this information, with the internet… And kids have access to all this information as well, through their cell phones… Yet, are we assuming the responsibility that goes along with the power of unlimited information? I think not… I think we have set free the internet monster for people to use and abuse, yet no one has been given instructions on how to care for this animal, or how to take advantage of this information for good — and it’s not a matter of common sense, in my opinion.

  11. Thank you for sharing this. I teach rhetoric and composition, and I believe it’s so important to address either/or arguments and other logical fallacies. I hadn’t thought of how social media, by its short/witty nature, breeds and even celebrates these kinds of arguments. I think it’s also important to acknowledge that we don’t know something if we haven’t researched it. Even better is to have these conversations in person.

  12. “Our minds are shaped by the sorts of milieux we create for ourselves and inhabit.”

  13. Thinking about Thinking is a topic that got me fazed Tony. Two seconds after reading it I was confused and just like that student who raised his hand , I just got a headache too😂.

    Anyways it’s a good post!

  14. I agree totally with your excellent post. Writing and reading are keys to clear and productive thinking. I’ve found this practice elevates the mind beyond “herd thinking” and the attendant stupidity birthed by following the herd.

  15. This was something I’ve been waiting for…I wastes so much time thinking about something that gives my mind so joy and kills my present..

  16. Australians – and this is a massive generalisation – don’t like to think. We regard it as work, not as a leisure activity. All the same as nations go we’re not tremendously gullible, perhaps because we’re almost equally suspicious of emotions. I agree with you, critical thinking is an essential democratic tool.

  17. It is nice to see a well-thought out blog post. You certainly have been thinking about thinking! And your insights were useful.

  18. I just stumbled upon ur post while browsing through wordpress. I agree with your point of view. Also, I liked the way you shared it, without emblishing with superlatives and trying to be persuasive.

  19. Nice post. I love when students tell me there heads hurt after a lecture or a challenging exercise. I feel I have done a good job as an instructor. Nobody has ever told me I had given them a headache, however. In any case a great anecdote. 👍 Thanks for a super post.

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