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Monday, January 25, 2016

So which came first?

Do we think ourselves into a way of acting or do we act ourselves into a way of thinking?

The right answer is "yes." At least I think so--or do I act so?

With Flannery O'Connor I write to know what I am thinking. So do I think first and then write or do I carry out the activity of writing in order to think?

Think before you act! is good advice. Unless there is an immediate danger like a car swerving in front of you. Then just act and think later. Right?

Kahneman wrote that there is thinking fast and thinking slow. Thinking fast is acting out of habit (like driving a car) which could be called intuition. Thinking slow is acting after deliberation, checking the evidence and other viewpoints. Need both, he says.

Here is a case for acting first: If you get people to change their behavior (e.g. by making it more in their interest to do so), they then might think this behavior is better which will reinforce their behavior. Sometimes to stop an addiction--smoking, drinking, cheating--we just do it or are forced to, then we realize that its much better not to smoke, drink, cheat. So we act our way into a way of thinking.

Many people vote against their best interests all the time. Then they marshall the evidence to prove they are right and only read and watch those pundits who confirm them in their choices. If they finally change their mind and vote differently, is it because they were pushed into acting first and changed their mind to fit their actions? Or were they converted by preachers who got to their minds and hearts to get them to change their behavior? So they think their way into a way of acting.

As community organizers we were taught not to worry about changing the opponents' (e.g. segregating realtors') minds, just their behaviors. Their minds may or may not follow.

Some of us see thinking and acting as two behaviors reenforcing each other. Scientists think out a solution often because of some action or event which caused a problem. Then they act out an experiment to see if it works. Based on the results of that experiment, they refine the question and think up better solutions. So do successful business persons, political actors, and parents.

Others see thinking and acting as the difference between mind and matter, i.e. action is outside in the world, thinking is inside in consciousness. Some of us are betters contemplators, others better doers. Or we need to do both in their own times and spaces.

I consider human thinking and acting the same behavior. Thinking is always action of the human organism to its environment--or maybe better an interaction between the organism and its environment. Action is always conscious; it is a thinking--whether fast or slow. The inside/outside, mind/matter, consciousness/world, self/body distinction we make is an illusion and fabrication--though often a useful illusion and fabrication.

So who cares? I do because I believe that it is important to recognize our illusions and fabrications lest we take ourselves and our opinions and our reality and all our other fabrications too seriously.

I see our present political discussion doing just that. It is fostering anti-intellectualism by denouncing people who are more educated to think for being members of some impractical, uncommitted elite. It is fostering anti-pragmatism by denouncing people willing to listen, change, and compromise by insisting on unquestioned beliefs and religiously held principles.


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