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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Four Types of Thinking

Is science the pinnacle of knowing? If Culture is the realm of finding and making meaning, is a scientific culture, e.g. liberally educated, secular, evidence based, empirical, rational, enlightened, the best of cultures?

I think so. But...

There are different kinds of meaning, knowing, thinking besides science that make for a wholesome culture.

Experience or perception is our interaction with our environment from birth to death. Let's start there with what William James called "pure experience"--a stream and flux of impressions, images, floating, mass of confusion in and out of our awareness. (James knew that there was no pure experience in the sense that it happened apart from what we were already putting into it--e.g. categories or thoughts; but he bracketed those to converge on experience as such.)

There is experience that is questionable, that is calling for explanation, for causes. The "because" is the answer to the question why and is expressed in laws of nature that can claim universality. That is science thinking.

There is experience that is enticing, enjoyable even when discomforting, brimming with patterns that we appreciate, that is, beautiful which is expressed in works of art. That is aesthetic thinking.

There is experience that fills us with wonder and makes us reach beyond ourselves; it is a sense of mystery and transcendence, expressed in stories and rituals. That is mythic and religious thinking.

There is experience that is commonplace, day-to day, parochial and concrete, which is expressed in our ordinary language of commerce and survival.

Each of these meanings enrich our culture and our persons: meaning as explanation; meaning as beauty, meaning as transcendence, meaning as common sense.

Before the scientific revolution and the age of reason, and still in many parts of the world and of individual counties, including America, the drive for meaning was confused in the general population. Critical thought was demeaned and sometime punished. Religious and mythic concepts were used as explanations. Common parochial practices were made into universal laws. Arts were technologies subservient to economic or political interests. We see remnants of that culture in many rural enclaves, fundamentalist churches, nativist movements, and right-wing populist politics.

Freeing science freed art and religion and even common sense and led to a more scientifically informed philosophy that opened critical thinking in science, art, religion, and common sense. The emancipation of thinking in all its forms also leads to or perhaps is assisted by a free and open society, democratic republics through which ideas could be tried within a framework of respect for all and for the earth which is the condition of our living, thinking, and acting.