Most people are unaware of the invisible crisis beset on humanity: an increasing inability to think well and independently. When the majority of people get their news from Facebook, accept tweets as tidbits of truth, and are unable to discern between real and false news, to say we are in a bit of trouble is to understate the problem. And there are those who cannot tell the difference between weak anecdotal evidence (personal stories and recounts) and strong scientific facts. An under-appreciation for the rigours of the scientific method, a poor sense of reasoning, and an ignorance about the pitfalls of our brain all translate into an impending cataclysm.
Even right now, concerned parents splurge on tuition, enrichment lessons and overtime remedial for one singular purpose: they believe confidently that these investments will lead to a higher quality of life for their children. But it has been shown that the level of education achieved has little bearing on one’s ability to think well or have a good life. Good thinking may not make you rich, but it could prevent you from losing thousands of dollars over your lifetime; it won’t necessarily make you any smarter or more successful but it will reduce the likelihood you make dumb decisions; and while it certainly won’t guarantee a long life, it will give you the tools to live a meaningful one.
It may not seem obvious to the uninitiated but everywhere we go, it’s a battlefield of beliefs, influence and persuasion. Churches, monasteries and mosques are constantly organising conversion events disguised as festive celebrations in the hopes of persuading the very young to join up – which if I may add, should be a crime in itself. Advertisements constantly make all sorts of ‘scientific’ claims and sport well-know celebrities to inject a greater sense of believability. Our friends often exert a great deal of pull on us and enthuse us to try many different things, some savoury and some not. The real challenge is being able to discern what’s worth putting your life on the line for, and what’s a blatant scam.
Even at this point, there are many people in Singapore, a supposedly modern and progressive city, who believe in really weird things. Some swear by certain translucent crystals that supposedly possess mystical restorative powers, while others splurge on a type of prosperity fish. Either way, they all too easily put forward several thousands unthinkingly, blindly chasing after myths and traditions. It’s also deeply disheartening that many people who gamble, do not understand the simple probability that over a long time, you will always lose far more than you can win. It’s why casinos will flourish. They simply know their enterprise will ultimately be always profitable – they can count on you to lose, eventually.
Or take the recent study by NUS which revealed that around 8 in ten Singaporean patients have no understanding of the differences between a virus and bacteria. They also didn’t know how antibiotics worked and that it had no effect against viral infections. To make it worse, despite having a cold (caused by a virus), they continued taking antibiotics, leading to a gross misuse which would only result in the unhappy ending of super-bugs that are resistant to various drugs. But they will however, happily take to traditional chinese medicine (TCM) and accept a great of its nonsense as medical truths. That Singapore runs a prime-time drama show advocating the potency and effectiveness of TCM should be a recurring point to be ashamed of.
Simply knowing more about our bodily functions does not require years of study, but a simple habit of reading more and an indulgence in thinking more. Is there a way to verify that what I paying for will really work? How can I distinguish one method from the other? Does this claim contradict another? Why does this belief not make sense in the context of the scientific method? These are the all important questions that for many, simply do not exist. In this case, good thinking may reduce wasted opportunities, save you hours of needless worships or prevent you from surrendering your mental independence. Everyone is always telling us what to believe and how to believe, and more than ever, we need to fight back by thinking well.
It is not a hyperbole to say that nonsense is the primary language that dots our modern landscape. There’s a great, great deal of it, and very, very little that’s done about that. Most of education will never teach us to think well. Even if you practiced critical thinking in History, or did rigorous analysis in Chemistry, unless you studied something philosophical that always challenges your basic beliefs, these academic subjects are domain specific – which means that they are rarely applied onto ourselves. It’s different to critically think about how religions were controlled during a communist regime versus whether is a religion controlling my life and viewpoints. Giving reasons for the latter case can be a moment of great personal crisis.
Thinking well is still applicable even in areas of human relationships where irrationality is too often the norm. Why is this person significant to me? Other than very strong feelings, am I encouraged to be better? What grounds do I have for holding on to this relationship for so long? Though contextually dependent and difficult to answer for each individual, the struggle between the heart and the mind will determine whether someone is worth the hours and words in the very short lives we live. And it is precisely because time passes so quickly that we must make the right choices and keep the right people with us. A single misstep may close all avenues of transition while the right path may well lead us to a new state of euphoria never experienced.
Thinking well must include skepticism – an essential posture to have and survive in this modern era. Unfortunately, most people fail to realise that. They look to the superficial, fail to see beyond the skin and face, and are unable to sift out the truth. The result is a great deal of unneeded pain and agony, as well as preventable frustration and mental injury. For the sake of mankind’s shared future, it’s more important than ever that we embrace reason and reality in the years to come. Our minds can be our own greatest enemy, and it’s essential we put it to work for us, not against us.
So have you thought about (HYTA) the importance of good thinking?