Wednesday, December 29, 2010



Thinking is a conscious process. Most people live their lives in the unconscious stream of stimulus and response. We do things from habit; we do things by rote. With little more thought than an ameba moving through its environment, we move through our daily life, controlled by schedules and guided by beliefs, conjectures, emotions, opinions and the influences of others. As humans we like to think we are animals of reason, but in reality we are automatons reacting from societies program. We do as society dictates and we think what our peer group demands.

All men are not created equal (another fallacious adage.) We are each endowed with varying degrees of intelligence – and as we all now know, education does not necessarily equate with intelligence. Intelligence, as I see it, is the ability for critical thinking applied with logical reasoning.

Critical thinking = understanding causality.

Logical reasoning = therefore.  (A=B, B=C, therefore A=C)

In Buddhist practice we are told to WAKE UP! We should also be told to THINK!

How many people attending religious worship have actually applied critical thinking and logical reasoning to the presupposition of their religious doctrine? How many people take a critical and objective look at their political party affiliation? We all use some degree of intelligence when tasked to do so, but mostly we react according to our program and installed beliefs.

Living an intelligent life would entail consciousness with an objective view of the world. The reality of our existence is mostly unconscious with a world view based on a system of dogmas.

Let’s break this down further:

Reason is a product of IQ, available facts, personal experience, critical thinking and logic - applied to reach a reasonable conclusion. Reasoned conclusions are open to change and modification as factual information changes.

Dogma is a product of facts, fancies, opinions, emotions, conjecture and the influence of others. Dogma is more rigid and resistant to change, regardless of facts.



Most of us operate in some middle zone: opened minded on some subjects and closed minded on others. However, the further to the right you appear on the VIEWS scale the more intolerant, prejudice and confrontational you are likely to be.


Subject clarification is the process of critical thinking in order to clarify one’s convictions. Let’s use a loose form of Socratic questioning to clarify our thinking on the confrontational subject of abortion.

Question: What do we know about abortion?

Answer: It is the termination of a human zygote  at some stage of development.

Question: At what stage of development can an zygote be considered a human life?

Answer: During the first eight weeks the zygote is classified as an embryo, after which it is classified as a fetus. Generally, the viability of the fetus becomes a possibility after the first six months.

Question: Does circumstances make a difference?

Grey areas: Rape, incest, age of mother, financial responsibility, emotional instability of mother, retardation of mother, physical or mental deformity of the fetus.

Answer: This is a vlaue judgement.  The conclusions will differ according to the individual’s position on the VIEWS scale.

Question: How do we view other terminations of human life?


Allied war casualties

Enemy war casualties

Death from collateral war damage

Police line of duty shootings

Self defense



Capital punishment

Terminating life support

Suicide when quality of life is gone


Answers: Again, a values judgement.

Question: Should a woman have the sole right to decide whether to carry a fetus to term?

Answer: Arguable. Again, your answer will depend on where you appear on the VIEWS scale?

Question: Should a woman be forced against her will to carry a fetus to term.

Answer: Arguable.

Question: Should terminal patients be required to become organ donors?

Answer:   It would be good for society but what of personal freedom. 

Question: On what grounds can we oppose abortion?

Answer: Religious, humanitarian…

Question: On what grounds can we support a woman’s choice?

Answer: Humanitarian, protecting personal freedom, extenuating circumstances …


“I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all the doctrines he holds, are true, and all he rejects, are false.” Ben Franklin

Some teachers have caught real grief for presenting values clarification in their classroom. The lunatic religious and political fringe always objects to any scrutiny that might bring their dogma into question.

Once we have completed our subject clarification we should ask ourselves:

I believe __________ therefore I should __________.

I believe __________ therefore you should __________.

You believe __________ therefore you should __________.

You believe __________ therefore I should __________.

Is there any one right answer? I don’t think so. I don’t believe there is any absolute answer to any question in this world. We are in constant flux and everything changes by the minute…There are no absolute black and whites, only varying shades of grey. So where does that leave us? Does any of this really matter? Hell, I don’t know. Let’s move on to the final question.



I’ll share a ZEN story called THE RITUAL CAT.

In a remote Buddhist monastery the teacher and his disciples would begin their evening meditation each day at sunset. The young cat that lived in the monastery made such noise and commotion during meditation that the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during evening practice. Years later, after the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the evening meditation. When the cat died, another kitten was brought to the monastery and it too was tied up during evening meditation. A century later philosophy majors would write scholarly treatises on the religious significance of tying up a cat during evening meditation.

My next blog will deal with the state of education in the United States - from the prospective of an professional educator - me.   

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COMMENT: Ben Franklin said, "I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false."