“I think, therefore I am.” —Descartes.
“How come nobody else can figure this stuff out, but we did in about two minutes,” a friend mused to me the other day. “Do you think that we are just that much smarter than these other guys?”
“Nope,” I said rather quickly, having been convinced for some time now that the minute a fellow goes to thinking that he might be smart, he’s pretty apt to find out that he’s not.
“It is not that we are smarter, or necessarily think better than other folks,” I told him. “Rather, it is because we think differently, that is, we take a different approach to the thinking process, itself,” I suggested.
Thinking, it has long seemed to me, is just like anything else in this most confounding life. There are lots of ways to do it, none of them perfect, but some of them better than others.
There are, for example, people who choose not to incorporate previous experiences into their contemporary thought. These are the people who keep doing the same things over and over and expecting the outcomes to be different—things like driving down the highway with fully functional meth labs in their trunks and ending up being sent to prisonagain—because the license plate on their vehicle is expiredagain.
These people we know as idiots.
(A special subset of this group is made up of those individuals who insist upon marrying and divorcing the same person three or four times. You’d think at some point they’d realize that if their unions didn’t work out the first couple of times, there might be valid reasons for it. The official psychological term for this subset is “short-busers.”)
Then there are people who for reasons rationally inexplicable, never bother to check things—any things—out for themselves, but instead opt to incorporate into their bodies of knowledge anything and everything that other people tell them. These are the people that the world tends to take extraordinarily unfair of advantage of by keeping things enormously important to their lives, liberties and pursuits of happiness hidden from them—in books.
These are the people most frequently considered to be morons.
But even worse than the idiots and morons is a smaller, but it seems to me increasingly prevalent group of people who apparently make the conscious decision to allow other people to do all of their thinking for them. One presumes they just get up in the morning, check their phones for any instructions, then tune in to “Fox and Friends” in order to be told what they are supposed to think about and share among themselves that day.
These, of course, are historically the people who are particularly susceptible to the influence of cults, where upon admission, all higher brain activity ceases, and they become quite zombie-like.
None of these, I believe we can agree, are noticeably successful ways to think.
So what is?
Well, at some point during my formative years, pop culture provided a clue within a derisive observance of the obvious: “No (blank), Sherlock!”
Now, setting both its flippancy and crudity aside for a second, within that retort can be detected a gem of white-hot wit in its reference to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous literary creation, Sherlock Holmes, almost universally deemed to be a superior thinker.
And one day it occurred to me: Why not emulate him? It seemed then and it seems now that a fellow could do a whole lot worse than to ascribe to the Sherlock Holmes school of thought—the real one, that is.
Through his fictional “consulting detective,” Doyle, a first-rate thinker, provides a splendid example to the rest of us as to how that might best be done.
“Many see, but few observe,” Holmes tells us. Ruthlessly rational, painfully disciplined of thought, yes, Holmes is intelligent, but so are lots of people I know who can’t actually think their ways out of a Ziploc bag. Rather, Holmes channels his intelligence, applying the reins of logic and rationality to bring clarity to any and all matters at hand.
And since life is nothing if not a series of problems, does it not perhaps make some sense then to take a calculated, focused, problem-solving approach to it?
Trying to figure something out?
“Eliminate the impossible,” Doyle’s great detective would advise you, “and whatever is left, no matter how improbable, has to be right.”
See, Thinking 101.
Works for me.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.