Logic, mathematics, and the fundamentals I described in a previous post, are true regardless of our individual circumstances. They're universal. When we apply them in our reasoning, we can reason outside the bounds of our unique circumstances and past experiences.
The paradox is that applying these fundamentals is subject to our circumstances. We first have to become aware that they exist, aware that we're not using them, and understand how to use them. Even then, we still have to remember to actually apply them.
Applying them consistently is unnatural. It's not that people are stupid or lazy, it's that the human brain didn't evolve to make a few, slow, reasoned decisions; by default, it makes many, quick, automatic decisions based on circumstance and past experience; just like my dog, Rusty.
There are two parts to reasoning:
We, by that I mean people in general, don't use reasoning as much as we think we do. We can find it difficult, taxing on our brain's limited reasoning resources, and unnecessary when the outputs of our autopilot are perfectly adequate for many situations. However, our reliance on the autopilot often leads to errors of thinking, particularly in our increasingly complex technological environment. Our brains are not naturally suited to this kind of complexity.
To interrupt our natural tendency to use the autopilot and instead use reasoning requires first recognising that we're using the autopilot. Most folks have no idea this is even happening, and it's only through a long series of circumstances that I'm aware of this. The same is undoubtedly true for yourself. But once we are aware, we can start to change our thinking.
So how do we do it? How do we get to reasoning? By habit; it's as simple as that. It's no different to learning to play the piano, learning to drive a car, or learning a foreign language. You have to start by initiating the reasoning yourself, and over time, if practised consistently, the initiating becomes automatic. By automatic, I'm suggesting that you can train your autopilot brain to interrupt your thinking as effortlessly as you can train it to change gears when driving a car.
How do you train it? By questioning yourself. By doubting your thoughts. Over and over and over. In short: you want to ask yourself why you are thinking the things you think and which circumstances are shaping those thoughts. It's self-reflection on a level few people experience.
By comparison, the reasoning part itself is easy. If circumstances haven't endowed you with great reasoning skills, it's something that can be learned. All you need is a set of rules to follow for deductive reasoning. Just follow the rules and you'll be on your way. Simply being aware of when you are and aren't reasoning is by far the biggest challenge.
Circumstance and the autopilot go hand in hand. Some people believe, quite sincerely, that circumstance is all there is, because so much of our life is shaped by circumstance and our actions by the autopilot. They are mistaken. Those people are at the level their circumstances have taken them to; that's all. Life is full of situations we think are impossible because we can't imagine doing those things ourselves, yet people are doing them anyway.
These words are your introduction to some new circumstances.
The power of circumstances to shape our thoughts and actions is profound. If you take away man's reasoning function, all that remains is circumstance; and even with our reasoning faculties, circumstance is by far the dominating factor in our lives. From the day we are born, circumstances push and pull us in a myriad of ways we rarely notice, slowly working us into the people we will become.
From a POM perspective, it's important to recognise the power of circumstance not only upon our own experience but also on the experience of others. Too often, we fall into the trap of believing that other people should think and act just as we do. Or, as is sometimes the case, we believe that if other people knew what we knew they'd change their opinions on some matter of importance to us. But this is rarely the case; I've lost count of the people I've shown Earthlings or Forks Over Knives too, who didn't experience a revelatory moment of clarity.
Our unique circumstances shape many of the beliefs we have, the thoughts we think, and the actions we take. Any one of us could be a terrorist, rapist, paedophile, flat-earther, young earth creationist, UKIP voter, or Donald Trump supporter, if we'd experienced the same circumstances as those people. If this is an uncomfortable thought to you, you haven't fully grasped the magnitude to which circumstances shape our lives. As the saying should go, "There but for the grace of circumstance go I." The irony is that circumstances may have led you to believe there's a force other than circumstance shaping your life.
Meritocracy is a popular idea of our time. We're taught from an early age that we can achieve anything if we work hard enough. We come to believe in the righteousness of our earned successes; successes we believe are the exclusive product of our efforts. Conversely, we also believe that people who fail to achieve are undeserving because they're too stupid or haven't tried sufficiently hard enough. In both instances, such attitudes fail to recognise the overwhelming influence of circumstance.
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explained how the successes of people such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and The Beatles, was as much about being in the right place, at the right time, and under the right circumstances; as it was about 10,000 hours of work they put in. I, myself, have experienced some success in my work. If I were to sell you the story that my success was a result of my dedicated effort over many years, I'd be glossing over the many circumstances that pushed and pulled on me and ultimately led to where I am today. Circumstances, I might add, that had I known in advance, I probably would have avoided, thus changing the outcome entirely.
This is the part where I contradict everything I've just written. Except, I'm not really. It only seems that way if circumstances have shaped your thinking to see it so. The paradox is that it requires a certain set of circumstances to initiate the process I'm about to explain and another set of circumstances to shape the kind of person who can push through the difficult parts. I guess I've been fortunate in this regard.
Once you are sufficiently aware of the power and extent of circumstance to influence your thinking, you can begin to question why you think the things you do. Through repetition, the act of questioning becomes a habit; an automatic process you don't have to initiate deliberately. It feels so unnatural when you first start doing this you'll worry you might be going a bit mad, especially when you lose control over it and it happens all the time. If you stick with it, however, you'll emerge as a different person.
The best analogy I can think of as I write this is lucid dreaming. We all dream at night, but we're not aware we're dreaming; it all just happens, and we go along for the ride. Some people, however, through deliberate practice, can recognise when they're dreaming and take their dreams in a direction of their choosing. This is called lucid dreaming. Likewise, we all think, but we're not aware that we're thinking most of the time. But, if we've made questioning our thoughts a habit, we can recognise when we're thinking and apply reasoning to more of our thinking. We might call this lucid thinking.
Reasoning, when done properly, is not beholden to circumstance. By asking ourselves a simple set of logical questions about the nature of our thoughts, we can reason away the circumstantial influence upon them. This is when circumstances loosen their vice-like grip over our thinking, and we're free to go exploring just as the lucid dreamers do. It's through this exploration that we can reframe the world around us and reprogram some of the automatic parts of our brain to work in subtly different ways; which in turn can have profound effects.
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