A brief conversation about ‘thinking’ and ‘reasoning’

Last night during a casual chat with a close friend, the topic about ‘thinking’ and ‘reasoning’ came up, and we ended up having a brief discussion. Maybe its the effect of Ayn Rand‘s magnum opus Atlas Shrugged that I’m reading currently, but these thoughts have been circulating in my head for quite a some time now and needed some outlet, though what I managed to express yesterday in the chat with her was just the tip of an Iceberg, so as to say.

'The Thinker' - Sculpture in Paris by Auguste Rodin (Image courtesy: Wikipedia)

Here’s the gist of our conversation –

Me: You know what.. ‘reasoning’ and ‘thinking’ are two of the rarest attributes in this world.

Friend: Why? What are you pointing at?

Me: I feel that there should be a logical reason to everything, and its so unfair when you meet people who refuse to think. Unfortunately it is these people who are in control of 99% of this world, from laws to religious customs and more. Why should they?

Friend: Well, they shouldn’t be, I agree, but even if they seem to do more harm than good, still sometimes I feel that they must have ‘thought’ their way to the position they are in today. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Some powerful businessmen and politicians for example. Today their ways might have become corrupt and they might enjoy the fact that they can twist the arm of the law, but they don’t mind this fact.

Me: What about concerns about social responsibility?

Friend: Yes, they might have shrugged off social responsibility in more ways than one, but they would argue that they do not have the time to think on those lines.

Me: Well then, do people really think, and then back it up with a reason? Or is it ‘follow-the-herd’ mentality? If there are 99% people like this in the world and you have to live amongst them on a level playing field, do you leave your own ‘reasoning’ in the bank’s safe deposit vault so that you don’t get frustrated carrying it around?

Me: Just like the example you gave, Osama bin Laden and Abraham Lincoln both have dedicated pages on Wikipedia. So is having a page enough, or does it matter how people look at it?

Friend: Well, most people neither have the time nor the inclination to think so much, or have the will to justify their actions.

Me: Oh yes.. ‘time’!

Me: Well then tell me, in Hindu marriages when a woman is sitting next to the man in front of the ritual fire, ready and prepared to be wedded to one person for life, or as they say in Christian weddings – “.. until death do us part..”, does she look at the man, and think of the gamble? Especially in the presence of all the noise around that is being created by people who are going to be mere bystanders during the highs and lows of their life?

Friend: Yes she does, she starts thinking about this gamble the very moment it’s decided that she is supposed to get married to this xyz person. Maybe the man doesn’t think so much of the gamble, but I think that the woman surely does.

Me: Okay. If yes, then aren’t there many other things in life just as important for which you have to take some time out and think? If no, then isn’t this living life in a digital form – 1 or 0 .. ?

Friend: You know how it goes, if you take time out to think about such things then it is a bonus! Most people don’t think this much in their entire lives!

Me: Why have such a large brain then? For many of the tasks that humans do today, wouldn’t a bird’s brain size or a cat’s brain size (at the max) be enough?

Friend: 😀

Me: No use of thinking, no use of memories, no use of reasoning, no use of contexts, just plain surviving!

Neither of us spoke for some time after this. Were we ‘thinking’? That’s anybody’s guess.

There was a joke I had read somewhere which said – “What would the aliens say when they land on the Earth?” I feel that they would not hesitate to call it a place of wasted minds, and move on in search of another planet.

Please feel free to voice your opinions in the comments section. I would like to add though that this chat was just the premise of something big in my mind, something that I can’t quite put into words yet. These were just opinions of two individuals, not sworn statements. I am sure you won’t get judgmental.

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14 thoughts on “A brief conversation about ‘thinking’ and ‘reasoning’

  1. Thanks for the conversation ! I think you may find a few more insights to some of your questions as you progress with your reading of ‘Atlas’. You may also confirm some of “these thoughts [that] have been circulating in my head”.
    Again, thanks … it is rare to find someone who questions ‘thinking’ and ‘reason’.
    Ed

    • Thanks Ed, for those words 🙂 In ‘Atlas Shrugged’ I really have found answers to many question that have plagued me for months if not years.. and I’m just half way through it!

  2. Nikhil, This is terrific post. Your ‘dialogue’ engages the reader immediately. You know, this is what is the Socratic method (of writing). Geeta and Upanishads also use the same method.

    The brain will have to keep evolving in a human being. Human being will not become a brainless entity (Plant) or cat-sized-brain entity (Animal) , instead it may happen in evoluation that we loose all our other organs, and human will be only brain, devoid of any other organs..

    I believe (even if it may not be scientific) that each brain has an equal capacity to reason and think excepting abberations. Everybody definitely thinks about the pros and cons of a particular action he is going to take. They do reason, do think (in cold blood), whether they are a messiahs or a thug. If somebody appears to live like an animal, it is his enlightened (!) choice. I do not think that 99% brains do not think or reason. They do, and walk towards doom willingly.

    The problem is that each individual has to chiesel his own belief system, by himself, by reason and thinking. It does not come ready made. No matter what the other thinkers (Ayn Rand being one of them) tell you, you have to develope your own set of principles.

    • Thanks! I somehow had a hunch you would comment on this, and was almost waiting for it 🙂 Its the first time I have tried this style of writing and frankly was quite apprehensive about it.

      Well, many people just go with the flow. Either they feel that putting thought to something is a waste of time, or they are just plain tired to taking any effort. I wonder if a different strain of us Homo Sapiens would evolve into one which has a negligible brain size.

      Even if people do think, what’s its use if their reasoning is terribly flawed, as in the case of thugs and terrorists. Thinking, reasoning, judgement, opinions all go hand in hand and guide you to a goal. You are right when you say that one has to develop this reasoning by himself. Surroundings surely play a crucial part in this, but I’m reminded of this dialog from the movie Hellboy –

      “What makes a man a man? Is it his origins? The way he comes to life? I don’t think so. Its the choices he makes. Not how he starts things, but how he decides to end them.”

      • But to make a choice (take dicision), he needs reasoning. For reasoning he needs intellect ((we call it sad-asad-vivek buddhi). For developed Intellect, he needs to work his brain, think, needs good upbringing, experience and possibly genetic makeup (sanskriti/ sanskar).
        I am excluding decisions taken on the spur of the moment.
        Plato suggested ‘Public Schools’ for children away from the virus infected parents and cities. Sort of Rishi Gurukul, where strong bodies and (phylosophical) minds would be built. We do that today also, but sadly for money.
        I remember a congress leader once said during Mandal uprising- These elites of India will survive anywhere. Throw them anywhere in the world and they will survive. So, dont think about them. Make them go. Think about the others. How futuristic!!! Very shortly, only the fittest of the humanbeings will survive, There will be no place for all of us on this earth. Like Atlas collected those intellects at a place, may be we will send them out to other planet.
        I wonder what type of people will be there on the shuttles to other planets.
        Let us write a movie script.

      • I wrote a reply, posted and I was thrown out of Wordpess. Dont know why. Let me summarise once more:
        Choice/ Decision making>Developed mind/intellect/brain>experience+good upbringing+possibly genetic makeup (sanskriti/sanskar).
        Plato had suggested Gurukuls for children away from polluted minds/parents/cities to create philosopher rulers. We do that even today, but for money.
        A congress leader during Mandal said – Dont worry about the elite. Throw them anywhere in the world and they will fall on their feet like cat, and survive there. Dont pester them. Make them go. Think about other vote banks. How futuristic!!!!
        We are very near to a day when the earth will not be sufficient for us all. Only the fittest will survive. Like Atlas collected intellects, we will send out shuttles to other planets. I wonder who will be on those shuttles though.

        Let us write a screen play.

        • Oh.. I could view both comments.. but it asked me to approve the first and automatically published the second.. strange! Maybe it was a case of being accidentally logged out.

          Nevertheless.. a movie script would be a great idea.. something like ‘Star Trek: The New Generation’ 😉

          That’s one of the things I wanted to put across through the blog post. Correct reasoning is needed for proper thinking and vice-versa. The ability to judge, age-old prejudices, upbringing, surroundings, economic conditions, genetic lineage – everything just adds to the chemistry of thinking. This makes the idea all the more unstable, as we know how one element or reagent can alter the result of the chemical process! If we forget the people who do not think and just follow the herd or follow a principle blindly, even the ones who do think are susceptible to the vagaries of life. As you said, proper guidance at such a time is of paramount importance.

          Even in the case of the politician in question during the Mandal Commission crisis, he wanted to target the people whose way of thinking he could influence, not the ones (‘the elite’) who by then had well conformed beliefs and opinions. That’s how vote-bank politics works anyway. Its a pitiful fact.

          You say that only the fittest will survive eventually, and I presume by that you mean those who ‘think’, but sometimes I can’t help being cynical. I wonder if the people on those shuttles will be the ones who think with justifiable reason, and the ones left back on Earth would be those who have flawed reasoning or those who just don’t take a chance with ‘thinking’. I sincerely hope this never happens. It would be worse than the 2012 doomsday scenario everyone is gossiping about!

          • A society always needs thinkers and doers (or fixers, who can get things done with their own hands – like mechanics, carpenters and so on). So there has to be a mix.
            Happiness comes where (you have food, water, shelter and clothing and) you can find some Time for yourself to think. If you are made to run all the time, and this Thinking Time is made scarce, people start to displace/ migrate from one place to other.
            If you think the doomsday will not come, consider how Pune or any other similar city has evolved from a city of people with ideals (I am not saying the persons were ideal themselves) to a city of chaos in just a matter of 50 years.
            I am digressing I think.

            • Yes, a society needs to have both kinds of people, but neither of them (especially the ‘doers’) should have the ‘slavery’ tag attached to their deeds. I feel that there needs to be at least a semblance of ‘choice’, always.

              You didn’t digress, you actually gave a good example. Agreed that Pune and many other similar cities have seen their environment deteriorate over the years, mostly due to public (or political?) apathy. What is interesting is where, when, and how did this switch happen? Why did people stop thinking or using their common sense, which I think was ‘in use’ before the country’s independence, and help create the chaos? I’m not saying that being selfish is a crime, but why, in your words did they start just running around ‘so’ selfishly? People’s attitude is what troubles me more than the chaos itself.

              • For Pune :

                When?
                1. After we ‘liberalised’ the education system in 80’s and decided to highly-educate everybody, (even people from other states) provided you had money. People who came from outside did not go back to their hometowns.
                2. When IT came into being, any graduate engineer was welcome as employee, irrespective of his ability. We churned engineering graduates.
                3. With call centres. money became abundant even for non graduates. People from other areas/ states started flocking in Pune. This spurred a demand for other industries like mobikes and restaurants and housing and malls, which required people with skills and no formal learning. These also came from other states.

                Where?
                All the fields/ disciplines, including politics.

                How?
                By bending/ breaking the system to your advantage. By the pseudo-ethical, pseudo-educated neo-politicians, educationists and citizens, opportunity to serve was converted into an automated machinery to create a vote bank and to make money for those with power from every opportunity.
                ————
                In case of my village, the nearby highway construction brought workers from other states which never went back. and then the highway traffic brought roadside truck repair centres and illicit businesses which increased the size of the village and changed it completely.
                ————-
                On national level, until 1970’s we were happy to be called an agricultural country, with 70% farmers happily staying in villages. Not now. We want to be No1 developed and industrialised country.
                Now a day, farmers’ children do not want to stay in villages or work on farms. The advent of TV and the aggressive advertising has changed everything. They migrate to cities at the first available opportunity.
                So is the case for landless farm labour. They would rather be rag-pickers or industrial labour for 365 days and live on footpaths in a city than work on farms for 150 days at equal day rate. This phenomena is augmented by recent changes in rain cycle, alcoholism gaining state/ social acceptance, (and continued atrocities due to cast system).

                A City (or USA/ UK/Aus/NZ) provides hope, and then kills slowly the displaced unfit – in mind. The fit survive and make hay, when the sun shines, leaving all civic sense behind, because the city never was or never will be their’s anyway.

                • You pretty much nailed it! I wonder then, whether cities like Singapore and Hong Kong, with such a large expatriate population, could keep their environment (and image) intact because they were small in size and had stricter laws enforced upon the populace, so that people actually thought before acting.

                  • I read about a Time article recently, which criticised the new entrants to US from India. The author said that US entertained only the brilliant in early days. Then the migrants brought their ordinary siblings to US, and then they brought further ones which were below ordinary. This is the reason there are unmanageable ghettos of Indians in US. This must stop.
                    Same is the feelig in Aus/NZ/UK or other Western countries these days.
                    If we go back to the issue of Pune, this is what should be happening.
                    As to Hong Cong or Singapore, they have already revised migration rules. But they will clamp further in time to come if they want to keep their cities clean and keep thinking going. Gulf states never allowed citizenships to migrants, whether for intelligents or worker class (after they tried with Pak nationals who retired from their Armed forces).

                    • Good point. What that article said about expatriate Indians in the US/UK applies to the anti-Bihari campaign too back home. Its a lopsided way of looking at things. If a country like China can make economic progress with the luggage of its huge population, precisely because it makes good use of that same population, then the policies in US/UK too could have made good use of the incoming excess of persons. Its as if there aren’t any unqualified people originating from those countries themselves. Again, flawed reasoning leading to flawed thinking.

                      You make a good point about the Gulf states refusing citizenship to the expatriate community. They treated them as guests. Obviously, this policy has its advantages and disadvantages. Also, Singapore for instance has thought up many initiatives and processes to keep the city state clean and decongested as far as possible. They have succeeded so far even with the influx of new population, I think partly because it is more of a tourist place. Simple thinking can solve big problems, only if you are ready to admit them in the first place and commit to resolve them.

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