'T'is strange-but true,
for truth is always stranger than fiction.
Lord Byron 

There is nothing so powerful as truth,
and often nothing so strange.

Daniel Webster


WELCOME to the strange world of clear, critical, and analytical thinking.  Strange?  Yes!  It is strange because it entails thinking about our life-time beliefs so many of which we feel, with certainty, to be true but which upon applying analytical thought are shown to be either false, half true, or unable to be verified or falsified.  Strange, particularly because it entails thought about:
      our use, misuse, and abuse of language that leads us to accept false beliefs as true,
      how accepted ideas are promulgated and passed on to new generations of people,
      why these ideas are accepted without question,
      the many conflicting claims and concepts of God, gods, religion, and the theistic language that cause us to believe what cannot be verified,
      the uses of confusing language that leads us to accept imagination as reality,
      the uses of words, names like "point," "number," and mathematical constructs like triangles, squares, etc., that lead us to believe they refer to something real,
      failing to distinguish between reality and our experiences of it,
      what we have, as with "Pavlov's dog," been conditioned to believe,
      whether we can ever know what reality is,
      how much we should trust our sense faculties,
      how much we should trust our "knowledge,"
      how much we should trust authorities,
      how much we should trust our language.
      It is a strange world, also, because even when an inkling of clear, critical, and analytical thinking is applied, it entails processes of thought that the average person not only does not use but is incapable of using or even imagining.  He has not been subjected, in our institutions of learning, to the rigors of analytic thought.  This is so because it is to the advantage of those who hold the reins of government and power to be able to use language as a regulatory device.


If one is serious about becoming a critical and analytical thinker, these are important matters to be thoroughly understood, about “language” before clarity in intelligent argumentation can occur.


 Consider:  With a spin on Socrates' admonition: "The unexamined life is not worth living," the unexamined symbol is not worth using.

No symbols of any kind, especially those we call words, have inherent meanings, whatever is the evolutionary stage or mode of usage and change of conventional usage.     

The source of all human meaning is the human brain.

Nothing in the universe outside the brain has an inherent human meaning.

 Language is the ATTRIBUTION of meaning, not MEANING. 

All the so-called "meanings" of symbols, words, for instance, are no more than a conventional way of attempts at communicating, leading us to forget that each of us is instructed for most of our lives, as to what meanings are to be assigned to symbols according to the stage of evolutionary changes taking place in the uses, and mostly abuses, of them.  

All the meanings we attribute to them are the meanings our parents, teachers, friends, priest, etc., have told is to give to the symbols we call “language,” -- unless we personally conceive meanings ourselves.  Hence the problems of the world! 

Rarely does a teacher, if ever, inform students about the role of conventional language as a source of beliefs.

If the above is fully understood, an electrifying awakening should occur as to why beliefs are so readily accepted without benefit of offered supportable evidence  –  true, false, or neither preventing becoming victims of unverifiable and unfalsifiable claims.  

To understand the above is to understand that all “language,” i.e., attribution of meaning, is about what is occurring inside our brains, whether one is a scientist, a pope, a priest, a teacher, a parent, etc., and relates to nothing more than our perceptions, conceptions, and experiences of what we, rightly, assume is a physical world beyond them.  Where truth and knowledge claims are concerned, only verified predictable perceptions justify our acceptance of them.   

People with untrained minds should no more
expect to think clearly and logically than
people who have never learnt and never
practised can expect to find themselves good
carpenters, golfers, bridge-players, or pianists.
A. E. Mander


This addendum comes by way of a speech given at a dinner at which I received a Lifetime Award from the New York State Youth Council for my pioneering lifetime pursuit of attempting to require our teachers to teach the principles fundamental to clear, critical. and analytical thinking.  I was asked to speak on the issue of the failure of our teachers to emphasize how to think as well as what to think.  With some minor changes this is the whole of it.

  I humbly accept this award  in the name of all those thinkers, over the centuries, from Socrates to today, whose eloquent warnings of the pitfalls and dangers of abused language were so shamefully ignored.  

When President Michael Tessler spoke to me about the award, I did have some reservations.  But as I thought about it, I recalled my own experiences in acquiring an education that enabled me to attempt such a challenging goal.

At age 23, after an eight-year hiatus, I decided to return to high school.  When I approached Principal Earl L. Vandermeulen about returning to the classroom as a freshman, he kiddingly remarked, “Yes, if you behave yourself.”


It was a turning point of my life.  But another hiatus was in the cards I had yet to play.  Our country couldn’t win World War II without my four years, seven months, and fifteen days of service.  However, the GI Bill came to my rescue and I was able to earn a PhD., in Philosophy at Columbia University at the age of 53.

I’ve recounted this bit of history of my life to prove to you that “Where there is a will, there is a way.”  

I concluded that I was being given an opportunity to express my opinion about the fifty years, out of my 96, of effort to bring change to what I consider is a great failing of our schooling institutions and those in charge of them.   Part of my effort included the founding and publication of the international Journal of Critical Analysis that flourished for twenty years, world wide, later followed by The Journal of Pre-College philosophy, published (probably) the first high school text for pre-college philosophy as well as various articles espousing the need for the teaching of critical analysis.  In addition my wife and I communicated with most of the high schools in the nation, listing those interested, in The Journal of Critical Analysis.

When I discussed this with President Tessler, to my pleasant surprise, I discovered that we were of like mind.  He advised me that students of today want more out of high school than mere facts.  Apparently they are aware of Albert Einstein’s words of wisdom from his book, Ideas and Wisdom:

                              . . . Education is that which remains if one has forgotten                     

                                                     everything he learned in school.


            Or Stuart Chase, from his Tyranny of Words.


  Language is no more than crudely acquired before children

 begin to suffer from it, and to misinterpret the world by reason of it.  

 Is the fault to be charged to the child or to the language taught him?


Much is heard of our failing schools and the catch phrase, “No child left behind.”  But strangely, and absurdly, the cure all is declared to be the simple solution of graduating more students predicated upon the memorization and regurgitation of facts with little, if any, effort to teach them how to think.  In other words preventing dropping out of school is the main goal of “No child left behind.”

         There is nothing difficult to understand about opening the door, so to speak, to teaching our children how to think in concert with what to think.  A teacher merely needs to add a few important words and ideas to the teaching vocabulary consistently and repetitively.  They are words and ideas that have for centuries upon centuries been excluded in the teaching process. 


Herein lies the importance of teaching our students how and when to use the question, “What do you mean?” intelligently; not: “What does that word (i.e., symbol), mean?”  Out teachers, themselves, must become accustomed to asking the question, to set an example.


The main idea is that words, or more inclusively, linguistic symbols, because even what you wear functions as a symbol, don’t have meanings.  We attribute meanings to them out of our minds, the lone, I emphasize the only source of meaning.  That’s why, largely, the world is such a mess -- because our minds are.  So to the degree that our minds are poorly educated, so goes the world. 


            The most important idea a teacher must emphasize is whether the language being used can be shown to be true or false.  Most of the language we use cannot because we use so much metaphysical, abstract, transcendental, metaphorical, supernatural, theistic, and despite its importance to our technological progress, mathematical terminology that our teachers fail to expose as not subject to support of evidence, i.e., being able to be shown to be true or false.   As the prominent mathematician, G. H. Hardy essentially in concert with Einstein, and Bertrand Russell declares:


  A mathematician is someone who not only does not know 

what he is talking about but, also, does not care.


            Our teachers, themselves, are either ill equipped to distinguish falsifiable from non-falsifiable language or are deliberately negligent, lacking the patience or perhaps the time to produce evidence.


  The major change to be brought about is to require our teachers to teach our students how to think as well as what to think.  In more technical terms, they must teach our students to be able to distinguish between falsifiable language (i.e., language that can be shown to be true or false) and non-falsifiable language (i.e., language that cannot be shown to be true or false – ever).


The bottom line regarding the nature of language is that: all language is about our perceptions and conceptions, not about an assumed reality beyond our perceptions leading us to the definitive conclusion that “Language is no more, and no less, than the attribution of meaning to linguistic symbols.   And, from a human being’s point of view, meaning resides nowhere other than within the confines of the human brain.

If a course in Critical Analysis including such facts was mandated and emphasized throughout the semester and the nation -- for that matter, the world, what a different and better one this present world would become.  Why?  Because our minds would then be forever faced with the fact that we have a moral responsibility to reject those beliefs, we consider to be facts, as we form our personal perceptions and conceptions so prone to error and so often the result of not having been taught to be able to distinguish falsifiable from non-falsifiable claims as is the case with most of our conventional use and abuse of language. 

            Lastly, I appeal to you to communicate with your Boards of Education, strongly and urgently insisting that if they wish to be honored under the aegis of the term, ‘Education,’ that they mandate the institution of courses in Critical Analysis and its principles throughout the United States, a change in our schooling institutions that our youth councils, as they expand and spread across the nation, are determined to bring about.


                                                                                            Copyright © 2010


                                                        Pasqual S. Schievella


                                                                          SEE FILE 21: PERENNIAL QUESTIONS

 1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella