'T'is strange-but true,
for truth is always stranger than fiction.
There is nothing so powerful as truth,
and often nothing so strange.
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.
WHAT OUR TEACHERS DID NOT, COULD NOT, WOULD NOT, OR WERE NOT ALLOWED TO TEACH US.
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.
BEWARE OF THE DANGERS INHERENT IN THE USES AND ABUSES OF “LANGUAGE”
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
recounted this bit of history of my life to prove to you that “Where there is
a will, there is a way.”
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
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.
Chase, from his Tyranny of Words.
begin to suffer from it, and to misinterpret the world by reason of it.
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.”
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
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.
Copyright © 2010
Pasqual S. Schievella
SEE FILE 21: PERENNIAL QUESTIONS