Monday, 20 April 2009

The Logical Mind

Although this is primarily a blog about film and my hazy thoughts about it, the title of it also touches on my appreciation of critical thinking...The video below (thanks to a pointer from this Jim Emerson post from his Scanners blog) pretty much crystallizes my general view of logical thought (in a high school primer kind of way - I'd love something like this to be more prevalent there). As some commenters to the post pointed out, it does deal in some exaggerated examples and focuses on both religious and supernatural statements, but I think it still provides a good foundation for what "open-mindedness" really is.

What it isn't meant to be is any kind of statement regarding the superiority of critical thinkers' intelligence. First of all, I don't think intelligence is easily quantifiable, so how can you rank mine versus yours anyway? Also, it's not like I don't fail spectacularly sometimes in holding true to the basic principles of logical thought - if I have a knee jerk reaction or let emotions take over, I take a short cut and typically miss some vital piece of information. These are essentially tools though and when used properly are some of the best ways we have of drilling down to a root cause or discovering a new solution to an old problem.

And it also has a nice little reference to "Eraserhead", so I'm still within my "film" bounds...


Jamie Yates said...

Bob, this video was fantastic.

In addition to your note that the ideas primarily focused on religion and the supernatural, another fun way to put this in a film lover's perspective would be to take the examples and shape them into a film discussion.

This might not make sense: For example, Person A enjoys "Rocky" (for argument's sake), while Person B does not. As you said, intelligence isn't quantifiable, so it would be interested to see the battle of open-mindedness versus close-mindedness in the context of discussing the merits and problems of a certain film.

There's a good chance this makes no sense at all, but it totally works in my head. :) Do you get what I mean?

Mark Bell said...


One question I have is: is logic the ONLY means for evaluating a phenomenon? Is something untrue because it is illogical? If the answer to the two questions above is 'yes', then what do you do with certain illogical emotions, like love?

I also find it difficult to support the position that a train of thought that ends with "that phenomenon cannot be explained" (what I think some interpret as meaning "cannot be explained by science") without seeking to determine a possible explanation meets the criteria for being "open-minded". There are some things (like 'existence' or the origin of matter) that will never be explained by science. So should we then pretend these questions do not exist or are unimportant?

On the plus side, a LOT of good food for thought for those who rely on their prejudices without using their brains. There are far too many religious people (for example) who have permanently turned their brains off or switch them off with great speed and frequency.

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi Jamie,

Yeah, I think I see what you mean...Since our reactions to many forms of art can be very personal and emotional, it can be hard to have objective discussions about them. I don't mean something that would objectively state the worth of a film, but conversations that dig deeper into intent, efficacy of editing techniques, effects of new technology, etc. You can still love a film, but also be involved in discussions that criticize or analyze portions of it. I know many people don't enjoy that - they simply love a film or not. That's fine...But others (and I would be one) like to delve into discussions of technique and filmmaking theories. And that can be hard to do with someone who has blinders on regarding a film (or filmmaker or actor). And I don't doubt I have my own blinders...

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your comments.

I think I mentioned in my post that critical thinking is very much a tool. I think you need to apply it on a daily basis to many situations, but it certainly isn't the only tool you have for evaluating the world and people around you. Memory, intuition, the opinions of others, trust in others, etc. are all other tools you can use to help evaluate something (depending of course on how you define "evaluate"). You may use your intuition as to whether it's worth pursuing a conversation with someone you just met - I'm not sure how you would necessarily break that down logically.

As far as the "that phenomena cannot be explained" statement goes, I would think the better way of saying that should be "that phenomena cannot be explained...yet" OR "within the limits of our current knowledge that phenomena cannot be explained". That certainly shouldn't mean that we stop discussing or looking for answers or proposing theories. Otherwise we'd be without philosophy which in turn leads to new ways of thinking which in turn leads to new evidence and solutions which in turn may lead to an answer to the initial question. Or not.

I think the point about being open-minded in regards to currently unexplained phenomena simply means that you admit that it is unexplained at this point in time with the amount of knowledge or facts we have and until such time as we get more facts or knowledge (which hopefully we are always trying to accumulate), that phenomena may simply stay unexplained.

Of course, just because we can't explain something it doesn't mean that the answer then must be someone else's theory - e.g. in the example of the lampshade, if the home owner didn't know about the heater, the answer shouldn't default to the neighbour's ghost theory. Granted, it could still be ghosts (and wouldn't it be cool if it was), but you would still need to show some kind of proof. Especially when it's an extraordinary theory (and since there has never to my knowledge been any conclusive evidence of ghosts, that would be an extraordinary theory) - it then requires some extraordinary proof.

But yeah, it would be a bit boring if we couldn't speculate and discuss the nature of existence simply because we couldn't explain it.