Archive for the ‘Thinking’ Category

Intellectual Discipline

January 11, 2022

The man sat next to me at lunch at the conference I attended last month in Florida. He is a reliability engineer. His professional life has a foundation built on numbers. He began talking about Covid and how he and his wife had both contracted a bad case of the virus. She took a medication recommended by few doctors. She did recover. I’m not talking about medicine here.

He quoted statistics from India to support their decision.

I was surprised. He has far more training in numbers than I, yet he quoted statistics that had a spurious rigor. If he used numbers like that in his plant, some very expensive equipment would be broken.

We all get suckered in by statistics that are incomplete or misleading. And we all can miss those numbers that tell us something important. Just like we should apply intellectual discipline when studying the Bible, we should also stop and consider when we see numbers thrown around in the news or even from the pulpit.

Soon after my conversation, I ran across The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics by Tim Harford. This book does not require a background in math. It is readable. Packed with stories about people who famously got the numbers wrong and those who got them right. This book will help you not be fooled by every number you see flashed at you.

I suppose I should hint at the ten rules (dare I say 10 Commandments in a spiritual disciplines blog?).

  • Stop and notice our emotional reactions
  • Combine the “bird’s eye” statistical perspective with the “worm’s-eye” view from personal experience
  • Look at labels on the data, do we understand what’s really described
  • Look for comparisons and context
  • Look behind the statistics at where they come from
  • Ask what is missing
  • Ask tough questions about algorithms and the big datasets
  • Pay more attention to the bedrock of official statistics
  • Look under the surface of any beautiful chart or graph
  • Keep an open mind

And finally, Harford’s “golden rule”—a good trait to develop for life in general—Be curious.

The Mind Needs Many Precepts To See

December 28, 2021

I sat here this morning to type a thought remembering something I read in number 94 (XCIV) On the Value of Advice from Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. I prepared the quote and then noticed quotation marks. The quote I remembered was not from Seneca but from a rival called Aristo whom Seneca was refuting.

There was a writer popular in the early 70s. I read his brief, popular book. It was a good story, but it was also a little light on understanding some things that I had studied deeply. But enough was there to cause me to buy his next book. This was an explication of the Christian Bible book of Hebrews. I had gone maybe two of his chapters into his book when I had a feeling nagging at the back of my brain.

I pulled out a Bible (actually a couple) and read those translations along with the book. There was only a slight resemblance between two generally accepted translations of the book (actually it’s more like a sermon) and the author’s own translation.

I discarded that book and never read anything from that author or his colleagues.

I feel that that author made a translation to fit his theology. I felt a dishonesty at work. But, had I quoted and explained the thought as if it were Seneca rather than his rival Aristo, would I not also have been guilty of a dishonesty? Even if it were just sloppy research.

There is a lesson or more.

Read more carefully.

Check your memory.

If you have read incorrectly, be prepared to change your mind.

Faith From First Principles

November 23, 2021

In physics or philosophy we strive to begin with something called first principles and then logically derive our thoughts and conclusions and actions from there.

I’ve been think often lately about first principles of the Christian Faith or first principles of being a follower (disciple) of Jesus. The photo is an example of one way I think through things. This is sort of a mind map. I began with a thought comparing Jesus’ two main instructions to us–first love God and our neighbor and second go and make disciples. Then I wondered how John (the Baptizer) fit in. His message was to “repent”, that is, to turn our hearts toward God and prepare to accept the message from Jesus.

Where I started to go with this by putting it all together from the first principles would go something like this:

  • Rise in the morning and begin to orient my heart toward God for the day
  • Live in the kingdom today by loving God (love as some action not some emotion)
  • Do something for someone to live out that love for my neighbor
  • Have someone I can “disciple”, or today we may also use the words mentor or coach

That would be a good day having done all this. As I reflect at the end of the day (Examen), I could say that I had lived as I should.

Muddled Thinking

November 22, 2021

The child sat in the elementary classroom staring out the window. At some point the teacher noticed and stopped talking. All the other kids noticed and watched. Soon the child realized the room was too quiet and looked. “What were you doing?” asked the teacher. “Thinking.” “Don’t you know that you’re not supposed to think in school?” Well, at that point everyone burst out laughing, and the teacher had to recover from the reactive statement.

Story told by Earl Nightingale

This story popped into my thoughts yesterday as I sat on a couch staring out the window. For, I was thinking. I had researched a topic (trends shaping the Industrial Internet of Things for 2022, if you wish to know), and I was pondering business, technology, and scenarios. But, had my wife (former teacher, by the way) noticed, she would have accused me of sleeping.

“It is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves.”

Simone Weil

Sometimes we think we have explained something, but the others don’t seem to understand. Maybe we reflect. We have not properly thought out the subject so that we are clear in our own minds what we are thinking.

I just read the description of a character in a novel where “he reads a sentence or two and then pauses to think about it.”

Thinking is work. Literally. Your brain will burn fuel from your body’s storehouse while you actively think. I’m not sure that we’re ever taught it. I know we don’t practice it enough.

  • Did we pause to consider the origin of our assumptions
  • Did our logic flow efficiently step-by-step
  • Where are other ideas
  • What are the implications
  • What if I’m wrong

I settled on an idea of a trend totally off the wall from my original thoughts about which technology might catch on next year. Quiet moments spent thinking through that which we’ve just read is an investment well spent. Especially if we are pondering wisdom teaching and stories of spiritual growth.

Four For The Road

October 25, 2021

Here are four pieces of wisdom for living.

Experiment. Life is an experiment. You try something. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, then you try something else. Always.

Invent. Look for new ways to do something. Invent a tool, a pattern, a lifestyle. Go on a new path beyond the same old experiences.

New Ideas. One way to train your brain to come up with new ideas is the 20 things method. Sit with a page of paper and a pen. Write a question at the top of the page that you are trying to solve or figure out. Write an idea. Write another, maybe just playing around with the words. After about 15 answers, you’ll notice the ideas are becoming more creative. By 20, you will have the solution you are seeking.

If you missed writing class in school, that will be much to your detriment. This is a variation of the list method (a thought which just occurred to me). You begin with an idea and begin to write an essay. By the time you have finished the essay, you will have ideas that you never imagined when you began. It happens with me almost every day that I sit down to write this blog.

Practice these daily.

Ask better questions. This got me into trouble as a student. Some people just seemed to have an ability to take things on faith. I still remember chemistry class in high school, but the same held through in almost every class I took even throughout university. Some people accepted whatever the teacher said, remembered it, wrote it on tests. They were the A students. I always asked, how do they know that? I puzzled things out. I didn’t care about the test. It was superfluous. I was a B student.

I feel I lack on asking better questions many times. That is my personal challenge. What is yours?

Thinking About Thinking

September 9, 2021

Our rational mind tries to figure things out. But it must start with an assumption. Some sort of starting place. Then it proceeds to think more or less rationally. Perhaps for justification.

Our mind, however, will believe anything we tell it to believe. Our starting point for thinking could be completely wrong. Or flawed. Or incomplete.

We must first find the proper starting point for thinking. Perhaps through prayer, contemplation, meditation, study we see through our fog. We develop a new way of looking at our story.

Look at the way Jesus told stories. Almost always they are designed to shock the hearer’s assumption so that they now think from a new starting point.

Are we shocked by Jesus’ stories? Or have we read them or heard them so often that we miss the point?

Can we pause, breathe, relax and then approach these stories with new eyes, like a child? Maybe we can be shocked again like the original hearers?


August 30, 2021

There are those people who are hungry–hungry to be told what to think, what to do, where to go.

There are those people who eagerly promote themselves as the feeder of that hunger.

Then there are those people who long to learn, experience, and think for themselves.

Turn The Problem Over

May 13, 2021

You are looking at the wrong side. Just turn it over, that is all you ever have to do, just turn it over.

Nero Wolfe’s personal chef Fritz Brenner to detective right hand man Archie Goodwin in Please Pass the Guilt by Rex Stout

Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe character was the exact opposite of his contemporary Earle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason. Overweight, New York City, pompous and arrogant versus handsome, urbane, action-prone. I’ve read the entire series of each several times.

Here, the words of genius come not from the “genius” himself (Wolfe), but from the Swiss chef that clues Archie in on where to look to solve the murder mystery.

I was reading the same week Effortless by Greg McKeown. He quotes German mathematician Carl Jacobi, “One must always invert. Turn the problem around to the other side. Assume the opposite–then what?”

Do you have a personal problem you are trying to solve? Perhaps looking at it from another point of view. Perhaps take the other person’s point of view and study they problem if it’s a relationship thing.

You are studying some spiritual writing–perhaps John or Luke or Paul or some quote of Jesus in the Christian Bible. Or perhaps an ancient or modern writer like Augustine or Max Lucado. You are stuck. “What did they mean?” you wonder.

Perhaps just pause and then change your point of view. Assume they meant the opposite of what you were thinking. Then consider it.

Sometimes I wonder if understanding Jesus and his interpreters you need to be less read in theology and more read in studies of the world–psychology, farming, geography, history.

Just change your thinking. Reading widely in a number of genres helps. That, by the way, is the path to creativity.

Note: I also like the Robert Van Gulik series of 7th Century China, the Judge Dee mysteries. He was the Dutch ambassador to China before World War II and a China scholar. More contemporary, I enjoyed the “alphabet” series about Kinsey Milhone by Sue Grafton.

You Are To Blame

November 11, 2020

Andy Stanley likes to bring up this thought nugget, “Do you know who was present at every bad decision you ever made? You. You were present at every one.”

We learned something from Jeremiah yesterday that our heart is deceitful above all things.

Advertisers and marketers are geniuses at using this knowledge. They know how easy it is to present something in such a way that we believe it. And then we act.

And then later we wonder why.

Why did we buy that? Why did we call her back? Why did we go there? Why did we get suckered into believing her or him?

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a pause button? Before we decide to trust her; before we decide to go there; before we decide to send that note on social media that will make us look like a fool; before we buy that–we pause, breathe deeply, tell our deceitful heart to back off.

We are also present at our good decisions.

Andy never says that. But it’s true.

Wisdom comes from gradually recognizing situations and hitting the pause button and then making the good decision.

Lazy Thinking

July 23, 2019

Humans hate to think. It is work.

Did you ever wonder why someone (always someone else, not us) makes such horrible economic decisions? Or, how someone can believe something even after you show them with their own scriptures how they have pulled that something out of context and the writer never meant what this person now believes?

I live in a county that is overwhelmingly Trump country. A local farmer with previously impeccable Republican credentials has been attacking Trump’s policies that hurt the pocketbooks of farmers. The other farmers? They attack the person pointing out the emperor wears no clothes. We don’t vote economics. We don’t vote rationally. We vote emotionally. Well, most of us.

I wonder about such things, of course.

So I study. Today’s lesson comes from Nobel Prize winner for economics, the psychologist and researcher Daniel Kahneman. His book making the ideas understandable, Thinking Fast and Slow.

We humans have what researchers called two “systems.” System 1 makes impulse decisions based on previous experiences or perceptions. It thinks fast.

System 2 is our rational thought. This is the slow part. But…rational thought means work. System 2 is lazy. It doesn’t like to work. It will only work when forced to.

The author Rex Stout invented a detective called Nero Wolf. Wolf had an assistant called Archie Goodwin. They would take on a case to solve a murder mystery for a client. Things would get bad. They had too many suspects, not enough evidence. Goodwin would yell at the boss, “C’mon genius. You’re going to have to think. It’s time to go to work. I know you hate to work, but now we really need it.”

Stout obviously knew the good and bad of System 2.

Sometimes the impulse decision part of us works in our best interest. Sometimes it would be better for us to go to work and actually think.

What do you need to think about today? Better grab a cup of coffee and sit down with a pen and paper and go to work.