Supposed to Think?


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20/Feb/2011

Or: No one told me I was supposed to think!

When do you think? It's possible you think you do all the time. But, thinking is slow, and difficult. So, you only think when you need to, when you deal with something new or difficult.

But, you might say, thinking is what makes us human! Everything around us is based on thinking! Yes, but, that is thinking done by someone, maybe very long ago. What is common sense today was once a new and difficult problem. The sort of problem that got people lynched or burnt at the stake if they weren't careful how they explained it to those around them.

If we don't think, all the time, how do things work? One way to understand this is to think about skills like walking. You don't learn to walk each time you do it, you don't have to work-out every part of each step. You just do it, by reflex. Once, when you first learned to walk, it took all your effort and concentration, now, you can nearly do it in your sleep!

Just like walking, most of our thinking is something we've learned to do automatically, by mental reflex. Some of this is thinking we've done ourselves, some we've learned from our surroundings, our culture. In some cases we just hope that the other person we're copying it from got it right.

When we come across something, our minds very quickly check whether it is close enough to something we already know. If we do know it, and, yes, we can make mistakes, here, OK?, mental reflexes, or prejudices, kick-in. If not, we need to find something similar that we do know, and work-out how to adapt that. In really difficult, and we mostly hope not too common cases, we may need to think things through from scratch.

So, most of the time, we're not thinking. We reserve thinking for the interesting and difficult cases. Thinking is 'expensive', so, even if we wanted to, we just couldn't afford to think everything through, every time. Society spends lots of time and expense giving people special training so they don't need to think in difficult circumstances, when lives are at risk, they can just react.

But, the most difficult question is still, "When am I supposed to think?".

(c) ROMsys Ltd, February 2011, permission given to use for non-profit making purposes

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