The Weiler Psi

Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics

The Critical Thinking Problem: Henry Higgins vs. Indiana Jones

When you think of a rational person, what comes to mind?  Perhaps a professor seated in an easy chair, somewhat aloof and emotionless, reading a weighty scientific tome and uttering pronouncements based on his prolific knowledge and excellent logical reasoning?  Say, Henry Higgins (from My Fair Lady)?  Probably.  Certainly, you wouldn’t consider, say, Indiana Jones to be rational.  He’s excitable, emotional, impulsive and prone to making mistakes in judgement.  Surely, of the two, Henry Higgins must be the most rational.  Right?

Not necessarily.  In an article published in The Journal of Higher Education, (pdf) professor Kerry S. Walters argues that critical thinking is more than being a Henry Higgins, or to use his example, Spock.  Critical thinking, in the traditional meaning of the word, is logical problem solving and critical analysis.  It means being honest and unemotional in one’s appraisal of a situation, We assume that critical thinkers:

(…) never jump to conclusions, never act rashly, never let emotional smokescreens get in the way of sound inferential reasoning.  They draw conclusions only when there is enough evidence to warrant them and refuse to go beyond the limits of logical probability.

There is nothing wrong with this.  Henry Higgins is your go-to guy when you want to reduce a problem to its simplest components, remove irrelevant information, wave aside fallacies and draw conclusions by connecting the dots.  Higgins will slavishly follow his argument to its logical conclusion without prejudice.  The intellect of Henry Higgins is a powerful force to be reckoned with.  But with that intellect comes a price.  Henry lacks imagination, his intuition is non existent and he is not in the least creative.  In My Fair Lady, he can see his intellectual goal, which he pursues with single minded determination, but is completely oblivious to the fact that something much more important is taking place.

Walters argues that while this Vulcan-like behavior is logical, it falls short of being a good method of reasoning.  As long as there is a problem to be solved that lends itself to the logical process, Henry is completely in his element, but he is completely unprepared and incapable of shifting gears in order to approach problems from another angle.  Moreover, his thinking process is entirely reactionary.  He can only act on problems already at hand. He is incapable of making the intuitive leap from solving his intellectual quest to pass a low born flower girl off as a well born lady, to realizing that Eliza Doolittle is far more intelligent and alluring than she appears.  He cannot make the leap from seeing a flower girl to seeing a special woman.  He never really gains any insight on this subject and he does not act until after a decision is forced upon him. His greatest strength is also his greatest weakness.  Henry undoubtedly prides himself on his intellect, but he has incorrectly identified logical thinking with good thinking, which is what we normally refer to as rationality.

Rationality though, is far more than the logical thought processes Henry uses.  Walters writes:

It also includes non-logical but quite legitimate cognitive acts such as imagination, conceptual creativity, intuition and insight.  These are functions which I generically call the “pattern of discovery.”  (…) pattern of discovery processes are not formalistically rule-oriented nor inferentially transparent.  Nor are they purely reactive.   They (…) enable the reasoner to formulate new, alternative paradigms and problems.  They are often tacit in nature and arrive at conclusions in a non sequential fashion.

Walters points out that intuition and creativity are not the same thing.  Creativity is a conscious decision where one intends to perform a creative act.  In contrast, intuition comes unbidden in a flash of insight.  Because of this, he regards them as different thought processes, and equally important to rational thought.  He argues that these forms of thinking are part and parcel of a good thinking process.  Rational thinking then, is comprised of three different components which work together to provide an individual with the best possible thought process.  Logical, linear thinking; creative thinking and intuition.

Let’s take the case of Indiana Jones.  Like Henry Higgins, he is an academic, but the similarities stop there.  Jones is an excitable character, both intuitive and imaginative, while also being brilliant at logical, linear thought.  Indiana Jones is pro-active.  He doesn’t just react to problems, he creates them, quickly improvising solutions along the way.  Higgins has just one original thought in the entire movie.  Indiana Jones is a walking, talking, whip wielding creativity machine.  He makes mistakes; some of them are huge errors, but he is also able to quickly adapt to these new problems because he fully uses his hunches and intuition.

Indiana Jones would also not spend an entire movie completely oblivious to the charms of an exceptionally smart and attractive woman in close company.  Logical, linear thought does not make a man wise in the ways of women.  He uses all three methods of thinking to great effect.  In the sincerest sense of the term, he is a good thinker.

Why does it matter to define this?  Why is it important to parse our thinking patterns into these different elements?  Because academia and the media tend to go overboard in emphasizing linear, logical thinking as being the only “real” type of thinking.  You just aren’t smart unless  you’re really really good at being logical.  By understanding thinking in broader terms, we can reject this limited model and fully embrace a version that frankly, we were gonna do anyway.  Now we just feel better about it.

8 comments on “The Critical Thinking Problem: Henry Higgins vs. Indiana Jones

  1. Rabbitdawg
    November 15, 2012

    A quick news flash that’s relevant to the discussion:

    • Peter
      November 16, 2012

      There is an unfortunate tendency of scientists and their journals to equate consciousness, brain and mind. These are not the same.

      Their linear methodology shapes their experiments and pre-determines their conclusions.

      As Einstein observed, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” Note that he is saying that it is this type of thinking that creates problems as well being unable to solve those artificial problems. A rather silly approach by these inquirers.

  2. Peter
    November 15, 2012

    Interesting article. What needs to be expanded upon is what is meant by “unemotional” or “never let emotional smokescreens get in the way”. One cannot accuse Indiana Jones for being unemotional. Even the author grants that.

    For many non-linear thinkers such as Indiana Jones unemotional is akin to linear thinking.

    Instead of “unemotional” consider “patient”. And consider “patience” to be a symptom of having very wide perspective that takes in all of humanity and other animal life and, in fact, is rooted in what some would term “God Consciousness”, “Cosmic Consciousness”, “Samadhi” for Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains, and the highest form of Sabr to Muslims, and “Gaia Consciousness” to Pagans and new-agers.

    The person is patient because they are grounded in their ultimate spiritual nature and recognize the futility of having emotional attachments, i.e likes and dislikes, to the events and people in their lives. They are not ‘unemotional” but rather project love and compassion which are also, in addition to patience, characteristics of such consciousness.

    I would like to see more discussion of “unemotional”.

    • craigweiler
      November 15, 2012

      Hi Peter,
      It seems to me that this line of discussion is outside the scope of the article.

      The article addresses this question: What sort of thinking is rational? It then goes on to make the point that rational thinking is comprised of logical, linear thinking, creative thinking and intuitive moments of “aha!.” Not just logical, linear thought process.

      What you are describing is a perfect example of thinking that is not logical, but it is rational. It lies somewhere in the realm of intuition. It’s kind of an extended moment of “aha!”

      • Peter
        November 15, 2012

        Hello Craig

        That “aha” moment is in fact a rational process that uses data and a framework not available to Henry Higgins but which is second nature for Indiana Jones.

        It arises from loosening ties to immediate sense data plus overcoming the fear of what, for some, is the unknown and then engaging other more universal areas of rational thought and awareness.

        It is essentially not the egocentric framework of Higgins but rather the holistic framework of Indiana.

        • craigweiler
          November 15, 2012

          Yeah, I agree with that.

  3. pinkrangerv
    November 14, 2012

    Emotionless thinking is not logical thinking, because it ignores an entire branch of the senses. Would it be logical to just ignore any evidence in any field gained by genetic analysis? Of course not. So why hero-worship those who ignore emotion?

    (In other words…great post. :))

    • craigweiler
      November 14, 2012

      Awww! Thanks.

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This entry was posted on November 14, 2012 by in Psychic's Psychology.
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