Thinking - Too Much? Too Little?

Most of us, with minimal conscious awareness that we're doing so, fully identify with our thoughts ("cognitive fusion") ie we assume that our thoughts are who / what we are. And because we overestimate the value of thinking, we tend to over- or under-utilize it.

Many of us tend to over-think things. And we have our set of pet themes. After a while, this becomes numbingly repetitive, the same sequence of thoughts going round and round, without any clarification, conclusion, or appearance of a path forward, till we're thoroughly sick of the topic. Before we know it, we're repeating the exact same sequence of thoughts, going nowhere again! This has been called "analysis paralysis".

We under-utilize thinking in ingenious ways. Impatiently jumping to conclusions without adequate analysis ("intolerance of ambiguity", "premature closure", & "extinction by instinct") is not uncommon, and potentially catastrophic in many different scenarios from warfare to healthcare.

Another common form of thinking under-utilization is "paradigm paralysis":

"... by the age of five, most children have formed a basic paradigm based on their early experiences that shapes their view of what life is about, how it works, and how to cope with it. (Howard Gardner) calls this 'the unschooled mind.' Sadly, ... most people never get beyond living with this mind of a 5-year old, no matter how much schooling they receive. He blames this on an educational system that instructs rather than educating.

Thomas Kuhn (1962), in his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, did the ground-breaking work on the damaging effects of 'paradigm paralysis' – getting our minds stuck in the boxes we create. Great science, he points out, blows these boxes open. It questions the assumptions with which they have been constructed, and gives us a fresh perspective on the data being offered to our brains. In the same way, it is the task of great education to help students break out of the boxes made by their early experiences and first assumptions, to help them grow beyond the mind of the 5-year old.

The project of getting educated is at one with the project of living life itself – to find deep meaning in life, to grow into greater understanding, and to use these wisely in service to things larger than ourselves. It’s the project of becoming a fully effective and responsible adult ever open to new experiences and opportunities."

Danah Zohar. "Exploring Spiritual Capital: An Interview with Danah Zohar." Spirituality in Higher Education Newsletter 2010; 5(5): 1-8.

Discursive thinking has important specific uses and distinct limitations. We have multiple intelligences. A full, balanced life makes discriminating use of all of these. Zen, perhaps more than any other discipline, understands the limits of discursive thinking, and advocates zazen, a stripped-down version of sitting meditation, as a corrective.

Balancing thinking with our other ways of knowing, benefits us, and all those with whom we interact:

Thinking by the Ocean

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