We are all born knowing only life, which is the experience of our outer and inner worlds. Experience of the outer world comes through our five senses. Our inner world is the accumulation of emotions and thoughts. They are inextricably connected. Touching someone we love can bring immense joy. Seeing the suffering wrought on humanity by fundamentalists of any stripe can enrage or frighten us. How do we make sense of the overwhelming sensory, emotional, and thought data that comprises our experience of life?
Beyond Experiential Wisdom to Universal Wisdom
Wisdom is sometimes the result of a lifetime of experience. Experiential wisdom can help us navigate the rocky shores of life’s journey, avoiding the pain and embracing the pleasure. There is another type of wisdom, though. It is one that flows beyond our base experiences toward the grander shores of universal insight. That is the wisdom we seek through Reasoned Thinking.
Reasoned thinking is a systematic process, but we do not have to start from scratch. We can build on three core tools:
- Experience. Freethinkers often deride experience as an unreliable source of data. Absent experience, intellectual pursuits lack context in a living universe. It is easy to make a tough intellectual judgement, but much harder to live with it. Our experience informs our ideas and insights. In fact, it is the one consistent element of knowledge that spans all of humanity – the philosopher, the scientist, and the artist alike.
- Philosophy. Philosophy, at its core, teaches us how to think, which is more important than what we think. It forces us to look beyond the dogmas that surround us and to see the underlying issues and assumptions. Once they are brought into the light, we can begin to see the path ahead. Philosophy shapes the realm of judgement that occurs outside of science. Philosophy, although the precursor of science, is frequently given short shrift by “freethinkers” in modern times. Despite reports to the contrary, philosophy is not dead. It is misunderstood. Over time, we will correct the misunderstandings.
- Science. Natural philosophy, perhaps beginning with Aristotle, is the genesis of science. After thousands of years of evolution, science can be boiled down to three basic steps: (1) observe and record data about the universe; (2) make testable predictions; and, (3) test those predictions. Those predictions that are consistently successful become theories, such as the theories of relativity or evolution. Scientific theories consistently describe the operation of the universe we observe.
Experience, philosophy, and science form the triumvirate of Reasoned Thinking. Synthesizing knowledge from these tools enables us to move from experiential wisdom toward a greater universal wisdom. Our judgements about the universe and our role in it must be balanced across all three aspects of Reasoned Thinking.
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