Okay, One Last Blog (This Month) on Critical Thinking


When you see the word “globalization,” do you immediately have a strong reaction, good or bad, one way or the other? Did you have a broad, general feeling response either positive or negative? Reactive and unreflective thinking moves us to an “either/or” engagement. An open curiosity doesn’t impose an automatic value judgment, but understands a greater level of nuance and complexity, but compels further investigation and reflection. Globalization is a reality; pure and simple. As travel, education, technology, communication, and interculturalism expand, increase, and improve, global engagement is continuously impacted. Critical thinking does not reduce concepts to “this or that,” but asks ever-inductive and intensive questions. Critical thinking creates more questions than answers. In what ways is globalization a benefit, a detriment? How is it exploited? What is its potential for good? For ill? For justice? For equity? For improvement? For corruption? What can be learned?

I use a very simple image to communicate the complexity of knowledge building:

Bits and bytes of data, factoids, statistics, ideas, abstractions, points, and perspectives surge in a miasma of media (aren’t I poetic) and we latch onto snatches here and there. Patterns emerge (letters become words, words have meaning, link together into sentences that explain ideas and make sense of datum) and we begin to gather information. Based on information, we begin to act/react/process/test/evaluate. When we find useful information that can be verified and validated, we accept what we have discovered as knowledge. We work with knowledge to deepen and broaden understanding, perhaps mastering a subject area, and as we learn to apply knowledge in meaningful and impactful ways (sometimes positive, sometimes negative) we gain an internalized wisdom. I find parallels to this linear model in primitive/premodern cultures, hyper-rational cultures, as well as trans-rational/transcendent cultures. One very silly example of this to illustrate is:

you wear clothes and they get dirty. you gather random articles of dirty clothing and suddenly you have laundry. what do you do with dirty laundry, especially if you would like it to be clean? you seek information that helps you realize that there is some more data to process — water, detergent, washing protocols, drying protocols, ironing protocols, hanging and folding protocols. All this information is helpful, but you don’t know how to do laundry simply by gathering information about it. Applying information through repeated trials produces knowledge – what works, what doesn’t, what works best, how to maximize efficiency. Each application of information to produce knowledge increases understanding — until such time as you gain confidence and assurance that you are able to do it in your sleep, the very best ways possible every time. Until something better comes along (because someone else started gathering data that indicated more could be learned and applied…)

What is happening in our culture — and especially in our church — today is a confusion of information with knowledge and knowledge with understanding (which makes wisdom nigh on to impossible). For example, we hear that masking is not effective at preventing the spread of COVID. Someone, somewhere, drew this conclusion and offered it as “fact.” At this point, we know nothing, but have only heard a supposition. Deep delving into information about masking produces a great deal of data, a great deal of data processing and information generation. And I am sorry for all who have taken the information that masking is not effective as knowledge; it doesn’t take much more than a brief survey of the good research done in this area – masking makes a huge difference. But this is ONLY knowledge, not understanding (otherwise we would not continue to have the debate and disagreement. We need to find significant and compelling ways to offer knowledge that leads to understanding, and that demands that we find ways to “make it real.”

I have searched YouTube and the internet to find a video of an experiment I first saw in the dark ages when I was in college (1977) that I remember being called “The Green Mist Experiment,” (if anyone knows of this or can find it, I would love the link). It was conducted in a British pub in the early 70s. The experiment went something like this. Researchers told people in a pub that they needed to spray a disinfectant that was clear and odorless but that they really shouldn’t inhale, so facemasks were offered. The spray was not a disinfectant, but a solution that would show up green under a black light. After about 20 minutes, the pub lights were turned down and a black light was lit, showing almost every person and surface covered with a fine green residue, concentrated about the eyes, mouth, and nostrils of most patrons, but completely blocked by the facemasks of the few who wore them. When the researchers came through a second time saying they needed to spray a second treatment, almost everyone in the pub took a facemask. I have wondered on many occasions that if COVID-19 were a green mist that everyone could see, would masking have been a different issue in these United States?

There is often a huge chasm between knowledge and understanding. I may know that smoking or drinking to excess or overeating is bad for me, but don’t fully understand until the first heart attack or stroke. I may know about global poverty, but don’t truly understand it until I spend a month in Haiti or Nigeria. I may know about a Lord and Savior named Jesus the Christ, but never fully understand affective union with the Holy Spirit. Knowing about things doesn’t mean we understand them. And when we don’t understand, we make wisdom an impossibility.

Understanding takes time, and we cannot jump from data and information to understanding without creating and cultivating good, solid, meaningful knowledge. Our quick fix culture is making this harder and harder, and we are all paying the price for it.

Okay, enough harping on critical thinking and our need to cultivate a core curiosity. I figure I am preaching to the choir anyway. But preachers keep on preaching, and if we work hard to preach beyond information, beyond knowledge, through understanding to some kind of wisdom, we might actually get the laundry done.

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