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Setting and reaching goals that matter



In this era of relativity, quantum mechanics, climate change, genome mapping, neuroscience, cognitive studies, systems analysis and complexity theory etc. etc. any notions about an absolute basis for figuring out the world seem presumptuous. So when my colleague, William Sheridan, sent me this review I was amused, but provoked in a good way by the paradox implicit in what he says. In a few sweeping sentences he dismisses the preponderance of the west’s canon of received wisdom. On the other hand, what would he replace this with? I would suggest he offers a very humble but honest perspective that few authors have the courage to put in writing.

The Thinking Life by P. M. Forni; St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2011. Reviewed by William Sheridan

The author and I agree that much of people’s time these days is consumed with trivial pursuits.  And I concur that these activities distracts us from “serious and deep thinking.”  He recommends the teachings of some Classical Thinkers for advice on how to start thinking, and why to start thinking.  Although I agree heartily with the goal, I regard his proposed method as both ludicrous and ineffective.  Why?!

He recommends the views of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius amongst others.  These follows lived and thrived in societies based on slavery, radical inequality, male chauvinism, and territorial conquest.  Since each version of wisdom reflects the circumstances of its origin and practice, I can’t go there – furthermore, I don’t really want to!

Is there any other way to learn “serious and deep thinking?”  Since I have done it myself, and NOT with Dr. Forni’s proposed method, there must be another way!  I have reviewed the intellectual accomplishments of these and other great thinkers, and like the Conceptual Pragmatist that I am, I have taken what is useful, and disregarded with is not!

Conceptual Pragmatism (originated by American philosopher C.I. Lewis) teaches us that ideas are NOT intrinsically good or useful except insofar as their use provides our cognitive efforts with some value-added.  I therefore accept and use Plato’s single great contribution to philosophy, namely “idealism,” and forego the remainder – he was just secularizing the astrology of his time anyway!

I have summarized all of the “great ideas” in a single page, and inter-related them for pragmatic use.  I call this “The Human Knowledge MindMap” and it is available in the book How to Think Like a Knowledge Workerpublished by the United Nations, and available as a free download on the Internet.  Based on my own recently completed manuscript, How to Present Knowledge to the Public, and a reading of Dr. Forni’s book, the following thought occurs to me:  Perhaps the willingness to take the time and effort to “think” does not depend on either values or brains – perhaps instead it depends on temperament.  This would explain why for all of human history, the vast majority has always been devoted to the pursuit of the trivial – the peculiar and rare temperament needed for sustained thinking is just not a characteristic of the majority.

William Sheridan©2013      William Sheridan is a deep thinker who lives and works in Ottawa, Canada.