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Mind-bending Concepts—Simplistic

The Mind-bender Concepts Series
The world is very complex; in fact, it is so complex that in its complexity it is impossible to know or understand. It is the job of the human intellect to bring the complexity of the world into understandable organization that can be known and understood.

The human means of doing that are, "concepts," by which the facts of reality can be identified and isolated out of the immediate complexity of the world as we are directly conscious of (perceive) it. A concept is the identification of both individual things and classes of things, such as, "the cat," meaning the family pet, and "cat" which means every cat there is, has ever been, or ever will be—that is, one of those creatures with the attributes that make a cat what it is, and distinguishes it from all other kinds of creatures or things.

The concept, "cat," is the identification of that class of creatures; the word, "cat," is the symbol for that concept. The class, "cat," literally means, every cat that has ever or will ever exist, with all their qualities and characteristics, known or unknown. Language, then, is a method of simplification. It would be impossible to hold in one's consciousness an apprehension of every concrete cat with all the common and specific attributes of each that ever existed, but by using the word, "cat," the concept for "every cat that ever existed," can be held in consciousness.

One more example is counting. One might be able to picture three things, or even four, or five, and in that way be able to hold in their mind an identification of three, four, or five things. It would be impossible, however, to identify the number of cattle in a field as 227, for example, by picturing it, or to distinguish 227 cattle from 224.

It is the method of counting and concepts of numbers that make it possible for human beings to hold in their minds, how much money they have in their checking account ($650.75) or how many bottles of beer they have left in their refrigerator. The concepts of counting and numbers are primarily a method of simplification that enables us to identify a fact of reality, without which, such facts would be impossible to apprehend. Counting makes such enormously complex cases of reality as the number of pages in a book, capable of being held in consciousness by means of a single simple concept, such as 255.

All knowledge is, in fact, a matter of simplification, but simplification does not mean ignoring complexity, but a method of comprehending or organizing complexity in a way that can be identified and dealt with by the human intellect.

"Simplistic," literally means, "unrealistically simple, or oversimplified." There may be cases of such over-simplification, but the word is usually used to repudiate genuine human knowledge, especially principles.

An example is the argument that a free market might work in a limited social framework, but in a modern industrial nation, society is too complex to be allowed to function without some level of control. Arguments for complete economic freedom are put down as simplistic and unrealistic.

It is a typical mind-benders anti-concept. Any principle may be repudiated by labeling it as "simplistic." Here is one way the "critical thinking" crowd uses it to describe a "critical thinker:"

"They strive to improve the world in whatever ways they can and contribute to a more rational, civilized society. At the same time, they recognize the complexities often inherent in doing so. They avoid thinking simplistically about complicated issues and strive to appropriately consider the rights and needs of relevant others."

If your first concern is not for the "rights and needs of relevant others," well then, you are just being too simplistic in your thinking.

The Intended Obfuscation of Complexity

The purpose of a definition is to make it clear exactly what it is a concept identifies. A concept does not mean its definition, it means whatever it is the definition points to with all of its nature and characteristics. A definition, therefore, must be as simple as possible.

For example: correct thinking (or reason) may be defined as the conscious process of identifying the facts of reality and their relationships that is non-contradictory.

Such a process is necessarily very complex in its actual practice, but no matter how complex actual thinking is, it is always correct only if based on the facts of reality and there are no contradictions.

So what could possibly be the reason for this mish-mash of disparate ideas being put over as a definition of "critical thinking:"

"Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

"It entails the examination of those structures or elements of thought implicit in all reasoning: purpose, problem, or question-at-issue; assumptions; concepts; empirical grounding; reasoning leading to conclusions; implications and consequences; objections from alternative viewpoints; and frame of reference. Critical thinking—in being responsive to variable subject matter, issues, and purposes—is incorporated in a family of interwoven modes of thinking, among them: scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking."

This "definition" does not identify anything. It is a collection of every hair-brained vague idea of "thinking" there might be, even using the word "thinking" in the definition. These anti-intellectuals would despise the definition of correct thinking above as simplistic, because that definition would not allow them to get away with the kind of vagueness this complexity produces. See the "Critical Thinking," article for what their real purpose is.

—(01/19/11)