Moving Beyond Reason
Do you need something more than reason for powerful thinking?
Looking to move beyond reason as a mind-booster may sound like
an excuse for irrationality - and could be used that way - but
it can also be the recognition that there is more than reasoning
ability involved in high-quality thinking.
Suppose, for example, we learn that in house fires children's
pajamas often catch on fire, causing injuries and death. We also
know that there are materials which are more fire-resistant,
and therefore safer. Starting with these premises, we make a
law requiring pajamas to be made of these other, more fire-resistant
materials. This seems reasonable enough, right?
Then we discover that the new pajamas, while they don't catch
fire as easily, melt and cause even more serious burns than the
old ones. Where did we go wrong? It wasn't our reasoning that
was faulty, but the premise that more flame-resistant meant safer
- an easy mistake to make.
All reason starts with premises which are outside of the reasoning
process itself. Choose one faulty premise and you can taint every
step in the reasoning that proceeds from it. These premises include
knowledge based on experience and observation. Knowledge, of
course is always incomplete, and so when used as the basis for
our reasoning, can lead us astray.
Premises may also be values, the most basic of which are not
subject to rational analysis. For example, reason tells you how
to live, even how to get a job to pay for survival. But it can't
prove that to be alive, or to live a certain lifestyle, is worthwhile.
Those choices come before reasoning thought enters the scene.
This explains how two perfectly logical arguments can arrive
at opposing viewpoints - there can be a difference of fundamental
Reason alone is also insufficient for balancing the various
values. For example, money is a worthy goal, your reason determines,
but there are other worthy goals, like time to spend with loved
ones. How should you balance the time spent making money against
the time with your family? Reasoning from experience can tell
you that this is a necessary balance, but not how to actually
Intuition enters here - if we allow it. This is one of the
tools we use that are beyond reason. For example, we may reason
our way to a perfectly logical conclusion - and then feel that
there is something wrong with it. Suppose a scientist needs a
grant to study how animal psychology. He approaches the foundation
that can provide the most money. More money has always helped
to produce better research in his experience, so this is a reasonable
decision, but it feels wrong.
He decides to go beyond reason and listen to his intuition.
Perhaps he finds that what he really needs is more freedom to
pursue the research the way he wants, and this particular foundation
is too restrictive in how he'll be able to use the money. He
finds a better solution. In other words, his unconscious mind
was doing a better job than his conscious reasoning. It lead
him to realize that his premise of "more money is better,"
was wrong in this case.
Rational thought can especially lead us astray when it comes
to our hierarchy of values. We might desire a more organized
and predictable society, for example, and so decide to support
laws that tell people when and how they can open businesses,
or what they can do with their bodies. We might be very logical
in our reasoning, yet not see that this violates our higher value
of respect for other's freedom.
To avoid large errors in beliefs, conclusions and decisions,
then, we have to see that our premises can often be wrong, or
incomplete, and so challenge them continually. We have to refer
continually to our highest values, to see that our lesser values
and conclusions are in accordance with these. We have to allow
for the power of our unconscious thinking processes, and at least
pay enough attention to our feelings and intuition to see if
there is another approach that makes more sense.
We also have to listen to others with whom we disagree. Sometimes
they know things we don't, or have had different experiences.
With new evidence, new approaches, new premises, we should then
be as rational as we can be. Reason is perhaps our most powerful
tool, after all - but it isn't our only one. That's why we have
to go beyond rational thought for higher-quality thinking.