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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 values.

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 do it.

Beyond Reason

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.

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