Thinking About Thinking

Report to a special caucus at the World Conference, July 20, 1979.

Harvey Jackins


I appreciate your coming. I have wanted to talk about this for some time. This will not be a formal, complete presentation. I am not in possession of a usable form of some knowledge I would like to communicate. I heartily encourage any of you with the time and the opportunity to obtain and master some of this information (contained in modern mathematical logic) in which I feel most lacking.

The actual practice of Re-evaluation Counseling tends to open up new and valuable viewpoints on many subjects. This is understandable. The main factor obscuring reality for us has been the accumulation of distress patterns, so it is not surprising that participation in undoing distress patterns allows some valuable glimpses into the thinking process, some understandings that have heretofore only been achieved formally and with not too much awareness of their importance. What I want to speculate about is not present academic knowledge about thinking or the application of logic. It is what I have glimpsed from the peculiar viewpoint of a Co-Counselor chopping away at patterns almost every day.


The insight resolving the dilemma between determinism and free will, for example, grew out of practical work. I resolved this dilemma in practice with clients, long before I recognized that I had solved it, out of the necessity of giving them resource and support to discharge and re-evaluate. I found myself, of necessity, insisting to clients that the past was determined, that they could not change it by their anxious wishing to change it. I found I must do this in order to help them completely discharge their grief on the past. Concurrently I found myself insisting firmly to clients that the future was subject to their choice, that the patterned feeling that the defeats of the past had already determined their futures must be rejected. I insisted on this in order to get them to discharge, in order to contradict their distress enough that they would consider the alternative to the patterned conclusion. This had been going on for a long time before it dawned on me that the ancient dilemma of determinism vs. free will resolves very neatly if you draw the present time line down the middle between the past and the future, where it has always belonged. Of these two domains, determinism rules only one. The past was the way it was. To say it had to be the way it was is exactly equivalent to saying it was the way it was. The future, on the other hand, is the domain of free will. The future is influenced by the past but it is not determined by it. This marvelous clarification was, in a sense, just a "spinoff" of practical work.

I once attempted a tentative definition of awareness as "thinking about thinking while thinking." I'm not sure yet whether this is really helpful or just a play on words, but to think about thinking is certainly possible. To do so can give us some grasp on this unconfused area of our functioning and this reality which is close to the core of our beingness. It can give us some general concepts that may be valuable in sorting out patterned illusions from our accurate perceptions of reality.


Early in RC we defined intelligence or the process of thinking as checking new information which we are taking in from the environment against information which we have on file in our memory from past experiences that have been well understood, both for similarities and for differences, understanding the new information in relation to the previously understood information of the past and responding with new, creative, flexible, successful responses to the new situation. If we are going to be very careful, we will certainly have to include in the data not only information from the external world, but also certain conclusions we have reached from past information. There is ample evidence that we not only take in present time facts, compare and contrast them with other known facts and file them in retrievable storage in our nervous system somewhere, but also that we continue to compare and contrast any tentative conclusions we reach with other conclusions. Stored in our memory are not only the discrete facts perceived or apparently perceived from the environment but also a wealth of conclusions deduced from these facts and these conclusions are part of the information against which we judge new information continually. We do not go back to first principles all the time but we speed up our ability to process information by using certain well-checked-out generalizations for the wholesale evaluation of new facts.


We can say that thinking consists of constructing, checking upon and drawing conclusions entirely from mental models, because it is necessary to starkly face that we have no direct contact with reality. "Direct" perception of reality has been a much-desired illusion through all of human existence, yet we lose nothing by giving it up. If we face the truth that we can never know directly that this is a firm, wooden, chair arm (pats chair arm) we do not give up any accuracy in our knowledge about the chair arm, we do not give up any useful part of our interrelationship with the environment. Rather, it is helpful to realize that all the knowledge we can ever have of that chair arm is a set of mental concepts that we have constructed about it from certain digital blips of electricity which come down the nerves from our sense organs to our central thinking apparatus.

If I try to insist on what we have usually assumed as direct contact with reality by touching it with my fingers and saying "There it is!", all I am ascertaining about that chair arm is that when I do this, certain blips of electricity come along certain nerves in my arm to my central nervous system (or whatever portion of it is engaged), certain other blips come along my optic nerve (after a moderate amount of computation actually done in the retina of my eye before the signals get into the nerves to the brain), and from this and other sets of on, on, on, off, off, off signals coming down my nerves, I construct a mental concept of that chair arm and that is all I can ever have. I can never have direct contact with reality even if I smoke pot or swallow LSD or get drunk enough that I convince myself of the illusion of direct contact with reality.

The mental concept that I fashion about that chair arm is not in deficit compared to the "direct contact" which I may have deluded myself that I had before. I know as much as I ever did and I am a little more accurate in that I don't delude myself about having direct contact. I am less vulnerable to being deceived if I realize that this is a mental concept that I have constructed. I point to my head. It is mostly constructed there, I think; but that is fine.

All we have ever needed of reality and all we will ever need of reality is exactly the mental constructs that we make of it from these little blips of electricity that come down our nerves to our central nervous system. Though people may feel insecure at first facing this actuality, we can have as accurate a mental picture of any portion of reality as we desire. We cannot have direct contact, we cannot have the absolute truth about it, but we can have as accurate a picture as we ever wish by simply making more effort to gain a finer screen input of information from it.


I can know that chair in as great detail as I wish. I simply will have to make more effort if I want to bring a microscope to it, if I want to take it apart and weigh it and determine its specific gravity, if I want to bounce white light off of it and put it through a colorimeter and discover all of the different wave lengths of light which it absorbs and which it reflects. If I want to examine in detail the jackknifed picture which some previous student has carved into it, I can do this. If I want to examine the way the cellulose molecules in it are linked together and how the lignin binds them, I can determine this. I can set up a chemistry laboratory. I can set up a scanning electron microscope. I can use many, many tools to know as much about that chair arm as I wish. We are not in any way frustrated by facing the actuality that we can never have direct contact with the external world around us.


Better that that, we can achieve agreement between our mental models. This we know from practice. We can achieve agreement between my mental model and your mental model to as close a degree as we wish to achieve agreement, provided only that we see (1) that the same information is available to both of us, (2) that we get our distress patterns out of the way (I am mentioning them early here at this point), and (3) that we allow for the differences in viewpoint. We can have as close agreement as we wish between different human beings, different intelligences, about any portion of reality if we share the same information, if we get the distress pattern interference out of the way and if we allow for the differences in viewpoint.

The difference in viewpoint must be taken into account. Those of you who have read Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land may remember his neat little example of this. The Stranger asks the host about the function of a profession called Witnessing. In order to illustrate it, the host calls a Witness over and asks her, "What color do you say that house on the hill is?" She looks at it for a moment and says, "White, on this side." We allow for the difference in viewpoint. We do not generalize from insufficient data.


Which brings us to another part of the process of thinking. This is that we do generalize. When dealing with external reality, we take samples. We ascertain information here, there and everywhere about reality, then, since we can never hope to sample everywhere in the universe, we generalize. Having sampled the behavior of a few thousand electrons with instruments, we then generalize. If almost all of the electrons we examine behave in a certain way we generalize and say that, "Electrons behave this way." High school physics teachers tell their students, "This is a law," because professors of physics a generation or two ago used to talk like that. (Sometimes this leaves a very poor impression with the high school students.) The professor of physics himself or herself knows well that though he or she may use the familiar slang term "Law" for his/her generalization, he/she really means, "A Sensible Conjecture." "I took a lot of samples, they all went in the same direction. Therefore, until I have some contrary evidence, I am going to assume that all electrons are like this." This is all the "Laws" of physics are, of necessity.


Into our computations about the nature of reality go a great many conclusions that we have reached in our past thinking about reality. Unfortunately, for all of us, part of the material on which these conclusions are based includes, to a very large extent, things we were told were true by people who were saying so out of some kind of distress pattern. A great many of these "truths" that we were forced and trained to accept without question were not accurate.

In great part young people continue to be told "this is so" without being encouraged to check on it by their own observations. This is part of the process of oppression, part of the process of preparing us through the oppression of young people to be victims of not only young people's oppression but all of the other oppressions. Human beings are forced to accept mis-information in some cases for lack of any other information. If you can't look into a room yourself and somebody else sticks their head in there and says, "The room is full of water," that is as good a fact as you have; but if the person is for some reason intent on deceiving you, it is not a very good fact. If you accept it it may lead to lots of wrong conclusions. Or, if the person is in the grip of restimulation, such as a terror of drowning, and sees water everywhere because the recording is playing its input, then we have some false data, false conclusions, false generalizations. As everyone in this room knows, a great deal of the re-evaluation that follows our discharge consists of spotting, sorting out and throwing away these falsehoods that we were told were true and had little choice but to accept as true, but which have interfered with our functioning and ruined our perception of reality ever since we accepted them.


Some assumptions are always present in any thinking which we do. Yet in our reaction to having been given falsehoods as facts, many of us have adopted an attitude which says, "I won't assume anything, show me the facts." This is healthy in some situations. If the management of the multinational corporation tells its workers, "We cannot afford to pay you any more and that is a fact," it is probably very healthy for the workers to conclude, "That may be your name for it but we have an uncouth term for such 'facts' and we will go on strike anyway until we get more money, which you will somehow miraculously find after we have been on strike for six weeks." In terms of thinking, however, it is important that we recognize that we must always make assumptions, that this flows from the actuality that we have no direct contact with reality, that we can only sample it indirectly. There is nothing bad about this. This does not handicap our thinking. The very best thinking has always taken place on the basis of assumptions. We don't know of the existence of any thinking based upon absolute reality. So, we are not giving anything up but an illusion when we give up our previous insistences that we are only going to deal with "facts" and not assumptions at all.

To face the reality that we are always assuming some things to be true without being able to prove it may make one feel momentarily insecure if one has spent one's life hanging onto what people told one as if it were absolute truth, but in practice, we haven't lost a thing. All the thinking that has ever gone on, the very best thinking that has ever been done in the universe, has always been based, necessarily, on some assumptions. All we are doing is giving ourselves a more accurate picture of the process.

At any level of thinking, assumptions are likely to be made. What helps our thinking to be more rigorous and more accurate is to cut down the number of assumptions in each situation to the smallest number that we possibly can. It also helps to use only the most basic assumptions that we possibly can, to get down to a small, simple set of basic assumptions and then not make any others unless absolutely necessary, and then clearly stated and defined.


One of the assumptions that we have to make in order to do any thinking at all, whether we have faced that we made it or not, is an assumption about the reality of the universe. We have to assume either that the universe exists independently of our thought about it or we have to assume that the universe is a projection of the mind, a complex illusion created by ourselves (or by someone else, or by God) thinking about it. One can't have it both ways at once.

Some of the worst confusion and some of the worst interference with our thinking take place when people try to act on one of these two assumptions until it involves some mental effort or going against a pattern and then retreat to the other assumption, so that, in effect, they try to assume two contradictory notions at the same time. This really eviscerates our thinking, makes it almost useless. So that one of the beginning decisions is: do we assume that the universe is real, that it exists independently of our perception of it, or, do we conclude that it is a projected illusion from some mind or other? One's thinking processes will work and one can draw lots of conclusions on either assumption. Some very brilliant people in the past have chosen each assumption and done a lot of thinking.

Re-evaluation Counseling and the physical sciences in general have based themselves, with greater or lesser clarity, on the first assumption, the assumption that the universe does exist independently of our observation of it; that each part of its nature already exists whether or not we have yet discovered it and that it is discoverable to any degree that we wish to make the effort.

(Now the other assumption, the assumption that it is possible to think of the universe as being a projection of somebody's mind, having been stated once, the existence of that viewpoint becomes, in a sense, a fact. It is a fact that someone can think of the universe in that way, as a projection of the mind. It is an interesting fact. It doesn't have to be abolished. We dont have to burn it at the stake for heresy or anything like that. The fact that human beings could think of the universe as being a projection of the observer's mind is in itself a fact. It is a fact that that thought could take place. It doesn't mean that we have to accept it as a basis for the universe, we can still remain realists.

Interestingly enough, it may turn out to be a more useful fact than it has seemed. At the frontiers of physical science, there are some questions that indicate that perhaps the role of the observer determines part of the nature of the universe. That is wa-a-ay out there on the frontiers and it doesn't have much to do with the practical, everyday questions that we deal with, even in Re-evaluation Counseling, but it is interesting. It would lead us, perhaps, to conclude that no idea, once thought, however apparently wrong or useless, should ever be dismissed completely but should instead be put on the shelf and remembered as perhaps furnishing inspiration and insight at a later date even though at the present it is useless and perhaps even harmful to wave it around very much.)

We assume the reality of the universe in Re-evaluation Counseling and in the physical sciences generally. (Not all physical scientists do that, by the way. Many, many physical scientists do not themselves follow the rules of science. They have not been well enough grounded in them. They get by as "scientists" with their spring balance, their test tube and their laboratory smock for long periods. So do not be deluded by the fact that a "scientist" just discovered God on the front page of the National Enquirer. Don't be too impressed by something like that.)


In Re-evaluation Counseling, and in the physical sciences in general, we assume that the universe is real, that it exists independently of our observations. We assume that we can perceive that universe to any degree of accuracy that we wish to make the effort to achieve. We also make another important assumption and this is that the universe is consistent, that no actual fact here in the universe is inconsistent with another actual fact over there in the universe. This is important.

The insistence on consistency gives us a very powerful tool to reinforce our accurate perception of reality because consistency as an assumption allows us to bridge great gaps between observations. The more we understand this and apply it, the sounder and more dependable our thinking can be. I don't know how to say it better. Undoubtedly it has been said better somewhere else. No fact accurately perceived here in the universe makes another fact accurately perceived over there impossible. There is no inconsistency.

Now, apparent inconsistencies show up all the time and these are delightful. Not only do we enjoy the magician with his or her wonderful show, his or her wonderful flouting of apparent reality, but in scientific work, apparent inconsistencies when they show up are almost always gateways to a whole new and exciting level of knowledge about the universe. If two facts seem to be in contradiction to each other, this is a call to dinner, to a feast of new information, because to examine this inconsistency always leads to important new information.

(Example requested) There is something about quarks which appear to behave in one way over here in some kind of group of subatomic particles, and yet appear to behave in another way over there. You know the details, Michel? (Michel: One way to put it is to say we know or at least have strong evidence for the fact that subatomic particles are made up of separate pieces which we call quarks, and yet there seems to be in principle no way to separate them and to observe them in each separate direction in the universe.) Thank you. Yet the physicists are not unhappy, they are delighted with the dilemma because they know that soon a feast of new information will be spread.

The paradox, the statement which appears to be logically true but at the same time cannot be true, is somewhat like this. The appearance of a paradox sends some people into a panic. Yet, a great mathematician completed a monumental work on set theory, and just as he was revising the last proofs, Bertrand Russell sent him Russell's Paradox, as it has come to be known, which made his whole book completely untenable. He was a great man and he welcomed the appearance of the paradox, although his life work was thrown into question at that point.

The appearance of a paradox always is a signal that we have not been careful enough about defining our terms. We have used terms, assuming we knew what they meant, but carelessly, and this carelessness has shown up in the apparent paradox. So this, too, is a delightful happening, a breakthrough to a better perception of reality when it occurs. (Example requested) The barber who shaves everyone in the village except the men who shave themselves.


We are not unhappy in facing the fact that we operate on assumptions. What is very important, and not too common in the wide world, is that we recognize the value of clearly stating what our assumptions are. We are going to do a lot of logical thinking, draw a lot of logical conclusions on these assumptions. We want them to be out in the open, clearly stated. The importance of this shows up if we consider some of the brilliant people who surrounded Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, even Nixon. Some of these were brilliant thinkers. They could probably beat you or me at chess or at spotting fallacies in a logical development hands down, but because they did not look at their assumptions, these brilliant thinkers found themselves, during the Viet Nam War, thinking very, very hard on how to make napalm more effective at burning small children to death. They thought very brilliantly but on unchecked assumptions, such as "The U.S. presence in Viet Nam is necessary for the preservation of freedom," or junk like that.

We set before ourselves the goal of clearly stating our assumptions, of knowing exactly what they are. That way we can be much more confident that the conclusions we reach with our logic are workable and dependable and consistent with our assumptions than can people who take their assumptions for granted or fail to look at them.

Here practically the whole nature of oppression and internalized oppression comes in. The unchecked assumption is very familiar to us as we stumble among the patterns of oppression and internalized oppression that we discharge and take apart. "If I was worth anything perhaps I would fight back, but I don't think I am worth very much." The victim has accepted this attitude unchecked because, of course, it was jammed into his or her head in an early moment of distress and misery. Part of our exciting new knowledge is learning how to pry out these internalized oppressions which operate as unchecked assumptions.


Other important assumptions are the rules of logic. I won't try to state them here. The efforts of logicians in the last fifty years have been well directed toward getting the number of assumptions down to a very small set. For example, if A is equivalent to B and B is equivalent to C then A is equivalent to C. Or, it cannot be true that A is equivalent to B and A is not equivalent to B at the same time. This is probably the same assumption that I mentioned before, that no two facts are contradictory. The laws of logic have been greatly simplified with the development of mathematical manipulation of them. They have been worked down to a very small number of assumptions and these are most of the assumptions we need to start with.

You remember when you took plane geometry in high school you started out with a handful of axioms and then you deduced certain theorems from them very carefully. If your proofs were very careful you didn't bother to go back to the axioms every time, you went on from the theorems to other theorems.You built a structure. As long as you were careful and your logic was air tight, you depended on the well-proven theorems as much as you did on the axioms which you assumed.


We do something like this in another kind of logic. If it has been helpful to two thousand clients to cry we do not pause at the two-thousand-and-first and say, "Should I stop him from crying or not? Let's have a debate. I will call the whole workshop together and we will debate it." By then we regard the value of crying with some certainty. This degree of certainty is useful and justified not only on logical deduction from assumptions, but it is also justified on the inductive generalizations from observation.


We have two kinds of logic operating in RC. One is deductive logic. We say, "If this is true and this is true then this must be true," and if we can show logically that it must be true then the third portion becomes part of what we depend on. It is also true in inductive logic that if we check ten million electrons in a magnetic field, and another ten million electrons in a magnetic field and another ten million electrons in a magnetic field and another and another and another, then when we come to the eleventh ten million electrons we have a pretty good idea of how they are going to behave in a magnetic field.

This generalizing from limited data is also dependable but of a different caliber of dependability than is the deduction from assumption. When we are thinking of assumptions we have an artificial system, we can be completely air tight. We say all we are going to assume is this, and this is an artificial system, these are all assumptions, we are not pretending that they have any validity or application, we are just saying if these are true, then this is true. This statement is dependable but always rests on the previous assumption, that these things we assumed were true.

In the other, the inductive system, we observe up to the limits of our capacity to observe and we find that this is true every time; we observe it to be true, we observe it to be true, we observe it to be true, we observe it to be true, then we can with some dependability assume that a similar case is going to be true the same way.

This is dependable and worthwhile but here we must remember that the twenty-first case may not turn out to be true and then we will have to revise our inductive conclusions.

Our thinking proceeds in these two modes generally, but it is worthwhile to notice that it does. We do this all the time. We think brilliantly at lightning speed in both these ways but it helps to look carefully at how we do it. If we see exactly what the process is, then we are armed to spot discrepancies. Patterns will stick their little heads out and say, "Cluck, cluck, peep, peep, I am a fact, I'm a fact, I'm a fact, I'm a fact." If we can say, "No, no. You're contradictory to other facts over here," then with a little counseling skill, by golly, the "fact" turns to discharge and we have cleared up our view of the universe or cleared up our client's view of the universe at that point.

So our generalizations, called "Laws" sometimes, are always really well-supported conjectures, always subject to revision in the light of future information.

In looking at our assumptions, there is great value in keeping them to as small a number as possible, and we must see that they are consistent. We assume that a fact in the universe is consistent with another fact, but our assumptions are abstractions so we cannot simply assume that because we thought of them that they are consistent. It is very easy to think of sets of contradictory assumptions. As any mathematician well knows, the first thing you must do with a set of assumptions is check out that they are consistent, that one doesn't make any other one impossible.


As we proceed to think, we will come up against other difficulties, and not only because of the operation of patterns. (Patterns are the most familiar difficulty. We try to prove a theorem in abstract mathematics and we keep going to sleep, for example, or a picture of our stern father holding a razor strap over us keeps coming to our minds when we try to think.) But even without the insertion of distress, there are questions that are so complex that it is very difficult to follow them. This is part of the joy of mathematical logic. When we learn to use it and apply it everywhere, the use of symbols makes it possible to keep track of complex questions much more easily.

When we run into difficulties in our thinking, there is an observable common temptation to not think through the difficult step but instead insert a new assumption. We ran into this kind of suggestion many times in trying to put together our RC theory. It is not a good idea. It is not a real solution to the difficulty. It places us in great danger of hidden contradictions in our thinking. I think it occurs for understandable reasons. Much of the "logic" we have been confronted with in the past has been a faulty logic or at least based on very bad assumptions. In the hands of the oppressors that logic has come to seem to us a whip to beat us, a club to keep us in line. Logic has come to be identified as cold, heartless, inhuman. The Boss says, "Here are the facts. I've got to cut your wages." Since we don't have access to any "facts" except what he tells us, it sounds logical. Yet you know your livelihood is endangered, so there is this dislike of logic, this tendency to anti-logic - "to hell with logic" - because it has been mis-represented to us. I think it is important for us to recover the truth that logic is our friend.


Logic is "our kind of people." Logic has been slandered to us and misused and abused by the oppressive society, but logic is not "cold." Logic is warm, human and loving and we must not allow logical thinking to appear to be monopolized by the oppressors. We must make it our own. Especially as liberation fighters we must never assume that logical communication is left to the oppressors while we make emotional appeals in order to rally people for liberation. That has never really worked. When it appeared to work for a few days at a time it created additional problems later. Logic belongs to us. We, the liberation forces, are the human ones and logic is a warm, essential human characteristic. It is part of our elegant functioning.

So, resistance to logic, when it shows up, must be dealt with. One form that I hear a lot of is, "How do you know it isn't so? How do you know it isn't so?" This is essentially a device for introducing a new assumption somewhere along the line because the thinking has become difficult. Now, if we are going to put in another assumption, we don't do it this way. If we can't get by without another assumption then we go back to the beginning and add it to our original set and start over. Once having stated our assumptions, from then on we take nothing for granted. This is very much to our advantage to be so rigorous. We cannot allow logical thinking to be the misused property of our enemies.

(Request for an example of inserting an assumption) You are patching your roof. You find every hole that you can spot and you nail a flattened-out tin can over it. (This is the way we did it in my childhood.) Some of the leaks stop, but when you get all done patching every leak you can see, water is still coming through the roof. You are frustrated so you assume God is sending rain inside because She is mad at you. So you pray and you hang a bucket over the bed to stay dry and you go to bed. You can understand resorting to this, but it is illogical. What actually made me think of this example is the Arkansas traveler story - you know, "His cabin was afloat and his feet were wet but still the old man didn't seem to fret," so the traveler asks him, "Why don't you fix your roof?" and the Arkansan says, "I can't. It's raining," and so the traveler says, "Why don't you get busy on a sunny day and fix it?" and he says, "There's no use then, it doesn't leak." (Group laughter) There are a couple of unchecked assumptions inserted in there somewhere.


How does our thinking work? We don't really know much about how thinking works for unpatterned people because we haven't had any unpatterned people. We have just had relative degrees of unpatternedness. We have noticed that small children who have not been too abused will frequently walk up to a complex situation that has puzzled the adults and say, "Da," and point at the solution to the problem. We suspect that a well-functioning mind moves very rapidly, arrives at a quick insight into most situations. We have seen how children, young people, typically can outplay adults at chess. The limited logic of chess is quickly mastered by them, on the average much more easily than it is by adults. Many great chess players have been grand champions before they are ten years old. So we have a few glimpses, but we have no observation yet of an unpatterned person, so we can really only speculate about how such a mind would work.

We have a lot of observations about how thinking works for those of us in our present distressed condition, and in our pre-RC condition, if it was much different. Some of these observations coincide with outside RC experiences and some of them are quite different. I have already mentioned one that is different from the usual non-RC conclusion, the conclusion that love is logical; that logic is a warm, caring process instead of a cold, heartless, self-centered, "make-a-fast-buck-and-leave-town" process; that logic's reputation in the wide world is completely false. We have concluded with reason in RC that loving and thinking are two sides of the same process, while they are regarded as distinct if not contradictory in most of the wide world cultures.


Certain other observations about the way we think are born out by experiences in the wide world. One is that our thinking proceeds well in a kind of alternation. If one thinks laboriously all the time, one doesn't usually reach very important conclusions. Profitable thinking requires conjecture, requires wild, intuitive leaps to possible conclusions from known facts. If you try to get along without that, if you try to get along without this inspirational leap, the intuitive leap, this wild brain-storming type of activity, you tend not to reach very interesting or important conclusions.

It is also true that the conclusion you reach with your wild, intuitive leap or your great inspirational flash is undependable until it has been checked out rigorously and is supported by a logical proof or, if not a proof, a careful examination of the data which support it.

The guess, the intuition, is an essential part of thinking but so is the careful checking out, either by deductive logic or by necessary inductive examination of the facts. Apparently the two processes alternate well. You shouldn't make one intuitive leap after another or you will get so lost you can't follow your trail, but you don't plod on and on and on without intuitive leaps either or you don't reach a very interesting place.

Good human thinking seems to require an inspirational guess to a conclusion and then careful checking as to whether that conclusion is valid. If you depend on the inspirational leap alone, you are taking great risks. Sometimes you have to do just this when nothing in a situation makes sense. Then you go random. Just do something. What you did may turn out to be wrong, but what the heck, you had to make some kind of a choice. Usually we have much more time than that and we can check carefully. It is very difficult for the person making the conjecture, making the leap, to be able to tell if it is sound or not. A real flash of intuition is intelligent thinking. It is the same as careful thinking but it simply manages to move rapidly around the usual anxieties and doubts and invalidations. (This is what we think intuition is, at least, just thinking that proceeds very rapidly around the usual difficulties.) It is very difficult for the person having the intuitive insight, the brilliant flash, to tell that from the phenomenon of the patterned conclusion, the "falling in" of a pattern. When one is in the middle of it, it is very difficult to tell which it is. Archimedes could leap out of his bathtub and run down the street crying, "Eureka! I have finally discovered how to determine the specific weight of irregular solid objects," and be right. It is also possible for our friend Joe Blow to tell us with equal sincerity, "I couldn't figure it out, it was a real dilemma. Then suddenly it came to me that what I really needed there was another drink." One conclusion will feel just as sound as the other at that moment. The feeling of an intuition is difficult to separate from the feelings which accompany the "falling in" of a pattern.

I think all of us have sometimes had that feeling that suddenly it all fits together. The great German chemist had the dream of six carbon atoms dancing around in a ring holding hands and at last saw the beginning of cyclical hydrocarbon chemistry. That was a real insight, but there have been a lot of other "insights" that turned out to be completely wrong and never got put into the high school chemistry book. Intuitions have to be checked out.


On the other hand, patient, plodding checking alone does not get us where we want to go. Mathematicians have had to face this. Because their work requires them to be logical they have tended to do more thinking about this process. Unfortunately, few of them have taken their understanding of it outside their field where it is so desperately needed. (I think you may have gathered that it is my goal to make all RCers mathematical logicians and to make at least some mathematical logicians wide world changers, applying the tools which they have out in society where they are so needed.)

Mathematicians have come to understand that the creation of good mathematics requires that someone make a creative guess at a new hypothesis. Creative mathematicians look at their assumptions and say, "Hmm, what could flow from those assumptions that I have made? Ah, it would be spectacular if it turned out that all the perpendicular bisectors of the sides of a triangle met in a common point. Wouldn't it be elegant if they did? Now there is nothing obviously to require it, but it is a neat idea. I will now draw a couple of rough sketches to make a fast check on it. Hey! they at least come close. My drawing is not too accurate but they come close. I will now see if I can construct a rigorous proof that they do."

No one can say how long it will take to construct a rigorous proof. Once done, we may learn it easily, but the person who drew it in the sand three thousand years ago maybe worked a long time getting that proof together before he had the joy of seeing his intuitive guess confirmed rigorously. So the mathematician makes conjectures, deliberately encourages conjectures, and some of them remain conjectures for hundreds of years. Fermat's last theorem has spawned many major fields of mathematics and has never yet been confirmed, although it has been one of the most productive conjectures ever.

Goldbach's conjecture is interesting and simple enough so that any non-mathematician could think about it. There are a lot of such. The four color map theorem kept people interested for a hundred years at least. It was proved very recently, but only with the aid of huge computer programs. It is so simple that any one of us can understand it completely, yet its proof took all this tremendous technical development. Mathematicians have learned that they must do inspirational guessing or they don't get anywhere useful, but if they depend on inspirational guess alone, they never know if they are correct. Intuition must be supported by rigorous logical checking.

If you, as a mathematician, take your set of assumptions and say,"To hell with inspirational guessing, I will be logical only," and you proceed to grind out every theorem you can from your set of assumptions, you will wind up with a great mass of paper covered with conclusions that are of absolutely no interest to anybody. It takes the inspirational leap and it takes the checking to back it up. Neither process will work well alone.


We have great concern for the effects of patterns upon thinking. Here we RCers are no slouches. Without sometimes realizing that we have done it, we've become the world's experts at separating illogic from logic. We have confidence by now that this discharge and re-evaluation process always works in a good direction even if it doesn't at first seem to be doing it. An example from my early counseling is the wife-beater who was brought to me by the Seattle police way back in about 1951. He repeatedly beat his wife badly, over and over again. The police despaired of doing anything with him. They had warned him, they had kept him in jail for a while. They had resorted to the old-fashioned procedure and had taken him out in the alley and worked him over with their nightsticks and told him they would do it again if they caught him beating his wife. It had no effect on him at all and since he was a friend of some of the policemen they did not want him sent up for a long prison term, so they brought him to this untried, little storefront experimental group called Personal Counselors.

At the time, I was feeling quite confident that tears always lead to more logical thinking and rational behavior and so I was very happy when, without too much difficulty, I got him to cry. He cried very hard, all that first session, all the second session, for eight or nine or ten sessions.

He cried on one subject only, how ungrateful his wife was for not responding to the beatings. He would lie there in his session and say, "I have tried to straighten that woman out. My God, how I have tried. I've worn my arm out on her and she still doesn't respond." He would be crying loudly as he said this and I would sit there thinking, "My God, I thought discharge always led to rational thinking but all that seems to happen is that he is becoming more and more convinced that he is an unappreciated hero in his wife beating." I hung in sort of on faith. About the eleventh or twelfth session he had been crying about the usual thing and then he went to the bathroom. When he came back, he blew his nose, lay down, looked at at me and started to cry. He looked at me again, and he cried very hard, and I said, "What are you thinking?" and he said, "You know, it just occurred to me that this hasn't been too damned easy on her." He cried very hard for quite a while on his grief over the damage he had done to her. I felt reassured.


These are some of the things we have come to understand about thinking. The alternation of brainstorming (that is, encouragement of the wildest, farthest-out possible ideas, proposals, solutions to a problem) with the most rigorous, severe criticism of whatever is proposed seems to be a dependable way of enhancing our thinking. If we have a problem and there is no clear solution in sight, we can have the group take an hour and a chairperson say, "What is your wildest possible solution? Think of anything and we will put every suggestion up on the chalkboard." The chairperson of the group encourages members to be daring in their thinking, to not be careful at all.

"We have this huge weight we have to move from this side of the canyon to the other side. Does anybody have any ideas?" "Oh yes! Let's tie a string to a swarm of butterflies and the other end to the weight and have them fly it over." "Fine, we will put it on the board." "Call the Angel Gabriel to sound the trumpet, so that the earth will be opened and heave and perhaps the canyon will collapse and we can slide the weight across." Any idea at all is welcome in this phase, the wilder the better.

We can understand why the wilder is the better because this gets us outside of our anxious, "I'm-afraid-I-can't-think-of-anything" patterns, breaks the patterns up a little bit, tends to promote discharge (you notice you laughed at the butterflies), and the discharge frees people to think better. So brainstorming sessions are valuable, even if we have to have them by ourselves, making pencil and paper lists of our own wild ideas because there is no one else around. At this stage of the process we get every possible idea and notion out in the open.

Then when we have exhaustively listed all the possibilities we can think of, we go over them rigorously. We become the worst enemy, the most critical enemy of the ideas that we were delighted with when we thought of them. We make sure that they stand up to all criticism before we use them. This alternation of the two processes works excellently. We brainstorm first. Then we take a ten-minute break and we come back and criticize all the ideas that we brainstormed to see if they stand up.

The Catholic Church encourages people to be nominated for sainthood. It never has quite enough saints. There is always some country that feels left out because it doesn't yet have an indigenous saint. But once the sainthood of a person is proposed the Church appoints what it calls a Devil's Advocate, a theologically learned expert churchman who is delegated to track down the real history of this person and find anything that the person did that could possibly be contradictory to the claim to sainthood, find any unforgiven sin, any dirty little tricks he or she pulled in the dark somewhere. This is part of the process of achieving sainthood.

We submit our ideas to the same kind of rigor. If we can find anything wrong with them we do so in this second stage.


We have one particular invention in Re-evaluation Counseling that as far as I know is not used elsewhere. I suggest that you use it the next time there is a free choice period. I heartily recommend it. This is what we have called the Think-and-Listen session.

It began at the first Profundities Workshop that we held (a gallant name). It was a workshop for trying to think about what we had so far learned in RC. It had valuable results.

We tried Think-and-Listens there for the first time with groups of about four people. This is a good size. (It doesn't have to be four people, but about that size.) These people get together to think out loud with agreement on specific conditions. These conditions are simply that they share the time equally, and each person is free to think as best as he or she can about anything that person wants to think about. They may be encouraged ahead of time to think of frontier questions, such as, how do I relate to that blade of grass, what would completely adequate parenting be like, what would it be like to have complete support, or a happy childhood, what is the real relationship between me and the most distant star I can glimpse, what will humanity be like in fifty years, what is the reality of my own nature - all kinds of questions like that to encourage daring thinking. But, the person in the session is free to think about whatever he or she wants.

(In the RC Communities the term Think-and-Listen has been sometimes distorted by people announcing, "We will have a Think-and-Listen on how we are going to pay off our literature bill," but I would rather we called that an "Anybody-Got-Any-Ideas?" session. I would like to reserve the term "Think-and-Listen" for this original form in which each person thinks out loud about whatever he or she wants to think about.)

If the people find they have to discharge, they use the time for discharge. No problem there; but the essential characteristic is that all the other people listen with aware, interested attention but do not respond or interact in any way. Not by posture, facial expression, sound, or any word do the others comment in any sense on what any person says there. Not then, nor in the future. That you are forbidden to do. You enter into an agreement that you will not quote to anyone outside the group what any person there said. You will not in your turn respond to anything that the others said in their turns. Just once in our lives we have the chance to really think and really be listened to with our thinking protected in a crystal chalice of complete non-intervention. It has worked differently for different people, but for most of us who have tried this we have found that our thinking is enormously enhanced.

Trying this, we realize that the fear of other people's comments, of other people's responses to our thinking, has severely inhibited us in the usual discussion group. There is often apparently a large amount of fear and timidity triggered by the presence of other people and what they are thinking of us, or what they are going to say about our ideas or how they are going to quote us later on. If we try Think-and-Listens a couple of times and can believe this is removed, we get a glimpse of how well we can think under ideal conditions.

I would certainly recommend that at some time, if not at this conference, each of you organize a whole series of Think-and-Listens. I haven't done it lately and I just realize as I speak how much I have missed it. I think that you will find that your horizons are pushed back, just by being able to think out loud, knowing that nothing that you will say will ever be quoted at you or anyone else.

If you hear a good idea from somebody at a Think-and-Listen and you want to talk about it in the wide world, talk about it like it was your own idea. Don't dare connect it to the person who said it, because they must keep this sacred confidence that they can think freely without anybody else's response coming in to interrupt.

(Question: Would you suggest it is helpful to have a general topic to think about?)

No. Exactly not. That is what I said. Call those times Anybody-Got-Any-Ideas sessions. Preserve the Think-and-Listen so the person is free, without any restriction at all from any suggestion from outside about what they are going to think about. I mention the horizon-pushing kind of topics ahead of time at workshop Think-and-Listens because people get so in the habit of believing it is their duty to think about how to skip the syrup on their pancakes the next morning, or how to get their underwear washed out so it's dry by the time they go home, and all these kinds of things. I think it is helpful if the leader raises the possibilities of a lot of other topics than the usual worried ruts, but it is important that each person choose his or her own topic.


Similar to the value of the alternation between intuitive guessing and rigor is the value of an alternation between solitude and interaction with others. Most thinkers' best thinking seems to take place when they are able to be alone for a while and then come together with others to exchange ideas. The "think tanks" for the last few decades in the U.S., which have thought up some good ideas as well as some destructive ones, have all fumbled their way in that direction. We have a few former members of these think tanks in RC and they say that all of these outfits have come to the conclusion that each member must have some solitude, must have a chance to be apart and have it quiet and think alone, but they must also have a common room where they can come and meet others and exchange comments. This is apparently not only for the opportunity to discharge (although many of them try to tell jokes and get a little laughter, or talk about how difficult it is while they yawn), but also in terms of mutual inspiration. I think we have all had the experience that to listen to someone else think is to encourage yourself to think. So that the alternation between thinking in solitude and interaction with others who are thinking (not necessarily on the same topic although that can help, too), just to hear other people think and have them listen to you think out loud, is an effective way to proceed.

(Question: In a Think-and-Listen, do you encourage people to pick different questions than the previous speakers, or is it 0.K. to think on the same topic using the ideas already mentioned as long as they are not referred to as the other persons?)

I think it is good form not to repeat the same ideas. It is courteous to assume that they have been used up for that period. Otherwise I think the previous speaker will feel an interference.

(Question: I wonder if you have any more to say about awareness. Has your thinking grown any on that?)

I'm for it. (Group laughter) You and I and everyone else know the difference between awareness and unawareness. I don't know how to define awareness. I keep coming back to this phrase that I used years ago when I called it "thinking about thinking while thinking." There certainly can be a kind of awareness that is consciously noting the surroundings, the texture of that wall, the greenness of the leaves I can see outside that door, or the rectangular shadow pattern cast by the pipe bannisters. There is also an awareness of being alive, an awareness of self, an awareness that I am thinking, that I am part of the universe but a very special part, that I am interacting in a very special way, that all life would like to regard me as its big brother and sister if I could keep my patterns out of the way. I am describing something that has meaning to you, am I not? I don't know that I can define it any better.

(I want to bring up the question of language. Language gets translated. It seems that logic can be used with mathematical symbols so that is one place where people world wide can think about the same thing in the same language. It seems consistent to think about things in life using different languages and it seems like we may have to invent a whole new language that doesn't come out of the translation of other languages.)

I can tell you my conjecture about that. My conjecture would be that the human beings of the future will all speak one language but it will have 5,000 times as many words as even English has at this point because it will be a composite of all the other languages. I think that each present language has such beautiful inventions, such exquisite achievements in it that we cannot afford to part from them, but I think that happy children in our liberated future will soak up a thousand languages with great ease. We know that languages do not remain static, that they are in continual change, and that what are often scorned and called dialects are really new languages in emergence, and that this world language will be a composite and include all the other languages within it. It will continue to grow and change.

(That does seem to fit because people who know two different languages or three different languages sometimes start a sentence in one language and finish it in another because they can't find the right words otherwise.)

I don't think that there is any one language in sight that would suffice. I think they are all too rich to give up, but that is only my guess and I am no linguist. Speak to someone who is a linguist.

(Question: Could you give some examples of the kinds of things that you might conclude if you operated on the assumption that the universe is a figment of your imagination?)

Yes, literature is full of these. There was no noise when the tree fell because there was no one there to hear it falling.

(I mean things that you might use to operate your life by. Not abstract things.)

Oh, certainly. "I will not go to work. I will stay home and meditate and pray. Food will appear on the kitchen table because of my need." (Sometimes it does. Someone overhears you praying and decides that such faith should be rewarded so they bring you a basket of goodies and then both of you are stuck with misleading evidence that it works.) You know the snake cults that operate in some parts of your region?

(I want something closer to home that I can connect to my experience, or that we here can connect with, something that we do sometimes.)

(Another person: It seems to me that that is one of the unchecked assumptions that leads us to act as if the rest of what is happening in the wide world is unrelated to us. When we ignore what is happening in the rest of the world and concentrate only on what we deal with in our day-to-day lives, we're operating on some unchecked assumptions that what is happening out there isn't real.)

"God knows what is best. She wouldn't have let Johnson get into office and continue the Viet Nam War if She hadn't wished it." How about that?

(Question: How much space do you think the activities like brainstorming, discussions and Think-and-Listens should occupy in RC meetings and especially in advanced RC classes?)

I hope more and more. What we seem to be up against so far is the imperative priority to get more discharge out. This in itself becomes pattern sometimes and yet, generally speaking, when we get off into very long discussions our re-emergence tends to languish, while if we see to it that discharge takes place, we have very good discussions that last about two minutes. So far I think we - probably intuitively - put the emphasis on seeking discharge rather than on exploring the frontiers of thought, but large numbers of us are hungry for the opportunity to do the other. Perhaps within a year, if our correct emphasis on upgrading the effectiveness of counseling bites and takes hold, we should have the leisure to do a lot of the other. It may be that this will then become an imperative because unless we do this kind of thinking the drift toward disaster in the wide world could go unchecked too long. I am pulled both ways to do both all the time.

(Question: We have this Guidelines Proposal Four which says we shall think about all issues facing humanity, and I have never been clear if we should do this in RC class or outside.)

This arose to cover the liberation movements in RC. It was a major battle, as those of you who were there remember, to establish that we would have a one-point program, as in Proposal Three. Proposal Three and Proposal Four together are a stroke of genius. Proposal Three says that the one-point program that we can all agree to regardless of our politics or anything else is to use RC for re-emergence, and Proposal Four says that everyone shall be supported in trying to achieve correct positions on all issues, including the most controversial ones. That does take place. All the various liberation programs that have evolved are a working part of Proposal Four. In Wide World Changing I think we have begun to come to grips with some of the general questions as well, but I am hungry to do more. When we set out to do more, we are often tripped up by the failure of the people we are depending on to have re-emerged enough, so we say to hell with it and go back to seek more discharge.

(Question: What do you mean by that? What are they failing to do more of?)

To do more effective wide world changing, for example. To do more in the wide world to halt the drift toward nuclear war. When we encourage people to do this it seems that half of them vote with their feet that they are not ready and go back to their sessions for more discharge. Some of the others go out and do something foolish because they haven't yet discharged enough to be flexible. This is not everybody, thank God. There are a few who are doing very well. That is, roughly, the way it appears to me. So, reluctantly, I am voting with the majority most of the time that yes, we will have discharge rather than discussions and wide world actions.

(Two things. One is that you should add to the list of types of problem solving and thinking forms that we use, the kind of thing that went on this morning. That was really impressive to me, the collective thinking of the RC discussion format.)

The sharing of experiences.

(The sharing of experiences and then you went a step further, asking where should we go.)

"What do you want to see happen next?" Aren't people brilliant when you really ask them? Let me say this: I get to read all the RC publications - that is one of the lovely parts of my job. I usually get to read them several times, first sorting out what goes in, then as they are re-typed and finally the final proof. I am ready to explode with delight at the enormous good thinking that is appearing in those publications. You haven't seen the last Sisters magazine yet, but it is going to be a big one. I have read the proof on almost all the articles and there are scores and scores and scores of women who are thinking the most clear, bold, practical thoughts in ways that anyone can understand, all through the pages of that magazine. Classroom, which you get now, this huge tome, is full of the most heroic practical reports on what teachers determine to do to save the children in their classroom from further damage and how they boldly fight for their goals.

It is so exciting. Proposal Four is being implemented. It really is.

(Question: The other question was if there have been local workshops about thinking (which is different from "learning"). We have a lot of fear about that, just the word "thinking" gets people scared because of the kind of oppression around it.)

We had that first International Profundities Workshop which was about thinking. We called it Profundities because we wanted a catchy and impressive title. There were a number of local ones that happened soon after that. Now, as far as I know, they are not taking place, which probably tells us something.

(Question: In order to be making these speculations and be thinking this way it is useful to have basic information in a lot of areas. I don't know a lot about science and sources are hard to come by. I am curious if you know of any books on mathematical logic that are good, simple explanations.)

If Michel can't tell you of one right now, Joan Karp has one that she loves.

(Question: Also, is this difference in viewpoint you talk about usually a difference in information? Like the example you gave of the witness saying the house is white from this point of view on this side. Can differences in viewpoint usually be accounted for in terms of differences in information?)

No. Not unless you use the word "information" in its most general sense. Simply, Charlotte looks different to me than she does to you. Now you have seen her face previously and I have seen her back. Nevertheless, our geographic positions give us different viewpoints of her. Differences in our goals lead us to think of the same information in different ways. Our anxieties censor certain information from you and other information from me.


Can I go ahead on that? I wanted to talk about this and forgot until you reminded me of it just now. Two of the really profound insights we have achieved in RC involve viewpoint. The first is that one cannot hope to understand any phenomenon well unless one looks at it from several viewpoints. One viewpoint is not sufficient to understand any phenomenon well. That is simple. You walk around to the other side to see if perhaps the white house is red on the other side. To understand a particular disease, one needs to understand its epidemiology - how it is transmitted, one needs to understand its development in the body, one needs to understand the organism involved, one needs to understand the clinical treatment. Several viewpoints come to mind as necessary or you would be too ignorant about the disease, and there will probably be an infinity of other viewpoints as our knowledge increases.

Some of the big breakthroughs in human knowledge come when a supposedly thoroughly understood phenomenon is looked at from a new viewpoint. All of a sudden, everything makes completely different sense when you find a new viewpoint to examine it from. This, raised to the level of awareness, can help us all be a lot smarter.

We started out, for example, looking at oppression from the oppressed position. We made some useful gains that way, but when we began to encourage the oppressor role people to speak, things became much clearer. I remember especially the topic group or caucus at Arundel in England of those "born to rule." When they reported we got an entirely new viewpoint of oppression, and seeing it from the oppressor role position was enormously helpful to all of us. We finally began to understand that there are no human oppressors, but only victims of oppression patterns in one role or other.

So one must continually seek out new viewpoints from which to examine anything that one wishes to understand well. Over a period of time I have tried to present RC theory from a whole series of different viewpoints, and as far as I can tell it has really helped. The current viewpoint that I am using is seeing it as the uncovering of reality from obscuring pseudo-reality. This seems to help people understand it.


That is the first insight about viewpoints that I meant to talk about. The second insight is a very powerful one. It is that, no matter how oppressed we are, no matter how tightly constrained, we always have freedom to choose our viewpoint. This freedom cannot be taken away from us. "Die Gedanken sind frei." Our thinking is free. How we think about something is ours to decide. This almost by itself puts back within our hands or within our reach the power that we were born with and that has been so obscured for us. It doesn't matter what the situation is, we can choose the viewpoint we think about it from.

There is a couplet in English poetry that heralds this: "Two men looked out through prison bars/One saw mud, the other saw stars." There is a little old joke about the glass of beverage that the pessimist looks at and says is half empty and the optimist looks at and says is half full. These, I think, are surface indications of a very powerful and profound reality, the reality that we always have freedom to choose our viewpoint, which means that our power is never completely taken away from us. A different viewpoint can turn a whole situation around.

At the first faculty workshop I was talking about being positive and confident, and in the discussion I began to get a certain amount of patterned flak which said, "Well, Harvey, it is all right for you to be an optimist but you've got to face the fact that some situations are impossible or hopeless." On the spur of the moment I chose the situation of sitting near the door of a jet plane at 30,000 feet altitude when the door fails and the pressure in the cabin blows you out into space. I said, "You can still choose your viewpoint. You can choose to despair if you want to, but what good will that do you? On the other hand, you can choose to take a positive viewpoint, unbutton your coat, spread it widely for gliding, look for the nearest body of water, steer toward it and spend your time on the way down admiring your new view of the world and calculating the best angle of entry into the water for survival. Now, it may not work (group laughter), but what have you lost? Compared to choosing despair you will have spent your time well. This is an extreme example but I think it can be a powerful reminder that we can always choose our viewpoint.

This can be an important principle, an important little banner sticking out of the snow to show us where our power was buried and where to dig for it. Perhaps if we grasp this, we can begin to take some practical steps to reclaiming our power (which so far we have not done well, even though we have understood the principle).


(Question: There is another principle which you mention at the beginning of The Upward Trend which I think is good, that you can understand any system better if you embed it in a larger one. The broader you can make your viewpoint and see the situation in a larger perspective, the clearer picture you get.)

We must pay tribute to Church and Gödel at this point, who proved that there are questions that are true questions, the truth of which cannot be determined within the system of which they are a part. You must view them from a larger metasystem outside the system you start with. This is one expression of that.

(Question: I studied mathematical logic in college. None of it now is very accessible to me, but the thing that I found most difficult about it was the actual translation, some kind of complex problem of putting words into mathematical symbols. You seem to have some kind of glimpse of its usefulness and possibilities so I was wondering where that came from or what experience you had that would lead you to appreciate that.)

Well, I think all that we have achieved so far in RC relies on logic. What has happened with mathematical logic is that the use of symbols makes it possible to follow arguments more accurately. The manipulation of logic using words becomes extremely confusing and tortuous. It is almost impossible to follow, even for the brightest people on their best days, but translating these ideas into symbols makes them accessible to dependable manipulation. Actually starting with the Boolean Algebra, the algebra of set theory, which corresponds accurately enough to Aristotelian logic, one can be quite confident that if one develops theorems in mathematical logic, one can check on them algebraically enough to be sure they are rigorous and then can apply them with confidence. What happens to me is not that I run out of ability (I don't think), but I run up against a block. I start yawning and then go to sleep. I have a huge bunch of yawns in there that have to come out. I have relied on logic in all the work I have done and the work has been valuable to a lot of people. It just seems to me that I am using one broken old chisel and one hammer with a broken handle to try to build a modern computer, when I know that there are much better tools available that I do not yet have access to. That is why I am encouraging all of you who don't have my block to find out how to use mathematical logic and all mathematical logicians, for heaven sakes, to start realizing how powerful these tools would be if they were applied in the areas of government, sociology, and wide world changing.


So far I am afraid I have been sounding as if thinking were all done in a physically inactive mode, always with clean hands and resting bodies. This would be classist conditioning showing up and any such impression should not be allowed to stand. The separation between physical labor and effete "scholarship" is pure oppressive nonsense.

All of my own experience and my observations in a wide variety of work environments indicate that the best thinking is usually done while engaged in physical work (and the sharpest thinkers I have known have been working-class people). I turn to the ever-waiting gardening, janitoring, and maintenance work in my present environment in Seattle whenever I feel stuck on a problem. There is no question in my mind that an occasional few months in the rice paddies or machine shops would drastically improve the intellectual output of intellectuals (as well as their digestions, physical health, and effectiveness as human beings).

To be engaged in useful, mastered, and somewhat routine physical work seems to permit the mind to soar freely.


Also, the alternation and combination of thinking and action is necessary for our thinking to "get off the ground " ("To think without intent to act is sterile" - Zest is Best); ("If you can dream and not make dreams your master/If you can think and not make thoughts your aim" - Kipling). Our thinking must have a purpose in the real world to be in harmony with our essential, evolved natures as benign caretakers of our universe. Abstraction is useful and necessary but only when it has a purpose and only when it re-contacts and affects reality occasionally to "refuel."

When we think well we think to act, and our successful actions in applying our thinking in turn enhance the thinking that will follow.

We think in order to act and our acting opens the doors to more thinking.


Last modified: 2014-10-18 21:14:22+00