Holistic Thinking: Thinking Well

Hello, faithful followers and newcomers!

Last week we discussed the importance of thinking well. We chalked it up to a progression: we are thinking beings, thinking is for getting at truth, and, finally, truth is what we build our lives on including culture, religion, and political beliefs. It’s easy to see the importance of thinking well. The question that was promised for this week’s post is how one thinks well.

Inevitably, this is a huge topic to discuss. One that is far too long for me to discuss in length. So, instead, I will focus on one major aspect of thinking well that often gets over-looked: holistic thinking. By holistic thinking I mean bringing our thoughts, beliefs, and convictions under one roof without separating them; there are no rigid lines between subject matters. At this point, it would be best to explain holistic thinking by contrasting it with fragmented thinking.

Fragmented thinking is a mindset that believes, consciously or unconsciously, that each subject in one’s mind—be it educational, social, religious, or political—are separated by an insurmountable border. We split up different educational subjects, such as biology and morality, into two different “buckets” that cannot communicate. Meaning, what we learn in biology has nothing to do with what we learn about morality. Our minds are like waffles that hold a certain amount of syrup in each square that does not connect to other squares. An example may help here: Science and metanarratives.

Many have used science to dispel metanarratives. A metanarrative is simply this: meta meaning “beyond” or “informing” and narrative meaning “story” or “series of events.” So, a metanarrative is an account of events that are to be interpreted as meaningful and intentionally leading to an ultimate end. For instance, Christianity teaches a metanarrative—God’s saving act of sending Jesus Christ to take on the sins of the world so that He can reconcile fallen creation back to God. The orthodox Christian view of history is that God has intentionally guided history to this end. An atheist metanarrative may be one of emancipation—the history of humanity is led to be free of the slavery of work, ending with a utopian global nation. However, science has been used to dispel metanarratives by virtue of removing purpose from reality. Science claims there is no purpose to be found in the existence of life, nature, cosmic planetary bodies, or society. Purpose is something found in the human mind to help us get through life; it’s merely psychological.

This is what many have used science to prove, even those who stand by the atheist ideal of a possible, future utopia. Yet, when asked why anyone should regard scientific knowledge as useful, science must go beyond itself for an answer. For, how could science give an account of science? You can’t use the word in its definition. So, science must look to philosophy and politics. Philosophy and politics, then, give a metanarrative to answer this question of science’s improvement and goals over the centuries and why science benefits society; or, in other words, a meaningful history. So, science has been used to dispel metanarratives, but rests upon a metanarrative itself? This is fragmented thinking! (p. 140 in The Passionate Intellect by Norman Klassen and Jens Zimmermann) The dots are not connected between science and metanarratives, thus ending in a contradiction. It “dispels” itself. So, the fragmented belief here is this: a science that dispels metanarratives and the belief in metanarratives are inconsistent. Science and metanarratives are not exclusive to each other; they can communicate. It’s the idea that science can remove purpose, or metanarratives, from reality that is inconsistent with the belief in metanarratives.

Fragmented thinking often times is unintentional. We are taught to keep things in their strict categories. Let math be math and literature be literature. Let science do science and religion do religion. Yet, reality butts up against this thinking and breaks it down. Thinking well is realizing that our beliefs should be holistic. Again, holistic in the sense of allowing our beliefs in biology to affect our view of morality and vice-versa. Thinking well is thinking holistically. If we believe there is purpose in life, then maybe we shouldn’t believe that science “proves” there is no purpose in life. If we believe science tells us facts about the world, then we can’t allow our feelings to determine those facts. If we did, then we’d have to say that science doesn’t tell us facts, our feelings tell us facts. We can’t have it both ways. It’s one or the other.

There are many other aspects to thinking well, but I wanted to look at one general criterion. Rather than having fragmented beliefs and knowledge, thinking well begins with bringing different areas of study together. This acts as a sort of filter for our beliefs and causes us to really take into account the cost of our beliefs. If I have to give up purpose because science tells me to, what am I losing? Can I live without believing in purpose? Perhaps science doesn’t dispose of purpose. You can have both purpose and science. What you would need to give up is the fragmented belief that science and purpose cannot communicate.

However, most of our society thinks fragmentedly. Accumulating belief after belief, not knowing that many of those beliefs conflict with one another. This ends in many needless and useless debates. Instead, let’s think holistically and have a beneficial dialogue about important matters.

Thanks for reading! Next week’s post will be a little more exciting…. We’ll be discussing the possibility of time travel. Until then, think well!

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