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Friday, July 1, 2022

Reflexive, Reflective and Wisdom Thinking


Recent reflections have brought me to the following conclusions. Of course, they may change and should, if I continue to observe and fine-tune my ideas.

The stimulus for the reflections includes my own observations of personal life, life of people around me, and world events. It also includes reading both philosophers and sensitive writers who understood life intuitively and had the gift of writing such as Tolstoy, Toni Morrison, V. S. Kandekar, “Jayakanthan”, Kannadasan, Pudumaipithan, and Thi.Ja.Ra.

We are a mixture of angels and devils in our thoughts and actions. That is how nature has made us. But it also gave us a mind which is capable of knowing what we know and knowing that there are areas we do not know about. We also are capable of knowing that there are likely to be spheres that are not knowable at all given our mental equipment.

We are primarily made to act first in response to our needs and survival. Therefore, the primary drivers are desire and fear. Our “higher brain” has to do the thinking, so we do not hurt ourselves in the process of seeking and avoiding.

We are independent creatures and survival implies selfishness first. We are also social creatures, for safety and food, if not for anything else.

The higher, analytical thinking takes time, of course, even if it is in milli-seconds. It creates categorization, classification, “you and me”, “we and us”, and many other dualities. The analytical process is helpful mostly. But it also creates a need for making “choices” and therefore, confusion and anxiety and fear.

How do we get over these natural laws of human nature?

We use two different methods: one to deal with basic fears and desires and one for the so-called “higher functions”. They feed on each other, and we need them both. (In recent times, these are called Type I thinking and Type 2 thinking based on the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman)

When we are seeing or hearing or using any one of the senses to experience what is going on around us and within us, we are invariably influenced without our knowing, by our memory of past experiences, by all we have learnt, our biases, fears, hopes, needs and expectations. Most of our daily life is based on automatic, unconscious processes in the brain. We tend to act reflexively or out of habit.

That is why spiritualists tell us that we must be an observer, non-judgmental observer, a witness. This is what Hindu and Buddhist schools of meditation teach us to do. This is also called “seeing things with a child’s mind”, “seeing things as they truly are” and seeing the Universal in the individual. They assure us that this is the way to becoming fearless and free. They also assure us that because of the way our mind is constructed for self-preservation, it will do the right things on its own to keep us out of trouble. I am not so sure.

This is also hard to do. It is but natural to be reflexive to survive and sustain life. But it is often necessary to engage the thinking aspect of our brain and reflect. Reflection, analysis and clear thinking do not always lead to correct conclusions. We can fool ourselves with clever use of words and crooked thinking.  It may also lead us to conflicts and confusion.

Actions are oriented to the outside world. Reflection is directed inwards. Even after engaging all our mental faculties, we are not sure we can always arrive at “wise” conclusions based on universal love, compassion, non-violent conducive to universal welfare and self-survival.

May be, we need a third layer, to balance reflexive and reflective thinking and to lead us to wisdom. Call it our “moral compass”, “internal policeman”, conscience, Inner Sense, Common Sense, Inner light, or Atman. Whatever the name we call it, we need that third layer to give us our moral and ethical values.

 We obviously are endowed with that third layer ability to evaluates decisions made by the “executive centers” and the “survival centers”.   As pointed out by C S Lewis and Adi Sankara (see my  blog Sunday, March 21, 2021 Adi Sankara and C S Lewis - comparison of their concepts) all of us have such a force inside of us. That is why most of us act morally and ethically. That is why those who do not follow that inner light ask to be excused or give excuses for their actions which they knew intuitively to be immoral.


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