Why Thinking Can Change The World

Have you ever been in a conversation where the other person utters the phrase, “let me think about it?”

Perhaps it is when you are pitching increased job responsibilities to your supervisor. Perhaps it is when you ask someone out on a first date or to grab some coffee for the first time. Maybe it comes up in pitching a new position in your start up company to a personal friend.

Let me think about it.

For the last three months I have been fixated on the meaning of this phrase. What does it mean to think about something. This larger question can be broken into a number of sub questions in an effort to clarify the meaning: First, what is thinking? What does it mean to think? Second, Is thinking just a measurement of your brain’s activity? Or, is it something more? Third, Is your brain the same thing as your mind? Or, are they different functions? Fourth, Does thinking only occur whenever there is a decision to be made? Or can you think apart from deciding?

What is thinking?

Thinking Defined

In his book How To Think, Baylor professor Alan Jacobs offers this definition of thinking:

not the decision itself but what goes into the decision, the consideration, the assessment. It’s testing your own responses and weighing the available evidence; it’s grasping, as best you can and with all available and relevant senses, what is, and it’s also speculating, as carefully and responsibly as you can, about what might be. And it’s knowing when not to go it alone, and whom you should ask for help.

Alan Jacobs. How To Think, p. 14. 

From this helpful definition we can see that thinking generally involves three factors: 1) Gathering information, 2) Filtering the information through an authoritative framework, and 3) Testing the information witin a trustworthy thought community.

Gathering Information

There are many helpful means to gathering information. First, we can use our senses to observe data points around us. Second, we can google something to gain perspective. Third, we can tap into a formal scholarly network of journals and books to obtain info. Finally, we can solicit feedback in a crowdsourcing manner. I suspect there are additional channels of gathering information. Using these four, however, seems to be a strong approach to gathering the most relevant points of view before moving into the second phase.

Consider this practical example. Let’s say you want to establish a new diet routine for 2019 and you wish to do some from an informed position. To begin, you might take a few minutes to reflect on your own personal food journey. Perhaps you may even journal about your favorite foods, foods that trip you up in the weight department, foods that you have a tendency to binge eat, and foods that make you feel sluggish and gross. A journal or list of these foods is important information for your consideration.

Next you may google search “popular diets” to gain a perspective on the various options that are conveniently available in your context. You may discover Whole30, Paleo, Keto, Atkins, low-carb, low-sugar, no-sugar, and others. At this point you are able to cross examine your own personal journaling list with the available diets, which can lead to some inner breakthroughs as to the “right” fit for your lifestyle and preferences.

Third, you can take this research and begin to cull through diet and nutrition books, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other health and well-being magazines, written by research-based scientists and medical professionals. Perhaps they tend to speak to one diet approach that fits your food preferences. At this point, you are beginning to see the information form into a consistent theme and that theme may be an indicator of a prescribed plan for you.

Finally, you get on social media and crowdsource whether a particular diet plan has been helpful to your friend group. Their feedback is also an important piece of the thinking puzzle. By the end of this process, you should be on your way towards forming an action plan.

Filtering Information

Whether you are aware of it, or not, by utilizing these four sources of information, you have actually begun filtering the information through a framework of understanding. Generally speaking, human beings tend to lean on three main sources of authority for feedback on any particular decision or within any thought process: 1) Community Tradition, 2) Logic and Reason, and 3) Personal Expereince. Religious people will add a fourth authority: 4) Holy Scripture or a Religious Text.

Look back at the diet plan process. If you begin with journaling your food cravings, you have begun with personal expereince and reflection. As you move to google searches, you are broadening out your individual experience by seeking a community expereince. Even as you crowdsource on Facebook you are broadening your understanding of community experience. As you notice a trend in your community of friends, you are beginning to see a theme of tradition — a well work pathway of habits that have benefited many in your digital community and that have a strong likelihood of benefitting you.

Next, as you cull through academic journals and books you begin to discover the Reason and Logic component. The science behind nutrition and health helps bolster your approach. Finally, you may spend some time praying about the various options you have discovered and asking if God would direct you in one path or another. Perhaps you may take the options to a trusted fried or group for their prayer and feedback. By engaging in this robust process, you have likely arrived at a highly informed and authroititative decision.

Testing The Information

You may be thinking, “What more is there to do at this point?” Well, the answer is, “It is time to test the information by putting it into practice. By gathering and filtering the inforamation, you have arrived at a hypothesis. You have guessed. But you wont have conclusion until you put the thought experiment into practice. This is the final piece of the process of thinking. As Os Gusiness articulates in his book Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, “knowledge is responsibility.” It is a responsibility to act on the knowledge, both to discover the joy of truth experientially, and to confirm the trueness of truth, ethically.

In our diet scenario, once you have tested out the diet and measured your findings (weight loss, appetite shift, healthy balance, feeling better, etc…), only then can you come to your conclusion as to the diet plan that works for you. Only at confirmation can you conclude the thinking process, resulting in a position statement on the particular subject.

Must I Really Act?

You may be thinking to yourself, “But why is it so necessary to actually act out my though experiment? Can’t I just research and filter and be done with it at the hypothesis level?” The answer is, you can do that, but it is only partial thinking. Full thinking necessitates a responsibility to act.

Consider this scenario. Imagine you are in a worship service where an evangelist is preaching. He implores you to take up the practice of door to door evangelism and your skin begins to crawl with that prospect of getting out of your comfort zone and talking to new people in a cold-call manner. Soon after the service, you learn that the evangelist suffers from agoraphobia and has never once gone door to door and participated in evangelism. What would you THINK about this scenario? Likely, you would conclude that although his message and means made thoughtful sense, his lack of action undermined his overall approach.

Knowledge requires responsibility. Repentance (of thinking) requires belief (in action). Thinking is ultimately action and not inaction.

This is why, thinking can change the world.

About Doug Hankins

Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a good book, or drinking some hot tea. Doug's first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.
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