Wednesday, January 10, 2007

An Essay on Non-Rational Thought

Have you ever had a situation where you have been thinking about a topic, preparing to write on it, and then you stumble across someone saying exactly what you wanted to say, except in a more precise and interesting manner?

L.E. Modesitt, Archform: Beauty, 325-326:
The so-called rational analytical approach embodies a fundamental flaw, a flaw that has consistently and historically either been ignored by both rationalists and scholars or minimized. This flaw is the assumption that matters, feelings, or occurrences that cannot be described rationally or quantified objectively are of such little significance that they will not affect the outcome of the analysis. Further, such "non-rational" feelings or occurrences are all too often termed "irrational" and thus dismissed as beneath consideration.
The problem is merely made worse by the rationalists who dismiss those who cannot present their case or argument objectively and rationally. Failure to present a case in rational terms does not mean that the case does not exist; it only means that either the presenter cannot provide a logical format or that the case is not susceptible to logical presentation. By insisting on an ojectively rational case, the rationalists impose what can best be called "the tyranny of logic."
Moreover, the tyrants of logic question the value of the so-called irrational. Of what use is great art? Beautiful music? Inspiring architecture?

In point of fact, any decision—indeed, any organization or culture—which does not incorporate emotion, passion, and other so-called irrational factors will in the long run fail, because the absolute reliance upon quantified facts and pure logic reduces the intelligence of the decisions of that culture. The evidence of history demonstrates that few strong societies have existed transgenerationally without an internal culture embodying irrational elements such as love, beauty, art, and music.
I am not a rational thinker. The more acceptable term is "intuitive," but even that supposes that rational processes are going on at some level inside the brain.

Of course, you might not know this. I managed to get along just fine in college— a place where rational processes are all but necessary— due to early training. In other words, I can follow a step-by-step chain of logic because I have learned to do so; I can build an argument with much thought. Incidentally, I got very good grades in philosophy, but average grades in English, because the teachers in English reward a well-constructed argument, while the philosophy professors are more interested in unusual lines of thought.

But throw me into a debate and I'm likely to flounder. There are many things out there that I just know, but if you ask me to explain them, I'm at a loss. Such "knowledge" often crosses the line into value territory— where is the logical argument for doing the best job you can, when the difference between that and an adequate job is imperceptible?

Or take the big one, religion. To me, it is obvious that science and faith have nothing to do with one another, yet there are many people out there who insist that it does, and since faith is not in the province of reason, their arguments are impossible to counter— those "tyrants of logic" cited above. "When all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail."

In all reality, however, I don't know what the solution is. Many people believe that if you can't explain something, you don't understand it, and our culture has, to a certain extent, accepted this. People who insist otherwise are greeted with skepticism, and, since they are on an unfamiliar battleground, tend to lose.

But the battle is still worthy. I can't explain it. I just know.

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