Critical thinking

“Critical thinking” is traditionally the processes of thought combined with an analytical viewpoint -– as opposed to an aesthetic one, for example.

But critical thinking today has been adapted to a defense of modern science and technology. To demure from science is to be considered uncritical and irrational in the modern use of “critical thinking.” The modern version appeals to the historical continuity of Anglo-American philosophizing, to logical positivism, logical analysis, utilitarianism, and scientism. In the realm of economics, “critical thinking” assumes that corporate or financial capitalism is the rational and objective basis of a society and politics based on science and technology.

But the foundation of “critical thinking” on science is itself a grand presumption. Three points show why science is an expression of culture and not a rational, objective methodology independent of users and their points of view:

1) science is dependent on previous research, such that if previous research is flawed, the new results will similarly be flawed. Science proceeds from experience, and the contemporary experience must resonate with the previous one. But if “subjective” factors don’t enter the scientific process to check the results of the new experience against other touchstones of reasonableness, logic, purpose, and context, then the new experience will be as flawed as the previous one.

Thomas Kuhn’s “scientific paradigms” referred primarily to new breakthroughs. But the concept works in the opposite way, too. Scientific paradigms may become absolutisms without input from other sectors of society and thought. They become counterparts to the way a society’s new elites think -– with all the characteristic flaws.

2) science is a product of contemporary culture and viewpoints, just as are religion, politics, and socio-economic conditions. Although religion and philosophy posit transcendental values or beliefs, there is a clear basis in the given culture. In fact, the resonance of a religious or philosophical view often depends on the particular genius of some aspect of the culture that nurtured the idea, just as the cultural shortcomings or the personality of a given culture may be the reason for why the ideas are the way they are.

3). Building on these two observations, it becomes clear that science and technology are dependent on an institutional system of control, promotion, validation, and funding. There is very little that is original to science and technology in a practical or ethical sense. Technology proceeds as byproducts to an ideology of control and authority. Recent inventions in robotics and systems, for example, reveal a distinct direction toward military dominance and control of the individual. But traditional technology did the same thing. Ultimately, the paradigm of science under the control of society’s elites is to create a system that supports that control, and a paradigm of “critical thinking” that validates and reasserts it.

When green technology is popularized, for example, it solves no particular environmental problem because it is not part of the dominant paradigm, only “window dressing.” Such technology is surreptitiously presented as a panacea, a cheap byproduct, an unfunded novelty that hardly represents the interests of the larger agenda of science and technology, which still works within an old and comfortable paradigm of power. Nor will this situation likely change. Who has the resources to decree what is good or bad in science and technology?

With this power structure in place, advertising — stemming from the genius of Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays (1891-1995) from the 1920’s and on to the present — has successfully shaped the public mind to an existing scientific and technological paradigm. The goal of advertising and propaganda (the original definition being merely “to propagate”) is to fit the paradigmatic set of elite values parallel or complementary to psychological and instinctual flaws in human beings. Thus society and individuals are controlled by manipulated their most vulnerable instincts — for consumption, for types of food, for fashion, entertainment, competition, social envy, for pleasure, for assumed intelligence, for social herding around moribund institutions, for conformity and consensus around supposedly important social issues.

Yet the apparatus for approving and supporting such an unnatural system is considered to be “critical thinking” –- especially in circles that promote ruthless utilitarianism and hostility towards empathy and equanimity. Such manipulated mass thinking is dubbed the “market.” While no science can prove the existence of the market, it nevertheless becomes inviolate, all the while manipulated from elsewhere.

To resolve problems, to truly think critically, and to make decisions based on nature and harmony, one cannot assume a rational or critical character to the “world,” to the established social order, or to its paradigms and byproducts. The solitude of modernity is unique in that the very heavens are blotted out from the eye, and nature itself -– the model for harmony -– is plundered.