Critical Thinking v Emotion (Feelings)

What exactly is critical thinking, Big Red Car?

Big Red Car here on a crisp Monday. Been gone to Savannah and New York City for my annual pilgrimage to celebrate somebody’s birthday, to see the Broadway shows, to eat decadent food, and to watch the NYC Veterans Day Parade. Missions accomplished.

On the plane back, I got to thinking about the issue of critical thinking. Somebody whose opinion I respect said that much of what is going on today is driven by a failure to think critically, accelerated by an intellectual laziness to simply follow one’s emotions.

Critical thinking, Big Red Car?

Here’s a bit of shorthand for the basis of our discussion. You can get a lot longer definitions which tend to confuse me, but I can understand this:

Critical thinking is the application of a disciplined process of objectively evaluating information based on actual observation and factual evidence resulting in a depth of understanding and clarity which supports good decisionmaking.

Critical thinking requires hard work, a bit of research, some thoughtful reflection, fairness, and the ability to evaluate evidence which may require one to jettison things which are not true.

It is hard work and it is not for the intellectually lazy. You, of course, are not intellectually lazy.

Emotions, Big Red Car?

Emotions are the way we feel about things — anger, anxiety, apathy, confusion, contentment, curiosity, desire, excitement, fear, fondness, forgiveness, grief, guilt, happiness, hate, hope, hostility, irritation, jealousy, loneliness, longing, love (parent-child), love (romantic), passion, resignation, restlessness, revenge, sadness, shame, surprise, suspicion, sympathy, tenderness, worry. [Just a smattering. There are more. But, this is a good list to start with and for me covers most of mine.]

Whew! Admit it. You didn’t know you had so many emotions, did you?

And, they are easy as Hell to allow to bubble to the surface and rule our lives. It does not require hard work to give into our emotions.

And, yet, every day, we find ourselves enmeshed in many of them. Are your actions guided by those emotions? Mine are.

Let’s be clear — being impacted by emotion is not a bad thing. Acting on emotion alone may have some unfortunate consequences.

Example me up, Big Red Car

Let me give you an example? How about North Korea? Our old pal, Kim Jong-on, is a mercurial, emotional guy.

OK, sure I could have dressed up, but I didn’t FEEL like it. What are we supposed to be looking at anyway?

On the other hand, our President, Donald J Trump, seems to be equally driven by emotion.

The Big Red Car thinks both of these guys are manipulators of the emotions of their audiences. Leaders will do that. Good and bad leaders will do that.

[You do realize, dear reader, that President Trump was elected because he tapped into the ANGER in the hinterlands, right?]

Another example is the feeling a VC funded startup CEO has when she has a tough meeting with the Board of Directors. Does she leave feeling angry? Irritated? Suspicious? Could happen.

What do we do, Big Red Car?

Here it is dear reader:

 1. First, do not deny the power of emotion in your life. Do not encourage it, but do not pretend it is not a driver of our lives.

Some emotions, “romantic love” as an example, are what makes life worth living. We are all striving for our own little bubble of contentment.

Do not become an emotion junkie. Do NOT give into your feelings. [Except on Valentine’s Day. On Valentine’s Day give into your feelings.]

 2. Second, take a minute to contemplate whether your emotional response is based on critical thinking.

Haha, of course, it isn’t. If it were, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post, right?

When your emotions are in check, begin to think critically. Do not squash your emotions, box them up, package them. Hold them safe.

 3. Now, you are ready to think critically.

Evaluate the facts. Let the facts instruct you. Gather them. Analyze them. Synthesize them. Test them. Grade them.

What “facts” or “data points” can you directly observe, experience, touch, verify, reason to and through.

What facts do you believe?

 4. OK, now here’s the messy part.

Take those facts and overlay your values, the VALUES of your company over them. Which facts collide with your values?

[Pro tip: Nobody knows their values until you have to make tough decisions and stare down the price tag of those value-driven decisions. Values are free until they aren’t. Only then are they real.]

 5. Now, make your decision based on your critical thinking, not how you FEEL!

Inform your decisionmaking with your values.

Allow me one flight of fancy? This is exactly what is wrong with American politics today — everybody is held hostage to their feelings and nobody is thinking critically. But, that, dear reader, is a subject for another day, no?

Be kind to yourself. Get ready for Thanksgiving knowing the Big Red Car is thankful for ………………………………………………… YOU!

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car, y’all. 












5 thoughts on “Critical Thinking v Emotion (Feelings)

  1. Good post.

    >On the plane back, I got to thinking about the issue of critical thinking. Somebody whose opinion I respect said that much of what is going on today is driven by a failure to think critically, accelerated by an intellectual laziness to simply follow one’s emotions.

    I have been thinking on similar lines for a while (after observing both myself and the world around me), and saying as much to a few friends, not as much as you’ve written, but a subset of it, and in different words. Some of those words: “thinking and logic are highly underrated these days”, and “neither head over heart, nor heart over head; consciousness should rule over both head and heart.”

  2. To borrow from Yoda, “Always hard to understand, emotions.”.

    To borrow from a common lament of men about women, “Can’t live with emotions; can’t live without emotions.”.

    To borrow from Dickens, emotions are “The best of times, the worst of times.”.

    To borrow from the movie Contact,

    You’re an interesting species; an interesting mix. Capable of such exquisite dreams; such horrifying nightmares.

    Even if a person is plenty ready, willing, able, and eager to emphasize “critical thinking,” rationalism, etc., it remains that it is important to understand emotions:

    (A) It’s important to understand the emotions of others; otherwise one is at high risk of hurting the emotions of others and being alone. One of the main strengths of humans, the main reason we have dominated the world, is that we have the brain power to do well being together; one of the greatest threats to us is being alone.

    (B) It’s important to understand ones own emotions if only to understand the emotions we know best, our own, as a first step to understanding the emotions of others.

    It is good to try to pay attention even to sick-o, degrading pop culture because it appeals to the emotions of so many other people, and it’s important to understand their emotions. So, e.g., if you watch a movie, pop culture or not, that appeals to a lot of people, from the fact of that appeal you can get some insight into the emotions of the people who liked the movie.

    At times, emotions can even be a contribution to “critical thinking”: If you just met someone, talked with them for a while, left, and felt upset, then you just, fully unconsciously, got a signal, detection, symptom that there was something wrong with that person and a warning to be careful and maybe stay away.

    Good art can teach about the deeper, more fundamental, more important emotions of many people. E.g., R. Wagner understood a lot about emotions, understood so well that he was able to put just black marks on white paper that decades later good musicians can play and, then, communicate those emotions to others.

    E.g., at one point in his opera Die Walküre, Wotan has to say farewell to the daughter he deeply loves. So, there is a really good performance at

    Well, at one point when I was 15, likely from an awful misunderstanding from some terribly poor communications from some horrible fears to communicate, all from some really bad pop culture nonsense and data and for no good reasons at all, I had to walk away from a girl of 13, see her high school graduation picture below (she was prettier when she was 13, the prettiest female I ever saw in person or otherwise, sweet, adorable, an angel, as I better understand now, likely very afraid) that I was very much in love with, and still am.

    Emotional lesson: That kind of love never ends.

    So, commonly when I hear Wagner’s music about Wotan’s farewell, the music so closely represents my feelings of my catastrophe that day when I was 15 that I scream out in agony.

    Wagner was good at understanding emotions. Apparently he guessed, and correctly, that enough people in his audiences had had such bad cases of farewells that his music would effectively communicate a common, strong emotion.

    So, why does a person pay attention to such art? One reason, to get evidence that such bad stuff is part of what in life happens to nearly everyone and, thus, is not unusual or particular to the person listening. Then the listener feels better about the pains of their farewells.

    • .
      First, is there data?

      If there is data, then use it.

      Does it reflect some identifiable norm, such as mirroring the distribution within the population?

      Is it balanced within some norm – such as race, gender.

      Do not fall prey to making perfect the enemy of good enough to make a better decision rather than resorting to one’s feelings.


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