Mel Schwartz, LCSW

Over-Simplifying Equals Dumbing Down

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The problem is not what we think, it’s how we think.

Our thinking inclines toward gross over-simplifying. This habit leads to a mindless dulling of our intelligence as we avoid complexity. This simplification of complex matters into simply right vs wrong, black or white thinking does unimaginable harm. It impedes our relationships, deadlocks political discourse and is fodder for conflict and war.

We cannot solve the problems we create without learning to think differently.

We owe this way of thinking to Aristotle, whose philosophy led to what we call deductive reasoning, which links premises with conclusions. If the former is true, logic dictates the latter must be true. The corollary is, things are either true, or not.

This “either-or thinking” oversimplifies our thinking. As such, we live in an illusion of bifurcated reality. Hate has no meaning without the notion of love. Good can only be defined by defining bad. There would be no light without dark.

But we leave out the included middle where opposite states dissolve.

At dusk, it’s neither day nor night. Could one be pro-choice and yet very sensitive to both the unborn fetus and the mother? Could I think you wrong in how you perceive me, yet still care?

When we slice and dice reality into distinct compartments of true / untrue or right / wrong, we stagnate. If someone is upset with you, can you both validate how they feel and not declare which of you is right or wrong?

A fragile ego needs to be right and works to protect against being wrong. The more tied we are to being right, the more fixed our beliefs and thoughts. This rigidity results in an insecure sense of self. The need to be right has us defend our beliefs which ironically blocks new thinking, let alone insights.

A truly open mind embraces complexity and confusion as it resists either-or thinking. Free from the need to be right, our thinking opens to the gifts of uncertainty and possibilities. From this perspective curiosity is king and being too certain is questionable.

Let’s relate this to quantum reality. Unobserved, a photon is potentially either a particle or a wave. It exists in the “included middle” until perceived or measured. This is equivalent to an absolute state of possibilities.

We can achieve a similar state of potential by embracing uncertainty, escaping the trap of either-or thinking. Remarkable insights occur when our minds become freed from the trap of simplicity. From there we can navigate life’s challenges from a place of wisdom.

What I’m proposing doesn’t lead to indecisiveness, it leads to a deeper clarity than lies on the other side of complexity. Don’t look for fixed answers. Ask new questions. Relative, temporary answers are fine, but your goal is to find equilibrium between knowing and not knowing, freeing you from rigid, stagnant over-simplification.

Quantum physics reveals that reality looks like a state of inexorable flow, a reality-making process. We should engage our thinking similarly, which summons intellectual curiosity, enlivens our relationships and surfaces new solutions to inveterate problems.

More from Mel…

The Possibility Podcast #071: The Trap of Either / Or Thinking

Concierge Therapy by Mel

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