Cogito, Ergo Sum
Over the years, I’ve grown to love linguistics as it relates to words, their etymology, challenges to use, and the nerd-like joy of discovering new (to me) words. Of my few educational regrets is never learning Latin. Not as a great conversation starter, but since Latin can be the root of words we use today, it would be fun to know more. Every time I bump into a Latin phrase, then see it translated, I enjoy that discovery and daydream about how those words sounded when spoken correctly. As I recall, unless there’s been some recent discovery, we don’t really know how Latin sounds when spoken.
Cogito, ergo sum translates to “I think, therefore I am,” a well-known and famous one-liner. A singular definition of life, of course, does not exist, nor is there a consensus of what a definition of life would include. Buddhists adhere to a precept of not harming sentient life, but “sentient” is the ability to have feelings: a thinking process, but in a broad sense there is much more to defining life. Certainly, one would think (no pun intended), “thinking” is high on the list of how humanity defines life. What we do with our ability to think is a much deeper rabbit hole, yet at the core of my main point here on the state of critical thinking.
During my days in Houston working for a consulting firm, I remember a lunch one day on a project with some of Shell’s petroleum geologist team leads. The discussion revolved around challenges in hiring new technical-position employees. An interesting point came up when one of them mentioned difficulty in finding their next generation of petroleum geologists. Applicants were technically qualified, yet most seemed to lack the one thing that made the current, experienced geologists so good at finding where to drill for oil and gas reserves: critical thinking.
That essential ability to go beyond base knowledge and find not what the data showed, but what it inferred. The answer to where to drill does not appear obvious in the data, but when data clues, through critical thinking, resolve to point to the possibilities. This art if you will, is not so much learned as it is discoverable mostly through critical thinking and the usually accompanying curious mind. As the geologists related, this skill was markedly absent in graduates coming out of even the best schools.
Fast forward and it’s only become worse. The current cultural climate is rife with believers and not thinkers. Critical thinking mostly disappeared from school curriculums over the years, kept barely alive by a few individuals developing the skill despite decades of mis-guided education administrators, or rather, hand-tied ones forced to alter teaching to emphasize memorization over open thinking.
My larger point is we’ve somehow, in the U.S. at least, become a populace where many are not taught how to think and consider what they hear and decide, based on common sense plus science and facts, whether something’s true or right. Education means memorizing facts, not what to do with them.
Remember facts? Like Rodney Dangerfield’s famous line, they get no respect these days (or attention). Instead, seems easier for many to just “believe blindly” even though the “mouths” are proven wrong nearly every time by those who actually know the science and facts. It boggles the mind that people who spend time on the internet reading up about some science-based issue suddenly become “experts” over others who spend over a decade in school to become actual experts. Don’t need to look any farther than our collective COVID-19 experience to see that in action.
Is there hope ahead?
My answer is yes: the generation coming to age in the workforce, the Gen-Zs and followed close behind by Gen Alphas, represent hope. Both seem equally intolerant to the planet’s destruction induced by later generations, less-than-good government actions, and the current rampant belief in falsehoods running wild. Time will tell, but assuming elections ahead remain fair (a real danger in some states), those two generations are our biggest hopes for turning things around and bringing back true Cogito, ergo sum.