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Intro to Critical Thinking
Episode 103rd November 2022 • The Awareness to Action Enneagram Podcast • Awareness to Action
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In this episode of the Awareness to Action Enneagram podcast, Mario Sikora, María José Munita and Seth "Creek" Creekmore continue their deep dive into critical thinking as a fundamental thing they believe is important for the Enneagram community. They discuss a few ideas on how to think critically and why it’s important.

“If you are positioning yourself to be a teacher of the Enneagram, but you are not working on your critical or clear thinking skills, then you are being irresponsible.” -Mario [20:41]

“When we’re working with the Enneagram, if we were seekers after truth, we need to think critically, and that involves seeing other people for who they are and not who we think they are.” -María José [30:54]

“As a rather emotional human, critical thinking has aided me in being able to actually more clearly and more deeply experience these emotions, whether they make sense or not.” -Creek [31:17]


TIMESTAMPS

[00:01] Intro

[02:17] Examples of using critical thinking

[04:41] What is Neoplatonic essentialism

[10:29] Religion and the Enneagram

[17:54] Critical thinking does not goes against spirituality or religion

[21:10] Five obstacles to critical thinking and five solutions to them

[25:37] High degree of confidence and intellectual character

[31:08] What’s happening is not always the whole situation 

[32:17] Fundamental attribution error

[34:34] Outro


Connect with us:

Awareness to Action

Enneagram on Demand 


Mario Sikora: 

IG: @mariosikora

Web: mariosikora.com

Pod: Enneagram in a Movie


Maria Jose Munita: 

IG: @mjmunita

Web: mjmunita.com


Seth "Creek" Creekmore: 

IG: @creekmoremusic

Pod: Fathoms | An Enneagram Podcast

Pod: Delusional Optimism

Transcripts

Creek:

Welcome to another glorious episode from your friends, the Awareness to Action Enneagram podcast. My name is Creek and along with me, I have Mario Sikora and María José Munita. What are we talking about today?

Mario:

Just glorious stuff all around.

Creek:

Glorious stuff. Great.

Mario:

Glorious stuff.

Creek:

Turnip soup. More atrocious food analogies from Mario.

María José:

So next time we meet in person, we know who's not cooking.

Mario:

I’m cooking.

Creek:

But we're gonna have to try to make beef and turnip soup tasty. So that's great. So we're following up our last episode with a deeper dive into critical thinking, just as an introduction to this concept before we jump into types and strategies. Just because it's such a foundational thing that we all believe it’s… well, it's just good for humans in general, but especially for the Enneagram community who were dealing with some complex things, the psyche of human nature, and we really need to know how to handle that well and responsibly. So today, we're going to be jumping into a few of the ideas of how to think critically and why it is important.

Mario:

Yeah. So certainly this is, what we're going to talk about today is just a taste of what we usually do in our trainings and the things that we think are important. And in fact, I did write a little book on this, How to Think Well, and Why, available at bookstores near you. And actually, it's not, but you can get it on Amazon.

Creek:

I think you should probably change it to an Amazon warehouse near you. That's probably more accurate.

Mario:

There you go. Yeah.

María José:

Yeah, let me say that we used to teach it almost at ,the probably at the end, I don't remember any more or less like an additional session. Then we moved it to the middle of the certification track. Now it's pretty much at the beginning, because of how fundamental of base or kind of the ground that we want people to have, before even starting learning about the Enneagram

Creek:

First question, directed at Mario, but I think María José, I think you probably have some things to add to this. But as you all have worked together and just developed the Awareness to Action approach, what are some examples where you use critical thinking tool to not only determine the concepts or language that you wanted to use, but then maybe how you've over time changed them by using these tools.

Mario:

So there's quite a few ideas there, and we'll get into them. But I do want to make a point first, and hopefully this won't take us into a 20 minute digression. But no, I want to be clear that while we emphasize the importance of critical thinking skills, doesn't mean that we think we're better at it than other people. Daniel Kahneman, who wrote the book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, is a Nobel Laureate in behavioral economics. He's a psychologist, has done groundbreaking work. He is THE guy when it comes to different ways of thinking and the traps of thinking. And he'll be the first one to say, I'm probably one of the leading experts in the world in this stuff, and I screw up all the time.

So the idea here is not to assume we will ever become perfect thinkers or even great thinkers. It's to continually work at being better thinkers. And being aware of some of the traps that we have seen people fall into, particularly when it comes to the Enneagram. With me, there are a lot of things about the Enneagram that I embraced sort of whole cloth early on, like a lot of people do. A lot of the more metaphysical concepts about it, a lot of the things, you know, for example, my review of Sandra Maitri’s book, The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram is still on her website. From when the book came out, I wrote a review of it in Enneagram Monthly, it was. And I still think it's a great book, but I very much disagree with the Neoplatonic metaphysics at the root of the book and a lot of the teachings about the Enneagram. So that's an example of something I kind of embraced before but have come to see differently because of taking a different critical thinking stance.

Creek:

And I don't want to get too far into Neoplatonic essentialism. That's for another six podcasts, but give us just a quick summary, if you could of the nature of self.

Mario:

So, can you summarize the teachings of Plato in four minutes or something?

Creek:

Please. I was thinking only 30 seconds, but…

Mario:

Yeah, there you go. So Neoplatonic essentialism is this idea coming from Plato, particularly in the book, The Republic, where he talks about the allegory of the cave, amongst other things. And he says, and this was his belief at the time, that our realm of existence is just a reflection of other realms of existence and out there somewhere in other realms of existence, where forms or ideals, these perfect things, a perfect triangle, a perfect circle, perfect beauty, perfect justice, and this world is a reflection of those things. It’s shadows cast upon a cave wall, and that the work is to recapture our connection to those essential perfect things. Now, that may or may not be true, right? I mean, okay. Sure. Right. And there might be Spider Man and different metaverses and all that sort of thing. I mean, who knows.

Creek:

And non falsifiable.

Mario:

It’s non falsifiable, right? So I can either say, Yeah, I buy that, or No, I don’t. I fall on the No, I don't side, primarily because the assumption is that these qualities of human nature are eternal and never changing. So you have these non-changing qualities in you. Now, nobody in serious science or philosophy has embraced that position, since Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species. And there's a great essay by John Dewey, called the, I think it's The Impact of Darwinism on Philosophy, where he points out like many have, that human nature has evolved. And our ancestors had different natures than we do.

So for anything about our nature to be eternal doesn't really make sense. Because our great, great, great, great, great, great, you know, to the 10th, grandparents, were very different than we are. So how could their nature? How can human nature be eternal? Plato didn't know about evolution. It just was not a concept he had. I like to say that today, Plato would not be a Platanus in this regard. So Neoplatonic essentialism is his belief that there are aspects of us that are non-changing over time.

María José:

In the changing topic, I think that the Enneagram is a model that keeps evolving. It's a work in process. And I do see the way in which we apply critical thinking more than in a specific thing as processes for that development. So for example, if we have an idea, and Mario keeps asking me, so are we fooling ourselves here? Is this really, does this really hold up? Or are we just wanting to believe this? And that's a process that we have. That we have the habit of checking if we're fooling ourselves, or if there's an idea of somebody else that we don't think it's true, or that works? Again, aren't we just resisting it because it's not ours? Is there any truth in what other people are saying? And so we consider it. So I think that more than, and I'm not sure that any specific examples come to mind. But when I think about it, it's just a habit of challenging our assumptions, of questioning our conclusions all the time.

Mario:

I teach courses, and María José does too, on critical thinking skills for leaders. And the first skill I teach them is to ask the question, How do I know this to be true? And what's the evidence against it? And we tried to do the same thing. Okay, we have an idea, much like the, you know, the pattern, Just So story that we talked about last time. Hey, maybe this is why, and then we start to say, Yeah, but how do we know that to be true? And we falsify it in some way.

María José:

And if we see something that doesn't make sense, but we have been teaching it for a while, there is cognitive dissonance. There’s this friction, because we have been teaching it, and we are somehow attached to it or might be. And we need to think critically and say, Okay, we don't believe this to be true anymore. And we'll change our slides, the content that we teach and everything, and that requires critical thinking,

Mario:

And it requires the strength to be able to handle the embarrassment of having been wrong. And there are things out there that I wrote years ago, that I don't know necessarily believe anymore. I would tweak and somebody would… on occasion people will say, Well yeah, 15 years ago though you wrote this. And I said, well yeah, 15 years ago, I believe that but now I believe differently and here's why. It's tempting to want to protect the image of the all-knowing expert and not change views or rationalize or something. But, hey, I learned something. And I changed my mind. I'm hoping everybody would do that.

Creek:

this is still moving the conversation forward, but also just coming back to rejecting Neoplatonism essentialism. There's a lot of people in the Enneagram community that are religious or spiritual, or have some deep connection to God, or that sort of thing, and could both of you just speak to that as to, in order to use the Enneagram, like no one has to agree one way or the other of, they don't have to agree with you in that in order for your model to work.

María José:

So rejecting the Neoplatonic ideas doesn't mean that it doesn’t, we cannot do deep work. Rejecting that, the idea that there are these essential qualities out there and that we need to go back to them and reconnect them. It's one way, but you could also, and that's what we think, it's that we all have these core qualities inside ourselves, and they're not fully developed. And the work is not to go back to something that it's out there, but to develop, to nurture to grow in those qualities. And that's deep work. And that can be very spiritual.

The thing is that we don't adhere to the idea, the concept that those things are fully developed. They're out there. They’re non-change, they don't change over time. We say there are these deep core qualities, and we need to nurture them. We need to grow them. And that's lifetime work. Because some people think that because we don't teach that, we don't agree with that. It's not spiritual. I just profoundly disagree.

Mario:

A Buddhist writer that I really like, it’s a woman named Pema Chodron, and one of her books is Comfortable with Uncertainty. And she talks about her approach to Buddhism being nontheist. Two ways to look at the world, right? There's two realms of thinking about things. One is the metaphysical, the other is the physical. So the metaphysical is anything that's kind of beyond the physical, but also when we start getting into issues of faith.

And her view was, I'm not making any judgments on what people believe based on faith. I'm not making judgments on whether there's a God or not. If so, what that God looks like, what that God requires from us, et cetera. I'm not making judgments on metaphysics. It's just not part of my practice, because of certain reasons.

And we take the same view. We like to think of our approach to the Enneagram as non metaphysical. And there's a metaphysical approach to the Enneagram, which is great. And if that feeds people's needs, then super. My only concern is when people start taking metaphysical assumptions, and then treating them as if they are objective facts. And this gets to the argument between Occam and Aquinas, which I'm going to have to touch on here.

María José:

It’s unfortunate to get an opportunity to talk about that.

Mario:

Look, I had to read these guys in seminary, man, years and years ago in the ‘80s, and I gotta use it somehow. So, you know, Aquinas wrote to the ontological argument for God, right? Where he was, you know, proposing to logically justify that God exists, objectively prove the existence of God. And he wrote this very complex and robust argument, which has a lot of flaws in it. And Occam, a fellow believer, a fellow Christian at the time and of the period, said, here's the problem. There are logical flaws in your argument, and here's what they are. But that doesn't mean that God doesn't exist. Faith is a gift. Faith is something we have or we don't have, and we should not try to justify faith through logic, reason and science. It's just, I choose to believe it, or I don’t.

So somebody wants to embrace some sort of faith based statement, that's great. I have no issues with it. It's outside the realm of what I deal with. So I don't expect anybody to say, Oh, well, I can't believe this or that, because I can't prove it. No, that's not what faith is. I can't prove that I love chocolate ice cream. I can't prove that I love my children and my wife and et cetera. But I know it and that's good enough for me. There are some things that are subjective, and that's fine. Other things that are objective and the wise person tries to draw a distinction between the two and use the right tools for analysis.

María José:

Let me give you another example. And just to show how we see this independent, not only from religion, but from other things. So some people say, Okay, there's this leadership model, how does the Enneagram work with that? It worked great, because there's some distinctions, some tools here that are independent from the Enneagram and the Enneagram can help in the development of those skills by understanding personality, and all of that.

Same thing happens with so many models that are out there, that are independent of the Enneagram. And the Enneagram is another layer that can help with the growth together with these different models or different sets of skills to be developed. So it's not just religion, it's independent of lots of things. If you start combining them, it gets messy and less practical, less useful.

Mario:

One related point, because a lot of times people sort of make a a leap, and it's not necessarily a big one from this idea of the Platonic essentialism to the idea of a soul. A soul that exists outside the physical body and so forth. Pope John Paul II wrote an interesting encyclical some years ago, that was called Truth Cannot Contradict Truth. And what he was doing was establishing that Darwin's theory of evolution was official teaching of the Church, meaning that Darwin was right. We agree with what Darwin was saying.

However, that does not mean that humans don't have souls. But what happened was along the evolutionary progression, there came a moment where God looked down and said, Okay, you're ready. And that first, Adam was in soul, he was part of the evolutionary chain. But Adam had a soul, whereas Adam’s mom and dad did not have souls, which I always thought was a real rough break. I mean, you miss it by that close. But it's this idea that it's a faith based statement, and okay, that's great. You know, it could be true. I have no way of knowing but I have no way of proving it and I have no way of disproving it. So I either say, okay, yes, I accept that, or No, I don't. And that's all there is to it.

María José:

I just want to make sure that we're not implying that critical thinking goes almost against spirituality or religion. Because it might seem like that, either I feel, or I think, well, but you cannot do both. And I was at a meeting the other day, and one of my clients, who has a strong religious, Jesuit background, we were having tough discussions. And every time he would hear the other side, he would say, Okay, so let me see if there's any truth in what this person is saying. Like, really challenging his first reaction and trying to see what truth there was on the other side, and that's critical thinking. and it was taught by him by the Jesuits. So let's make sure that we're not confusing these things. You can think clearly in benefit of spirituality, of leadership, of anything. It is different domains, and I think it's necessary for anything you want to do.

Mario:

Yeah, every religious tradition has a group that are the thinkers. I mean, you know, it's the Jesuits in the Catholic tradition. And in yoga, there's a, I think it's Gianna yoga, which is all about thinking in the mind and figuring things out. And that's part of it, right? I mean, that's what any robust, faith based tradition will teach people to do is to think critically and think logically. Unfortunately, it's difficult. We are not wired to be skillful thinkers. We are wired to believe what it's convenient to believe, which is kind of a nice transition, I think, into some of the other things we want to talk about the Enneagram and critical thinking,

Creek:

Right, which is some of the tools that you will use, different ways of critical thinking that that help frame what concepts you work on and adjust and whatnot.

Mario:

Yeah, and I want to be clear here that what we're talking about today just touches on things, because we have a lot of this stuff. It's in the, what used to be the third module of our certification program, and we devote a number of sessions to it. But there are some fundamental things that is helpful for people to know, as part of their work with the Enneagram, not just in their work on themselves, but particularly in their work with other people. And I really think this is something I've been saying for years and years and years, and I can't say enough, that if you are positioning yourself to be a teacher of the Enneagram, but you are not working on your critical or clear thinking skills, then you're being irresponsible. I mean, because if you are not practicing intellectual rigor, you shouldn't be taking money from people or even putting yourself in a position to be offering input to people. Doesn't mean you're always going to be right, but you should be making the effort. It's unethical not to.

Creek:

So why don't you give us a quick overview of some of the tools that you use in your work when it comes to critical thinking.

Mario:

So we can break the things down into — I actually came up with this model of five obstacles to clear thinking and five solutions for them. And so, you think of a set of concentric circles. And the first circle is the built in biases of the brain. So understanding the built in mechanisms of the brain that keep us from thinking clearly is step number one. Step number two is identifying issues of personality, which is the Enneagram is all about. Step number three is understanding the manifestations of culture. Step number four is our ignorance, knowing what we don't know and how to fill in those gaps of what we do know. And step number five, or circle number five, is making our way through misinformation. Identifying and correcting misinformation. So ignorance is the things that we don't know that our true. Misinformation is the things that we believe that are not true, that are demonstrably not true.

And so there are tools at each of these levels for clearing up the obstacles to clear thinking. When it comes to the built in mechanisms. It's recognizing cognitive biases. It's recognizing, for example, that humans are victims of motivated reasoning, meaning we have a tendency to believe, to reason our way to what we want to believe. A lot of reasons for this. A lot of the great philosopher said, we're not really rational creatures. We tend to decide something emotionally. And then we find the evidence for it rationally. This is why some really intelligent people believe some really crazy things, but are really good at convincing themselves that they're right and convincing other people that the right as well, because they're smart, and they have good argumentation skills, even though they're not seeing where they're wrong.

Now motivated reasoning is something that happens in us because we're tribal creatures. We want to believe the same things those people in our tribe do. This is why politics is tribal. Okay, because that's my crew. And if I don't believe something that they believe, I tend to be rejected, and that's a bad thing for somebody who is in a social species. So motivated reasoning, we always have to watch for this recognition that I have a tendency to prove what I want to believe rather than to prove or falsify things objectively. Number two, we have all sorts of shortcuts. Again, Kahneman talks about system one, system two. System one is fast thinking. It’s heuristic based. It’s making use of shortcuts, whereas system two is critical thinking.

Creek:

Heuristic.

Mario:

Sorry, there we go. Well, let me give you the definition. Heuristic is a mental model. Aheuristic is just a, either a conscious and deliberate or nonconscious mental model. We make a… It's a shortcut that we develop in our brain. And there are lots of cognitive biases that serve as the sort of mental models. And one of the ones we see in the Enneagram world all the time is confirmation bias. I get an idea about Fours, for example. Ah, Fours always wear baseball caps. Well, look, there's Creek. He's a Four, so he's got a baseball cap on. And there's another Four, and he's got a baseball cap on. So again, we confirm what we want to see, but we don't see all the Fours who are not wearing baseball caps.

Something that I'm sure I've talked about this before, but a guy coming up to me one time and saying Eights don't read, because his wife was an Eight, and she didn't like to read. And he knew other Eight who didn't like to read, so he just saw Eight who didn't like to read and instead of Eights who did. So falling into confirmation bias is really easy. We can start to say, Oh, well, all Fives do this, or all Fours to that, and cetera, because we confirm what we want to see, instead of saying, Hey, I wonder if there are any Eights out there who like to read? Let me do some research. And let me find out whether Eights read or not, or whether it's something that doesn't have to do with type. So recognizing these biases equips us to start to overcome them.

Creek:

So once again, audience, we will be diving more deeply into some of these, giving more practical ways of using this. But in short, how do you know personally, when you've reached that high degree of confidence, after you've gone through as much of the critical thinking as you know how to? What does that feel like? What does that look like?

María José:

I think that you need to, as I said before, challenge your ideas, and when you've tried hard enough to see what evidence there is against it, when you've talked it through with people who are really willing to challenge your ideas, and when you see that over time it holds up, I think that it might be good enough. And I think it depends on the realm that you're talking about. Because there are certain things, if we're talking about the Enneagram, that would probably be kind of enough. If we're talking about a science, then you need to do a lot more work there. But in the Enneagram, I think that those are some of the things that make me feel that I don't need more, but then continue to be open to seeing new things. Hold ideas as hypothesis rather than truths, I think, it's something that you need to do all the time.

Mario:

Yeah, I think a lot of this stuff is as attitudinal as anything else. Meaning it's about embracing particular attitudes that increase the probability of us thinking skillfully. So it's developing what some people would call intellectual character, right. And what that means, basically, is that I have habituated certain behaviors that increase the likelihood of me assessing things more accurately than I would otherwise. So if I habitually asked myself, well, am I fooling myself here, whenever I come up with a new idea, that's one good thing. If I get into the habit of celebrating when I realized I was wrong about something, rather than feeling shame, it increases that probability that I'll correct myself.

Creating an environment where we welcome people to challenge our views, and we don't attack the person for doing so. All of these things are really hard to do, because it's not our nature. So we need to develop those attitudes and those skills. Now there are certain skills and so I’ll, for example, being the kind of parent I am, I'll give my son's examples of logical fallacies that I see. And I'll say, okay, which logical fallacy is this? And I'll berate them for not getting it and humiliate them in front of their friends and so forth. Can you believe this kid doesn't even recognize an ad hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy? You know, that sort of thing.

But it's working with these things and learning them and applying them and teaching them and quizzing ourselves that just like anything else, we get better at them. But fundamentally, it's about the attitude of recognizing that I always, always, always have to be on guard. And I always have to assess provisionality, degrees of provisionality rather than certainty. What I mean by that is that there are some things that, yeah, I’m 60% sure of that based on my experience. Well, it's happened a bit more. I've been observing this for a year now. I'm maybe 75% sure. And maybe I'm this sure.

Like, for example, when people asked me, does the pattern of expression fit everybody? My initial response is, well, there are 8 billion people on the planet and I haven't met them all yet. But with the people I've met and the people I've worked with, the pattern fits. So, you know, I'm saying yeah, I'm kind of certain, but who knows? So it's degrees of confidence rather than knowing that we know something.

María José:

Yeah. And we've focused most of the conversation on critical thinking when developing ideas and concepts. But I think that this applies to pretty much anything. So when you are with somebody else in front of you, you will be a lot better at seeing the real human being who is in front of you if you think critically. If you don't assume that that person is a Four, and only see them through that lens, for example, and they might not be a Four, or they might not be the Four that's on your mind.

So you will be able to communicate with other people better if you are able to question your own ideas. You will be able to understand what's going on with yourself, what you're feeling, if you think more critically. So it applies to pretty much anything. It's not just developing concept. So when we're working with the Enneagram, in order to see, if we're seekers after truth, we need to think critically, and that involves seeing other people for who they are and not who we think they are.

Creek:

Ah, I think that's great. That's a great place to end. I think, when it comes to… Yeah, we think critical thinking is just about the concepts and ideas, but you're very right. Like, as a rather emotional human, critical thinking has aided me in being able to actually more clearly and more deeply experience these emotions, whether they make sense or not, whether they are logical. Why I'm sad, like sometimes I just wake up and I'm sad, and I don't know why. I don't need to know why.

But using critical thinking, I'm able to realize that I am sad, but that doesn't mean that who I am is sadness. It doesn't mean that I can't go ahead and get up and go work out and work and have a fun time. And the sadness can be there regardless. And so it just gives just a couple clicks of objectivity to realize that what's happening is not always the whole of the situation. And what I perceive is happening is not the whole of the situation ever.

Mario:

And so you're absolutely right. And that is an important thing to remember. So for example, to what María José was saying is okay, I'll be more skillful in interacting with people if I can recognize that they're complex, and that they have emotions, and that they're this way, that way. I get better at remembering that if I can remember, or if I'm aware of some of the tools and techniques for critical thinking. So for example, what sprung to mind when she said that was the fundamental attribution error is a tendency to make a judgment about somebody based on one observable trait or behavior, and then extrapolate that to their whole character.

Now, that's a technical term. And you might say, Well, why do I need to know that? Why can't I just say, oh, people are you know, what they are? But when we understand the tools and techniques, we become more skillful at the action itself. And you as a musician, Creek, understand this, that, yeah, a good musician just plays. A great musician just plays and doesn't think, but you don't become a great musician without practicing the scales and understanding something about music theory and getting the techniques. So if you want to be good at this stuff, even if this stuff is just understanding and helping other people, you got to play the scales.

Creek:

Wow, this went deeper than I was anticipating, but I'm glad we went there. Hopefully, we didn't drown our audience members. But…

Mario:

I'd be happy to go through the Neoplatonic essentialism thing one more time.

Creek:

I’m sure you would. But thank you all for for those of you that did stick around to the end. Thank you for sticking around, and we'll revisit these topics in more depth. And try to keep bringing these topics back up so we can keep finding better ways to communicate them. So until next week, have a wonderful day. Gosh, I suck at closing these out. What the hell?

Mario:

That's great faith in the product. So for anybody who made it this far…

Creek:

Thanks for listening to the Awareness to Action Enneagram podcast. If you're interested in more information or talking to Mario, MJ or myself, feel free to reach out to us through the links in the show notes or by emailing info@awarenesstoaction.com. All episode transcriptions and further information can be found at awarenesstoaction.com/podcast.

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