Can You Think?

OK, I never thought I’d ever quote that famous behaviorist psychologist B.F. Skinner, but this thought was too good to pass over without, well, thinking about.

The real question is not whether machines think but whether men do.

If I took Facebook as an example of the level of thinking in the world right now, I’d be forced into skepticism about the ability of humans to think. Perhaps other forms of communication, as well.

Some people are worried about artificial intelligence technologies such as ChatGPT taking away our ability to think. On the one hand, I wonder about our ability to begin with. On the other hand, I have heard teachers explain that ChatGPT can be used along with thinking. 

How, you may ask. Have the student (or you can try it) think and devise a topic sentence. The big question. Then write three or four supporting statements. Then turn ChatGPT loose to research and write some paragraphs. Then go back and rewrite that prose into English (or whatever).

My first geometry teacher told us that we’d learn about shapes and angles, but also that mostly what we would learn was how to think. Solving proofs of theorems is a great model. I use it to this day.

Try thinking sometime today. Read something. Think of possibilities. Not just one interpretation. What if the writer meant this? Or that?How did the original readers take this? Go sit in a park or by a pond or river and just think.

This reminds me of a story I heard many years ago. This could have been about me at 10 years old. It seems a little boy was sitting in class in school. He was staring out the window totally oblivious to the class. The teacher noticed and stopped talking. Soon, all the kids were staring. He realized something was up and his attention returned to the classroom. “What were you doing?” asked the teacher. “I was thinking,” was the reply. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to think in school?” she said. When the entire class burst out in laughter, she realized what she said.

But, too often it’s true in school and at work—we’re not supposed to think. 

Be that little boy. 


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