The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.

THINKING ABOUT THINKING with MICHAEL SCRIVEN, Ph.D.

JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. Today we're going to be talking about "Thinking about Thinking," and my guest, Professor Michael Scriven, is an individual about whom it wouldn't be unfair to say he's probably one of the most eminent philosophers in the world today. He's a professor at the University of Western Australia, former president of the American Association for Educational Research, the founding president of the Evaluation Association, the author of numerous books, including Primary Philosophy, Reasoning, and The Logic of Evaluation, a scholar who has contributed to a dozen different fields including engineering, philosophy of science, parapsychology, psychology, and of course philosophy. Michael, welcome to the program.

MICHAEL SCRIVEN, Ph.D.: Jeffrey, it's a pleasure to be here.

MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you here. Let me begin by asking you a straightforward question. You're a very logical man. You're certainly one of the most outstanding thinkers that I've encountered in the world today. But are humans basically rational? Are we rational beings?

SCRIVEN: Struggling up that way, I guess. Some of the time we are. It's a straightforward struggle, though. There's a lot of impulse in there that wants to get the better of the rationality -- and in Marin County, a lot of support for those impulses.

MISHLOVE: There are many people who think we really need to cultivate the irrational side of us.

SCRIVEN: Right, yes, there are indeed, and there are times and places for that. The hot tub is a good time and place for that. But when you're planning your life, or when you're trying to decide whether there's something that needs to be changed in the world, then cultivating the irrational and emotional is a luxury that we can ill afford. So I've spent a lot of time working on the question of how you do try to improve the degree of rationality with respect to decisions that call for it.

MISHLOVE: You know, I have to take issue with you a little bit here. It would seem to me that cultivating the irrational is no more of a luxury than cultivating the rational -- or it's certainly not inconsistent with cultivating the rational.

SCRIVEN: Studying it is fine. Cultivating it, though, I think, is a matter of where and when. It's fine where we're talking about. You may be thinking that the irrational includes things like the intuitive and so on.

MISHLOVE: Dreams, for example.

SCRIVEN: Yes. But for me, that's the non-rational, not the irrational. Irrational is that which is contrary to the rational, in the area where the rational is appropriate. So for me it's a truism that we should avoid irrationality.

MISHLOVE: I see. So we might both agree that it's very rational to explore the non-rational side of ourselves.

SCRIVEN: Indeed yes, and crucial.

MISHLOVE: Well, let's talk about thinking itself. There's a big movement in psychology today called cognitive psychology and reality therapy, which basically suggests that people get themselves into neurotic dilemmas because they can't think properly; if they could only think out their problems, they would be solvable. Are you basically sympathetic with that viewpoint?

SCRIVEN: I'm sympathetic with it to the extent that I think it's often an important part of the problem, and if you don't crack that part, then you don't get a satisfactory solution. But it's often not all of the problem, and getting it in perspective is the trick -- being able to think rationally, but then also being able to see where the limits of that come. That combination is the hard part of getting through life in an appropriate way.

MISHLOVE: I think it might be useful for our viewers just to mention that your style of thinking -- many times when people think university professor, they probably imagine logic diagrams and algebra or calculus or Boolean syllogisms and the like. But your effort has been to make philosophy applicable to daily life situations, to the mainstream -- to help people basically evaluate the kinds of choices and decisions and programs that are available.

SCRIVEN: Yes, I have made a considerable effort to bring in two of the things that you mention into the practice of academic philosophy. One is making it relevant to real-life cases -- bringing in so-called applied ethics courses and applied courses. And then the big effort that I've been involved with now for a couple of decades is getting evaluation to the point where it's no longer thought of as a matter of taste or something that has no part in science -- in fact making it respectable and developing a discipline out of it.

MISHLOVE: Another thing that you are fairly well known for are your courses on speed reasoning.

SCRIVEN: Right, that was part of the effort to get away from academic logic, towards the area where we begin to apply it in the circumstances where time pressures come in. It's a little reminiscent, of course, and I chose the title, because of speed-reading. It might be worth just remembering what happened when Evelyn Wood got out here in the early days, running the speed-reading courses. I was interested; who wouldn't be interested in the idea you could triple your reading speed without any loss of comprehension? And so I called around. I was on the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley at that time. I called all the experts on campus -- people that were in the reading clinic, and people in psychology -- to see if I could get an idea whether this was a charlatan's enterprise, or whether it was something that was worth the very considerable money that was involved in signing up. The answers I got were fairly typical of the sorts of problems that there are about the academy turning to practical matters. They all said, A, we can't endorse anything commercial; and then when pressed they said, B, we don't know anything about it. So the problem wasn't that they couldn't endorse anything commercial. The problem was that although this was one of the most valuable possible things, they hadn't bothered to look at it. It wasn't put forward by an academic; it wasn't dressed in academic clothes. So of course I paid the bill, signed up, and took it, and saw the best teaching I've ever seen, in or out of school.

MISHLOVE: You've been pushing the frontiers of many different areas of knowledge, education being one of them. Your work in parapsychology is another. And time and time again -- in fact I think it's fair to say that you and I had some work together at Berkeley when I got a doctoral degree in parapsychology there; you were one of my faculty sponsors, and it was somewhat courageous -- time and time again you run into obstacles when you try and suggest new ways of doing things within the university.

SCRIVEN: You certainly do -- turf protection and the resentment of intrusion on it. Narrow-mindednesss, what we'd call it off campus, is still very characteristic of the universities. They're very human in this respect, but too human. They're not as rational as they should be about their own subject matter and behavior.

MISHLOVE: Is there something about them being government-sponsored, almost socialist, not having to compete in the marketplace of ideas quite the same way that private enterprise does? It creates a difference there.

SCRIVEN: Well, I don't know that that's so, because when you start looking at private enterprise and you discuss innovators and their success there, you find a very similar story. It may be that human nature is the problem here.

MISHLOVE: Well, when we're talking about thinking, when we're talking about very rational things -- for example, it's very rational to be able to learn how to triple your reading speed, if it can be done -- and yet we run into obstacles for things that seem very rational. It would be very rational to solve world hunger; it would be very rational for us to have world peace. And yet we don't do that.

SCRIVEN: No, and we need to understand better why we don't do it. In the course of working on what I call value phobia, which is the phobic resistance to evaluation, I have become increasingly convinced that unless you understand the psychodynamics of the resistance to this, you'll never get the rational component of it floating. It's too difficult. In value phobia -- I'll give you an example. You introduce the notion of evaluation of teachers, for example. Well, we instantly find a group of people jumping up to say you can't; every teaching task is different, every school is different, every child is different, so there can't be any general rules. Now of course in some sense it's absolutely true that every child is different, a very important sense. But the fact remains that every child has to learn to read and has to try to learn mathematics and so on, and it's quite straightforward to find out whether a teacher is maximizing the potentiality of each child. It's not easy, but it's a procedure that operates in just the same way as finding out whether or not you're maximizing the potentiality of your car in the way that you drive, and we can develop a systematic way for doing it. But people quickly produce reasons that suggest that it would be completely impossible.

MISHLOVE: Well, their careers may be threatened if they get an unfavorable evaluation.

SCRIVEN: The threat is really what gets in the way immediately. Now that's a particularly interesting story, because in the history of science in the twentieth century, although there have been a few things -- parapsychology is a very good example -- where they pulled the blinkers over their eyes and got away with it for a long time, the big area, the biggest con job that science has pulled off in the twentieth century, has been the denial of the legitimacy of evaluation, the exclusion of values from science. And that is a gigantic defense process designed to keep them away from the areas where threat arises.

MISHLOVE: The notion that scientists are somehow objective, that they stand above value systems.

SCRIVEN: Well, I'm not against the idea that they are objective in an important sense. But instead of saying that they, so to speak, must themselves be guilty of corrupt and biased evaluation, which they often are, the fact is that they are often capable of and deliver supremely objective, careful and systematic evaluation; they just refuse to admit it. For example, they evaluate scientific instruments, the design of scientific experiments, the work of scientists. They referee papers. Evaluation is the heart and soul of practicing scientists, yet the doctrine that it has no place in science is preached by everybody teaching the first-year course -- in sociology, in psychology, and so on.

MISHLOVE: Well, part of that, I suppose, is to say things to the effect that, say, economists should stay out of politics.

SCRIVEN: Yes, and going back to the origin of the value-free doctrine, it came from Max Weber making the point, in the first convention of sociologists -- that we'd better watch it a bit that we weren't getting into the business of criticizing the welfare system in Upper Saxony, or the government in Upper Saxony was going to cut us off at the pockets. That was a pretty sensible though somewhat chickenhearted piece of advice. But within about three or four years we had converted this into a religious doctrine, and people were saying, well, of course, science deals with facts, not with values. And yet every scientist at a university grades every one of his students, evaluates their work, without the least difficulty, and is challenged on it, and defends the grades, a highly evaluative process -- does that to colleagues, does that to work, does it to instruments.

MISHLOVE: There are certainly many people, though, who criticize science because they say it's too value-free. Nuclear weapons research -- where are the values in that? Or all of the technology that's polluting the environment. If they had thought about values a little more, they might have developed totally different programs.

SCRIVEN: If you start denying that something is legitimate, although you're doing it all the time and it can be done very well, then you don't do it when you ought to do it, and that's exactly what happened there. It's not that the decision whether to use nuclear weapons lies within physics, but the rot had set in because the physicists had said no evaluative work is our business. And so it's entirely up to somebody else. But of course that group of conscience-stricken physicists began the discussions which have contributed very markedly to our thinking on that.

MISHLOVE: Well, now you have many groups of scientists who are taking positions on political issues and social issues, taking a stand. And I suppose within academia you have others saying, "Gee, these people are violating the sacred tenets of objectivity somehow."

SCRIVEN: Yes, but a part of the myth remains. The scientists that become socially responsible will often describe this as their citizens' duties. But they see it as something separate from evaluation within science. For me, there is simply good and bad evaluation -- within science and outside it, as a citizen, as a physicist -- and you can't deny the logic of it, and you've got to learn how to work with it. Had they from the beginning said, "There is part of me as a physicist devoted to evaluation within physics, and it's a perfectly proper and logical procedure, and I ought to be using that logic with respect to my citizen's problems," then we wouldn't have got quite so far down the slope before we started thinking about what we were doing.

MISHLOVE: Can we clarify a little bit the difference between evaluation and logic, and how this all relates to what we originally called thinking?

SCRIVEN: Right. When you start asking yourself what practical thinking is all about, it's obviously got to deal a great deal with decision making. Now, decisions are always between alternatives. There are no decisions when it starts to rain; you don't decide whether it rains. I mean, your decision is do I go home, do we call the picnic off, and so on. Those things make sense. But you don't decide whether it rains. But once you get to decisions, then there are two or more alternatives, and you make your decision, if you're rational, on the basic of a careful evaluation of the alternatives. So thinking, practically important thinking, is very closely connected with decision making, and therefore with evaluation.

MISHLOVE: Weighing different alternatives.

SCRIVEN: Weighing, exactly, that notion of weighing. Now when you and I are trying to select a wine for dinner, that weighing is simply a matter of taste and of price, but not something where somebody could step in and say, "You're wrong. That's the incorrect wine to select." But once we get away from the domain of paintings and wine tastings, and start thinking about whether we should use nuclear power, or more simply, whether or not psychology should make more of an effort to focus on individuals instead of group psychology, or on cognitive activities rather than aesthetic psychology, then decisions have to be made, and evaluation is the name of the game. To deny that, as they did for decades, for generations, is ludicrous. Now you have to ask why highly intelligent, mostly rational people should have denied that within science there is any such thing as evaluation, when if you open any textbook or journal you find plenty of scientific evaluation.

MISHLOVE: Let me step back a minute. I understand what evaluation is now -- making decisions, weighing alternatives. What would be pure thinking, then, in contrast to that -- pure logic, or pure science?

SCRIVEN: There's no contrast. Logic without making decisions is descriptive logic. So there is logic without that, but not a complete logic. So for example, you could be proving a theorem, by getting the axioms and churning away at them, without any evaluative effort. But the minute you get something a little more practical, like, "How shall we do the design of this experiment in whether or not bank tellers should be trained by computers or by people?" then of course it's decision-making time, and you try and choose the most meritorious alternative. It's evaluation time.

MISHLOVE: It's a different way of reasoning.

SCRIVEN: It's a special branch of reasoning, a complicated, multidimensional branch of reasoning. And if you don't study it, if you think that reasoning is mathematics and descriptive statistics, so to speak, then you simply lose the connection with reality. This explains a great deal of the ivory-tower syndrome, because the minute they got a little bit closer to actions, evaluation reared its head, and of course they didn't want to get into that.

MISHLOVE: What about in our personal lives? Do people run into pitfalls because they try and behave in too much of a logical manner, rather than in a reasoning, evaluative manner?

SCRIVEN: Well, you certainly can, but in this particular connection -- talking about evaluation, for example -- we have these schizophrenic tendencies. For example, "Judge not that ye be not judged." Now, you can't get off the hook of being judged by deciding that you won't judge. I mean, what are you going to buy tomorrow at the grocery store? Which person are you going to hire? Which one are you going to promote? Which student gets the passing grade? You can only ignore those judgments by ignoring practicality, reality, the world. So there's a good example where our soul cries out to avoid this business of evaluation, and yet it's obviously not realistic to think you can. So we get into a situation where it's irrational not to evaluate. But then on the other hand there are plenty of cases where being too judgmental, pushing that into the area where you should relax and tolerate, is just as objectionable. So the nasty feature of this, like most interesting questions, is that there's no sharp line. It's a tough matter of judgment, about how rational we should be about evaluation or anything else in our private life.

MISHLOVE: And I suppose this is one of the objections that many people have about this work -- it's soft, it's kind of fuzzy. It's hard to understand who's right, who's wrong, and what's what.

SCRIVEN: Yes. Very clearly that was one of the major reasons that gave some force to the denial of evaluation. You can't measure it exactly; it isn't scientific. But of course if you look at science and you ask yourself what led us to decide that Einstein with certain theories was right, in evaluative terms, but with the later theories was not right -- decisions which we had to make -- that of course was evaluation. So there was no getting away from it eventually.

MISHLOVE: Isn't there a sense that in the twentieth century, with the physics of Heisenberg, the uncertainty principle, there is a quality to all of our thinking now which forces us to deal with the ambiguous, to try to come to terms with fuzzy boundaries? General systems theory -- in our age we have to be able to grasp that and now shy away from it like nineteenth-century Newtonian logicians.

SCRIVEN: Or 1950s logicians. One phrase I used to use a bit was that this is the era when the objectification of the subjective and the subjectification of the objective, these two things, have got to come to grips with each other; those two great tendencies have got to be reconciled. We have to give on both parts. When you start talking about measurement as the limit of reality, you have cut yourself off from reality, because most of reality, the important part, involves judgment and not just measurement. But that doesn't mean it involves mere matters of taste. There is such a thing as systematic, balanced judgment; that's what we get judges for. And careless, biased judgment. You have to learn to refine the game without precise rules, as well as the games with precise rules.

MISHLOVE: And I suppose a lot of people begin to feel, well, they've been doing this all their life, they do it as a matter of intuition, and they don't want to look too closely at their intuition.

SCRIVEN: Yes, I'm sure you're right, but one of the reasons for resistance to psychoanalytic investigation of a person is that they really don't want to know what they are until things get very tough. And in this case, looking at decision making under the microscope means we'll turn up places where you were wrong. Your ego is very heavily invested in your decisions. I often find in the computer field, where I work extensively these days, that people will find that if you walk into an office and look at what they've just bought, it's an absurd investment, it's doomed. They have bought an old technology, and it's the wrong one. Now if you start to even tell them that, they don't want to hear it. It's too much of a threat for most of them. Why didn't they bring in somebody that knew something about it? Because that would have conceded ignorance.

MISHLOVE: Well, now we're getting right to the heart of the matter. When I asked you are we logical beings, there's an important part of us -- our ego I suppose -- that does not like to admit making an error. And I suppose that to be logical one must admit error.

SCRIVEN: To be logical one must admit the inevitability of error. And therefore to be logical one must get help in finding it. So the logical person brings in a critic, and faces up to the fact that the critic will find error in her or his activities and decisions.

MISHLOVE: We see this happening now in the government of the United States at large -- a similar process where one thing can kind of pile on another, because at some point somebody didn't want to face up to something.

SCRIVEN: Yes, but now there's an interesting difference about what's happening there. What's happening there is that the people that were doing it for the most part were completely non-self-critical. Somebody else has picked it up. Somebody else says, "What in the Lord's name were you doing? You were taking this money -- not only that you shouldn't have been getting in the first place, but you were giving it to somebody you shouldn't have been giving it to in the second place, compounding the felony." But nobody there felt terribly guilty. They thought it was a rather smart idea. Now, that leads us of course to the question of where the educational system fails. What we're talking about is the problem of self protectiveness leading to the absence of a self-critical approach. And I, as you know, have spent a great deal of time trying to work towards improving that situation.

MISHLOVE: In education today around the world, is self criticism integrated into it? I know in China they have these notions of self criticism. It almost seems, at least as we read about it in the West, to be a terribly debasing thing to force somebody to go through.

SCRIVEN: Doesn't it remind you of some interesting Marin County activities of recent years? I mean, it's the Synanon approach, in many ways. Yes, there's an excess in that direction too, but my experience in the last twenty years, and now most recently in Australia, has been that the level of critical thinking taught in the schools is very near zero. I assign my postgraduate students, my doctoral students, critical reading exercises, and after we've gone through it they will say, "You know, never in eighteen years of education have I had to do something other than read for understanding. I've never had to read for seeing the error. I've never had to learn how to criticize." It's a terrible thing to say, and yet it's really widely true. Learning how to criticize is dangerous territory, it's threatening territory. If we're criticizing American history, then of course that's subversive, and then the teacher gets into trouble for doing it. It's very difficult turf for people to get into.

MISHLOVE: So in effect we may be living in a cognitive environment, an intellectual environment, where we all hold many, many assumptions that we have never challenged.

SCRIVEN: And won't let others challenge. It's still too much the case. The reason for starting with the talk about the academy is to try to bring home the extent that even the high priests of thinking are grossly delinquent in this area. They're still very careless. When they responded to Velikovsky, parapsychology, depth psychology in the early days, it's not so much that they didn't have a good case for being skeptical, it's that they thought they had an absolute case for total dismissal. That's pride in one sense, but it's also error.

MISHLOVE: Well, Michael, it's quite interesting the work that you're doing. You're really covering a lot of ground in terms of what's happening in the academies, what's happening in offices, what's happening in people's personal lives -- where we hold assumptions unquestioningly, without really thinking, without evaluating them. I guess the word of wisdom that we can offer to our viewers is to begin to question these things.

SCRIVEN: Yes. Remember those bumper stickers that say, "Question Authority." I've always thought that you could overdo this, but right now we still need about ten thousand percent more of them.

MISHLOVE: Michael Scriven, thank you very much for being with me.

SCRIVEN: Jeffrey, a pleasure.

END 


Index of Transcripts    Top of  this Web Page    Intuition Network Home Page    Thinking Allowed Productions Home Page