LEARNING CRITICAL THINKING

To Rescue The Future

 Critical thinking is the ability and willingness to assess claims and make objective judgments on the basis of well-supported reasons. It is the ability to look for flaws in arguments and resist claims that have no supporting evidence. *

Could it be that what this world needs now, in addition to love, is critical thinking? Critical thinking is what we have too little of. Try this fantasy visualization: What if in America today, the president of the United States, the majority of the voters, and most of the politicians were critical thinkers? Would the future of America be different? The future doesn’t exist; it needs to be created. So our mindful future thinking will be crucial to creating a positive future. “It is going to be our minds (cultural evolution) not our genes (biological evolution) that creates or destroys our positive future.”  Peter Russell

Critical thinking is cultivated in our minds. I believe the teaching and learning of critical thinking could be a major factor in changing the direction our nation is heading. Although I am not optimistic about this belief, there is some evidence that teaching critical thinking is increasing in high schools and colleges, although probably not required. One problem with teaching critical thinking is in its definition.

Critical thinking definitions include such terms as objective, reason, skeptical, unbiased, rational, and factual evidence. The adult human mind is so full of cognitive biases and cultural indoctrination that being rational and objective is almost impossible. Some have suggested we teach critical thinking in elementary school, because children may not yet have well developed cognitive biases. But scientist believe the young brain may not be ready.

It seems obvious that today’s president, voters and politicians are not good candidates to learn critical thinking. I am aware that some voters and politicians today are already good critical thinkers. We know that many people, maybe a majority, are not happy with the direction this nation is heading. Is there some way to organize the current critical thinkers and the unhappy voters into a force to create a new future direction? Maybe a new kind of positive conspiracy?

When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: Those who make it happen. Those who let it happen. Those who wonder what happened. John M. Richardson Jr.

Other definitions:                                                                                                                    (critical thinking is a complicated mental process with several definitions)                             * includes the rationalskepticalunbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence.          * the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.                             * a mental process of reviewing clear, rational thoughts based on evidence to reach a             conclusion.

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THE JOY OF ILLUSION

Fallible Yet Enjoyable Perception

  Illusion is the first of all pleasures. Voltaire

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. Albert Einstein

Illusion is defined as an erroneous perception of reality. Seeing the sun rise or sun set isan erroneous perception of reality. So is seeing an airplane getting smaller as it flies away. These are examples of Einstein’s quote. Illusion is pleasurable because the erroneous perception is usually personally positive. An erroneous perception of reality that is personally negative is not enjoyable. But we usually believe what we want to be true, and believing is seeing. This has been the theme of most of my blogs. Because perception and illusion are so significant in today’s world of change and uncertainty, following is a review of some important thoughts about the way we see things.

  • Inattentional blindness, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. The Invisible Gorilla book illustrates the illusion of attention. We experience far less of the world than we think we do. The famous selective attention gorilla test shows how easy it is to not notice what is in plain view; we see only what we pay attention to.
  • What you see is all there is, Daniel Kahneman. In his best-selling book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman makes the point about intuitive thinking, that  you see only what you see; and what you see is the map of your reality. But the map is not the territory. This is an example of “holistic blindness”.
  • Positive Illusions, Shelley Taylor. She identified three common positive illusions. Unrealistically positive views of self. Exaggerated perceptions of personal control. Unrealistic optimism about the future. These are examples of unrealistic perceptions. Being realistic is being aware of things as they really are.
  • The Knowledge Illusion, Stephen Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. In their book they write: By avoiding illusion, you’re more likely to be accurate. But illusion is a pleasure. Many of us spend a significant part of our lives living in illusion quite intentionally. We fantasize to enhance our creativity.
  • Not all illusions are visual, Daniel Kahneman. There are illusions of thought, which are called cognitive illusions. The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future. Errors of intuitive thought are often difficult to prevent. Biases cannot always be prevented.

 Apparently the joys of illusion will always be with us. Rational thinking requires constantly questioning our own intuitive thinking and would be impossibly tedious. However, it is easier to recognize other people’s illusions than our own.

If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion. Noam Chomsky

Nothing is more sad than the death of an illusion. Arthur Koestler

 

 

 

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DOUBT OR CONSEQUENCE

Doubt Leads To Questions — Questions Lead To Wisdom

 To be wise has changed from being able to answer the questions                                                  to being able to question the answers.   Unknown

To doubt or not to doubt; that is the question. Actually, if you don’t doubt, there is no question. The lack of questioning is not the road to wisdom. Doubt is not a four letter word, but it is not very popular. Certainty is more popular because it feels so good. Being closed-minded is clearly not being wise. Although I have written a lot about doubt, I consider this blog an urgent reminder of its importance today. Especially today.

Because doubt and wisdom are themes of this blog, this time I want to share some thoughts of others older and wiser than me.

  • Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. Voltaire
  • Doubt is the beginning not the end of wisdom. George Ille
  • The surest way to lose the truth is to pretend that you already possess it.                   Gordon Allport
  • The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. Bertrand Russell
  • A belief which leaves no place for doubt is not a belief; it is a superstition. Jose Bergamin
  • The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.                      Claude Levi-Strauss

Today, doubt is needed more than ever. Although truth-telling can’t be required, doubt has become an essential skill. The benefit of doubt is found in its consequence: an open mind. The best way to understand the advantage of open-mindedness is to think of the disadvantage of close-mindedness: a closed mind is a dead end; it has no where to go; it eliminates change. If there is no doubt, there is only certainty.

he consequence of not doubting is that it eliminates the consequences (the benefits)  of doubting. What is going on in the mind (and not going on in the mind) determines what we do. Attitudes turn into action. Beliefs become behavior. Thinking and doing are related. The ABC’s of life: Attitudes – Behavior – Consequence.

Keeping the mind open in the face of uncertainty is the single most powerful  secret of unleashing your creative potential. Michael Gelb

 

 

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TRUTH TELLING    

Should It Be Required?                                                                                                        

“I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

Maybe we should require every American citizen to promise to tell the truth. Maybe not. Or maybe we should require every American politician to promise to tell the truth. Maybe not. Or maybe we should require every American president to promise to tell the truth. Maybe not a bad idea.

It is foolish, of course, to expect everyone to tell the truth because everyone probably doesn’t know the truth. And many don’t want to know the truth. It is foolish, of course, to expect every politician to tell the truth because honesty is not the best political policy.  Some could not get reelected if they told the truth. But why can’t we expect, or even require, the U. S. president to tell the truth (under oath)?

This game of truth telling is just a game of course. But I propose we use it to help think about the problem in today’s politics of “Post-truth”:  An adjective defined as relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are les influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Post-truth is a well-known phenomenon today. Three books were just published with that title. Knowing that objective facts are less influential today doesn’t cause people to want to be more influenced by facts. Public opinion today seems to appeal more and more to emotion and personal belief. If this is a trend, and it seems to be, where are we heading?

I wish I could provide some perspective on truth telling. Maybe looking at the definition of truth can help. Truth:  A statement proven to be true or accepted as true. The American Heritage College Dictionary. The trouble with truth is the definition. Apparently something that is accepted as true, although not proven to be true, is true. (Examples: The sun rises and sets, the earth is flat, UFO’s, conspiracy theories, climate change, God exists, God doesn’t exist, etc.). These beliefs, by definition, become truths, if accepted as true by enough people. Truth varies.

So the way we define the problem is the problem. And required truth telling won’t solve the problem.  What will?

… depending on the perspective of the viewer, the angle of vision, the time  frame, and the scale of observation, one might see very different pictures  of the same underlying truth.                              Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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MYSIDE BIAS

Self-Serving Bias In Politics

We prefer to believe what we prefer to be true. Francis Bacon

The confirmation bias is also known as the myside bias and I have come to prefer myside. The bias is defined as: the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and rejects information that contradicts them. This indicates a way of seeing things one way, myside only; believing to be true what one wants to be true.

I believe this tendency is the major reason for today’s political turmoil. In the U S two party political system, it is easy to be “myside partisan”. All you need to know on any given subject is which side you’re on. Andrew Sullivan. In an interesting article in New York magazine (Oct. 1, 2017), Andrew Sullivan suggests that we are a divided “two tribes” country. When the three core components of a tribal identity — race, religion and geography — define your political parties, you’re in serious trouble. I consider this a national political example of myside bias.

However, we not only have a two-sided tribal government, we also have a two-sided voting public. Consider this (from Sullivan’s article): 61 percent of Trump supporters say there’s nothing he could do to make them change their minds about him; 57 percent of his opponents say the same thing. Nothing he could do. To me this is an example of afixed mindset, unable to consider, or even hear other views (myside bias). This also appears to be the mindset of congress. And it eliminates compromise, collaboration, cooperation, agreement, alliance, partnership, and working together, uniting the tribes. Democracy is based on the functioning of these practices.

If myside bias is so strong that it can’t see the other side, how do we overcome this tribal dead-end? Sullivan says: The actual solutions to our problems are to be found in the current no-man’s- land that lies between the two tribes. This requires political compromise, which requires overcoming myside bias, and involves open-minded listening to information and ideas the contradict one’s own. How likely is that with politicians and voters? Not very likely, in my opinion, because open-mindedness requires some amount of uncertainty about what my side believes. And uncertainty is not very popular. Brain research suggests the human brain does not like uncertainty.

 But the confirmation/myside bias isn’t the only interference to political decision making. Other selfish beliefs interfere: Perceptual bias, Uncertainty bias, Bandwagon bias, Self-serving bias. And Blind-spot bias: recognizing the impact of biases on the judgement of others, while failing to see the impact of biases on one’s own judgment. Blind-spot bias makes me believe that politicians and voters will not overcome their myside bias. Sides will remain one-sided. What do you believe?

America isn’t built for humans. Our political system is too naïve to handle tribalism. Tribalism was an urge our founding fathers assumed we could overcome.                      Andrew Sullivan 

 

 

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FACT CHECKING

In The Mind’s Eye

 Every person should have a built-in automatic fact detector operating inside his/her mind’s eye. (To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway’s famous crap detector quote.)

Fact and truth are synonyms. Fact checking is a way to verify the truth of a statement or assertion; to check on its accuracy. It is a way to determine if something is an objective fact or a personal belief. Checking, of course, means to investigate. I believe not many people want to investigate their personal beliefs. (That might actually be a fact if I checked the evidence). In the Post-Truth Age, checking facts may become a necessity.  But how many people can be persuaded to develop a fact detector in their mind’s eye, learning the lessons of fact checking? And do we have the capability to teach the human mind fact-checking?

How about a “Baloney Detection Kit”?  In Carl Sagan’s 1996 book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, he offered his “rules for bullshit busting and critical thinking”. This was a set if cognitive tools and techniques that fortify the mind against penetration by falsehoods. As a proponent of critical thinking, he supported skepticism and believed that many of our problems with critical thinking are rooted in our chronic discomfort with ambiguity. He recommended a vital balance between skepticism and openness. That is what I have been recommending for years. (Why didn’t I know about Sagan’s ideas before, and where did those ideas go?)  A built-in automatic fact detector, along with a built-in crap detector and a baloney detector kit might be a helpful step toward learning critical thinking. But is it possible?

The human mind’s extreme credulity and extreme skepticism is not critical thinking. But you can’t teach the human mind if it isn’t open to new ideas and new thinking. A fixed mindset is one of the biggest obstacles to critical thinking. Another obstacle to learning critical thinking is the notorious “confirmation bias”, the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. Among the many cognitive biases that confront critical thinking, confirmation bias may be the greatest.

Maybe not. Modern technology may turn out to be the biggest obstacle yet. Facts, opinions, falsehoods, beliefs, information and misinformation are coming so fast that the human mind cannot catch up. As Mercier and Sperber write, * This is one of many cases in which the environment changed too quickly for natural selection to catch up.

Fact checking in the mind’s eye seems like an unrealistic fantasy. But the new Information and Technology Curriculum and Media Literacy Teaching Critical Thinking Curriculum give me some room for optimism. Do you see a fantasy or optimism?

·      The Enigma of Reason, 2017. Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber

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BELIEFS AS BRIDGES

Or Barriers

Your beliefs pave your way to success or block you.  Marsha Sinetar

All beliefs are not all the same. Some beliefs are positive; some beliefs are negative. Some are dogmatic, some are tentative. Some optimistic, some pessimistic. Some beliefs are bridges and some beliefs are barriers. Some beliefs are better than others.

This blog is a review of my beliefs about beliefs. Beliefs have been my theme. This is because beliefs become behavior. What we do is strongly influenced by what we believe. If I believe another man is extremely likeable I will befriend him. If one man believes another man is extremely dangerous, he shoots him. For me, beliefs are the cause and effect of human history.

Our minds are the source, and if properly directed,  the solution to all our problems.        The Dalai Lama

If you believed Donald Trump was the solution to the American political problems, you voted for him. If you believed Trump was unfit to be president, you didn’t vote for him. Beliefs have caused people to blow themselves up. Beliefs have caused people to invent wonderful additions to the world. Beliefs lead to positive or negative consequences for believers and/or for others. I believe it is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of beliefs.

Beliefs are learned and can be unlearned. However, learning and unlearning depends on where believers are on the belief continuum. Beliefs are on a continuum from dogmatic to tentative, with passive believers, unaware of what they believe, in between. Dogmatic believers are hard to move along the continuum (maybe impossible). Passive believers can learn to pay attention to their beliefs. Tentative believers are likely to investigate and clarify their beliefs.

My belief about beliefs has lead to my promoting a collective worldview that is open and inclusive. My blogs have always emphasized that believing is seeing is doing. Being open-minded requires positive uncertainty. Being inclusive requires systems thinking, acknowledging that everything is interconnected to every thing else. Believing with an open mind and seeing the big picture creates a worldview that is open and inclusive. The problem with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and putting things in it, Terry Prachett. The problem with trying to have an inclusive worldview is that seeing all there is isn’t possible.

Understanding open-mindedness is maybe possible. Understanding inclusiveness may not be. It requires understanding the interconnectedness of everything. Such complete understanding may not be realistic. This lack of understanding is the cause of many of today’s problems: racism, white supremacy, pro-Nazism, and all forms of exclusiveness. The current political divisiveness is an example of ignoring systems thinking and not understanding interconnectedness. The good news is that today, especially in politics, beliefs as barriers and bridges is receiving a lot of attention.

It is said that beliefs are the ties that blind you. Unknown

 

 

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