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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SKEPTICISM

A Path Toward Critical Thinking

 Extreme credulity is a fraternal twin of extreme skepticism. Kurt Anderson

 A stimulus for this blog came from the writing of Kurt Anderson. * American devotion to religious and intellectual freedom, over the centuries, morphed into a fierce entitlement to custom made reality. He describes the history of this freedom in detail including: The Social Construction of Reality, The John Birch Society, UFO mania, Relativism, Esalen Institute, Conspiracy Theories, The New Age, Gestalt Theory, Psychedelics, and more. American history is full of beliefs and behaviors that have yielded today’s beliefs and behaviors. Reading Anderson made me realize that where we are today is where we have been heading.

I believe there are two major problems in today’s political and pubic discourse. One is extreme credulity and the other is extreme skepticism.  That’s like being too certain or being too uncertain. And I believe the remedy is critical thinking. We have reached the point where too many people believe only what they want to believe (extreme credulity, Post-truth). And also where too many people believe that every thing is relative and there is no such thing as truth (extreme skepticism, from the 60s). A contributing factor to both of these problems is modern technology, which has produced information glut and social media. This leaves little room for critical thinking.

As I am writing this blog, I realize that although uncertainty and doubt have been frequently employed in my writing for years, I don’t believe I have used the words skeptical or skepticism, or critical thinking. Critical thinking, disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence, is the theme of this blog.

Scott Lilienfeld calls critical thinking — reasoning that helps compensate for our biases. Reasoning is defined as: The action of thinking about something in a logical, sensible way. There is also scientific thinking that involves applying skepticism to ideas and forming testable hypotheses. These definitions help explain the need to understand today’s beliefs and behaviors, created by uncritical thinking and “custom made reality”.

 If critical/scientific thinking is a remedy for these problems of today, then there is some cause for encouragement because critical thinking is being taught more and more in public education, K-12, college and in adult workshops. Also new curricula are offered to help students spot fake news and develop proficiency in the ability to use digital technology, communication tools, and/or networks appropriately to solve information problems in order to function in an information society. (Media Literacy Curriculum, Information and Communication Technology Curriculum, Media Literacy Teaching Critical Thinking.) Although we can’t expect todays adults, who are too certain or too uncertain, to learn critical/scientific thinking, teaching more open-minded adults and youth may be possible. Once I learn more about these, I may post another blog.

  • Anderson is the author of FANTASYLAND, How America Went Haywire; A 500 Year History, 2017. I have not read the book but did read his, How America Lost Its Mind, in the September Atlantic and a review, National Delusions by Hanna Rosin, in The New York Times Book Review, Sept.10, 2017

 

 

 

 

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I AM WHAT I THINK

Or Am I?

I think, therefore I am. Descartes, 1637

 Thinking has been written about for a long time; before and after we studied the brain, the unconscious mind, cognitive biases and the influence of technology. For example:

There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Shakespeare                            Thinking is the grand originator of our experience. William James                                           We don’t think the way we think we think. Duncan Watts                                                             All that is, is the result of what we have thought.   Buddha

And I have also participated more recently in my blogs. Thinking about thinking is a complex skill, using all your mindsight and full mind.   H B Blog 2014

If I don’t think, am I not what I am? Would a life without thinking be without good and bad? Is it possible not to think? I believe thinking is like breathing; it is something we do every day and we put it on auto pilot and don’t pay attention to it. And yet, paying attention to our thinking has been recommended many years ago. Be the witness of your thoughts, Buddha. This blog is to remind you and me to think about our thinking.

I wonder how many of us think the way we think we think? My guess is that most people don’t often think about their thinking. As I think about it, I realize I have been speaking and writing about thinking since 1989, Positive Uncertainty. Believing is a synonym for thinking and a big part of my writing. Thoughts and beliefs have consequences, even if I don’t think about them. They are the originator of my experience.

People know others by what they do, not by what they think. But to know why others do what they do, we need to know what others think. That is why I have focused on the complex skill of thinking about thinking for years. I believe that thinking is one of the most important things I do, along with the synonym believing. I have often proposed that “believing is seeing is doing”. Beliefs and thoughts become behavior; that’s important! It could be argued that the positives and negatives of the world’s history were caused by human thinking and believing. Has my thinking been an asset or a liability?

I have spent the most part of my adult life thinking about my thinking, and encouraging others to think about their thinking. I am not sure how successful I have been in either case. Others before me have been thinking and writing about thinking. How successful have they been? So, are you successfully thinking about your thinking?

A great many people think they are thinking when they are                                                        merely rearranging their prejudicesWilliam James                                                       Thinking is the greatest torture in the world for most people. Unknown                                 

 

 

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THE BELIVING DILEMMA

Credulity — A Disposition To Believe Too Readily

 Man’s natural state is not doubt, but credulitya combination of suggestibility in the face of whatever is clearly and strongly presented, and the will-to-believe whatever is personally or socially congenial.   Harold Larrabee, 1945

It is well known that we believe what we want to believe. We prefer to believe what we prefer to be true. Francis Bacon. Our tendency to believe what “sounds right” has become a big problem today, especially in politics. In order to become a rational, mindful believer today requires paying more careful attention to the difference between opinion and fact than ever before.

This is hard to do because of the incredibly easy access to whatever is clearly and strongly presented, and whatever is personally or socially congenial. This onslaught of data feeds our disposition to believe too readily. If there is such a thing as “extreme credulity”, technology of the future may achieve it.

Although credulity has probably existed forever, I believe it is possible to say that believing whatever we want to believe is an extremely serious problem today, even dangerous to democracy, because it dominates political discourse.  Mark Twain once said: A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting its shoes on. In today’s politics, this lie can travel all the way around America.

The political strategy of today seems to be: Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is already made up. This allows believing whatever is personally or socially congenial. When today’s president speaks, he speaks with “baseless certainty” — as described by his associates. This frees him from restrictions on his opinions or beliefs. When he says something, that makes it the truth.

It seems to me that today it is important that we acknowledge that American democracy is in a credibility crisis. Something needs to be done. Who is capable of doing it? Not the president. Apparently not the congress. The overwhelming influence of credulity in today’s political discourse, needs public acknowledgement and action.

The remedy for credulity is to slow down our believing with uncertainty, which would lead to an investigation of the reality of one’s opinions AND facts. If doubt is not our natural state, it needs to be learned. Baseless certainty won’t work. My suggestion: “Confuse me with facts, so my mind can see reality.”  Facts may not be personally or socially congenial, so they challenge credulity. Political credulity needs to be challenged.

Every man prefers belief to the exercise of judgement.  Seneca

We have become so accustomed to our illusions                                                                              that we mistake them for reality.” Daniel J. Boorstin

 

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LOOKING FOR KNOWLEDGE

 Inside An Eco Chamber Of Like-Minded Friends 

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. Daniel Patrick Moynihan

 We are now in the world of alternative facts, truthiness, fake news and a growing number of opinionists: person fond of, or unduly attached to his own opinions, and fond of making them known. (Dictionary). Today it is hard to know what we know and don’t know. We fail to draw an accurate line between what is inside and outside our heads. And we fail because there is no sharp line. So we frequently don’t know what we don’t know. Stephen Sloman and Phillip Fernbach

This blog is the result of my recently reading The Knowledge Illusion, by Stephen Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. Although I have frequently written about what we don’t know, this book presents an interesting new look. The authors suggest that we never think alone. They say individual thinking is a myth; we rely on the expertise of others for almost all of our needs. We treat knowledge in the minds of others as our own.

People rarely appreciate their ignorance, because they lock themselves inside an eco chamber of like-minded friends and self-confirming newsfeeds where their beliefs are constantly reinforced and seldom challenged. Sloman and Fernbach

This presents a serious problem today. There once was a time when “truthiness” wouldn’t have made any sense as a joke. Today, everything about truth and knowledge is a joke. American politics is filled with opinionists. The same is true of the voting public. It is hard to make sense of political and public discourse. The problem today is determining the difference between opinion and fact. Treating opinion, knowledge, or fact in the minds of others as our own won’t work. And an unwillingness to challenge our own convictions also won’t work.

The world is becoming more complex, and people fail to realize how ignorant they are. Consequently, some who know next to nothing about meterology or biology nevertheless conduct fierce debates about climate change and genetically modified crops, while others hold extremely strong views about what should be done about Iraq or Ukraine without being able to locate them on the map.  The Knowledge Illusion, 2017

f course, this brings me back to the theme of all of my writing: “Positive Uncertainty”. And one of my favorite quotes. It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, its what you know for sure that ain’t so, Mark Twain. Be careful of facts you know for sure. Beware of your dogma. Beware of what others think. Try not to be an opinionist. Mentally step out of the “eco chamber”. Know where your opinions are coming from.

Whose knowledge to trust? An uncertainty will lead to investigating, questioning, and considering knowledge as a hypothesis. Both what you know and don’t know can get you in trouble, in spite of Mark Twain. Knowing is a complicated interconnection of personal experience, bias, opinion and the eco-chamber. Where do you look for your knowledge?

The utilization of knowledge is an art. Alfred North Whitehead

 

 

 

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A PRACTICAL THEORY

Is This An Oxymoron?

Dictionary Definitions

Practical: Capable of being used or put into effect; useful.                                                       Theory: A set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based.

 Often during my career, I was told that I preached theories, not practical advice. I have justified my practice by responding with: “There is nothing more practical than a good theory.” Which leads to the title and subtitle above. I think the dictionary definitions help support my position. A good theory is one that presents a set of principles that can be put into effect and can be useful. That’s practical.

My Positive Uncertainty and The Process of Illumination decision making theories are also beliefs and principles. By definition a belief is a set of principles on which one’s behavior is based. Beliefs are theories that become behavior. Therefore, there is also nothing more practical than a good belief. The problem becomes: What is a good belief?  What is a good theory?

I have often written that some beliefs are better than others. Better beliefs are tentative and open-minded. They are not dogmatic or closed-minded. I believe the same would be true of a good theory. A good theory is a hypothesis, open for inspection and possible revision. Theories determine practice, beliefs become behavior; What could be more practical?

My decision making theories come from a set of beliefs and principles and lead to advice about the practice of making decisions. These beliefs and principles are capable of being put into effect, useful. Therefore, I consider them to be practical

Here is a sampling of my theoretical advice from the beliefs and principles of my decision making theory. Hopefully they are useful and practical.

  • Be focused and flexible about what you want.
  • Keep your mind’s eye on what you cannot see.
  • Beware of your dogma.
  • Use goals to guide you not govern you.
  • Accept uncertainty without being paralyzed by it.
  • Treat truths as hypotheses.
  • Become as capable of change as the environment.

Practical wisdom investigates what we can change                                                                       and aims at making good choices. Aristotle

 

 

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