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