Friday, March 02, 2007

The Baloney Detection Kit is not enough

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This ‘Critical Thinking movement’ that I hear people talk about is too shallow for me to be comfortable with. Critical thinking is a discipline and a lifestyle choice. I choose to do it, but most of the people I know do not and call me weird, but they tell me that I’m ‘really smart’ and trust my judgment.

my short list:

After studying critical thinking on my own intensely the last two years, for me the most ‘bang for the buck’ came out of studying Informal Logic, Persuasion theories, Debate tactics, Toulmans rationale and model of argumentation, argumentation schemes and presumptive reasoning (Douglas Waltons book), Theories of Dialectics and pragmatism, Social Psychology and scientific studies of motivation and altruism, comparative religion studies and introspection.

my long list:

I think that people learn by observation. We learn how to communicate by reading, watching T.V., teachers, parents, friends, advertisements and politicians. We learn a lot of poor reasoning skills this way. I think everyone learns differently but here is what works for me as I do it on my own.

It is organized according to level of effort.

- Redefine ‘argument’ for yourself to exclude the word ‘quarrel’. Decide you will not ‘quarrel’ again.

- Eat right, get plenty of rest, because above all the brain is a bag of chemicals.

- Pay attention, listen, read carefully

- Look for oversimplification, this covers a lot of ground in argumentation schemes.

- Look for presumptions, or unexpressed premises that the statement depends on

- Look for generalizations

- Look for extremes

- Use the scientific method, chances are we learned it in high school.

- look for the conclusion and find the premises in a paragraph, we learned this in high school too.

- Learn the basics of reasoning, DATA, PREMISE, WARRANT, BACKING, CONCLUSION

- learn to use ockhams razor

- learn to expect extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims.

- Listen to or watch science shows

- Pick up a copy of the skeptical inquirer, or skeptic magazine

- Listen to skeptical podcasts or tv shows ( I half-heartedly recommend Penn and Tellers Bullsh**)

- Pick up an LSAT test prep book that has the answers and an analysis of the answers and do it.

- Read Informal Logic books or High School Debate strategy books (for the sections on reasoning and persuasion). Reading creates mental shortcuts to memory. Be careful about “critical thinking” books or books about ‘Fallacies’. I’ve found ‘critical thinking’ and ‘fallacy’ books and websites to misrepresent Argumentation Schemes as typically being fallacious. The truth about ‘fallacies’ didn’t sink in until I read books by van Eemeren and Grootendorst, Douglas Walton and the team of Johnson and Blair. I highly recommend Douglas Walton.

Once you have learned the basics, then start applying them.

- Pick something easy and analyze Bill O’Reilly interviews on TV or in transcripts from Fox news website.

- look for loaded language

- look for Bias

- Look for the ‘dependencies’ which are presumptions and unexpressed premises in O’Reilly and Op-Ed pieces from, articles picked by or
Church sermons and religious apologetics but be careful, because with a little introspection and biblical criticism, you might find yourself deconverted.

- Eavesdrop and listen to discussions around you.

- Watch news interviews to help you learn how to ask critical questions

- learn to use ‘I’ statements and avoid ‘you’ statements when you…

- learn to ask critical questions. Remembering the right question at the right time has a lot to do with the mental shortcuts you created in the process of learning.

- try to pick your battles, you may have to learn to keep your mouth shut.

- Take a psychology course and a social psychology course

- Start a blog anonymously and type in what you think or keep a diary. Go back and read it after a few days to critique yourself.

- be careful what you say because the more people know you and trust your judgement, the less they doubt you. Peoples trust is invaluable.

- do a variety of logic puzzles or games. They can be found at the bookstore in the magazine sections.

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