How to think clearly


Dexter Sinister
#1
Given all the uncritical thinking being displayed in threads like “Vanni’s Challenge,” “Challenge Vanni,” and “The End of Reason,” I though it might be useful to post this somewhere, and this seems like the right place. This is about critical thinking, how to avoid being fooled, separating the good and useful ideas from the bad and silly ones. The essential point is that clear and correct thinking is not something we’re born knowing how to do, it’s a learned skill like any other and requires work, study, and practise. I claim no originality here, this particular formulation of six rules is due to James Lett, whose original essay can be found here:

www.csicop.org/si/9012/critical-thinking.html (external - login to view)

And you might also usefully look here for some critical thinking lessons:

www.skepdic.com/refuge/ctlessons.html (external - login to view)

Since some folks are disinclined to follow links, I’ll summarize Lett’s essay for you.

1. Falsifiability.

This idea is due to Karl Popper, who used it to distinguish science from pseudoscience: Any true claim must in principle be falsifiable. It must be possible to at least imagine evidence that would prove it false. This really amounts to saying that the evidence must matter. If no conceivable evidence could ever disprove a claim, then the evidence in its favour doesn’t matter either, it’s impervious to any kind of evidence. That doesn’t mean such a claim must be therefore be true, it just means the claim is meaningless in any factual sense. Or, to use a sparkling phrase from one of my old professors, it is “propositionally vacuous.”

2. Logic

Any argument offered in support of a claim must be logically sound. This means the conclusion must follow unavoidably from the premises and the premises must be true. This is often hard to be sure of. It’s easy to produce an absolutely valid argument and come to a completely false conclusion if you start with false premises. Knowing whether the premises are true or not can involve a lot of work and a lot of additional information.

3.Comprehensiveness

The evidence offered in support of a claim must be comprehensive. You must consider all the evidence, not just the material that supports the claim. You’re not allowed to pick the evidence you like and discard the rest.

4. Honesty

The evidence must be evaluated without deception, of yourself or others; you must be honest. This is often very difficult to do, because the will to believe is so strong, and it’s very easy to deceive yourself no matter how careful you are.

5. Replication

Any test or experiment must be duplicated by others, with the same result. This is the safeguard against fraud, error, and coincidence. A single test result by itself is never adequate.

6. Sufficiency

The evidence offered in support of a claim must be sufficient to establish its truth. In particular, testimonials are never adequate. No credentials place anybody above the risk of fallibility, and sincerity is worth nothing.

And there are some additional stipulations: the burden of proof is on the claimant, and extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

The burden of proof is on the claimant for a simple reason: failing to prove something is false is not the same as proving it’s true. For instance, we cannot prove no UFOs are alien spacecraft, the best we can do is show that it’s highly unlikely, so anybody making that claim has to prove the positive. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence for reasons of balance. If I claim it rained last Tuesday where I live, you’d be justified in accepting my claim as reasonable on the basis of your own experience of the world. But if I claim I was abducted by aliens who performed a variety of humiliating and invasive medical procedures on me last Tuesday, you’re justified in demanding more substantial evidence than just my claim. The ordinary evidence of my testimony is adequate for ordinary claims, but not for bizarre ones like alien abduction.

James Lett summarized it this way: “Because human beings are often motivated to rationalize and to lie to themselves, because they are sometimes motivated to lie to others, because they can make mistakes, and because perception and memory are problematic, we must demand that the evidence for any factual claim be evaluated without self-deception, that it be carefully screened for error, fraud, and appropriateness, and that it be substantial and unequivocal.” Any claim that fails any of these six rules deserves to be rejected. Passing all six doesn’t mean something is true, but it does mean you’re justified in placing considerable confidence in it.

And just for completeness, here’s a partial list of some things that fail the tests of those six rules, in no particular order except the order they occurred to me: astrology, palmistry, graphology, iridology, reflexology, reincarnation, talking with the dead, astral projection, spirit channelling, telepathy, teleportation, telekinesis, clairvoyance, hidden codes in the Bible, anything Nostradamus ever wrote and anything anyone now thinks it might mean, Tarot, Ouija boards, homeopathy, pyramidology, dowsing, psychic surgery, alien abductions, crystal therapy, creation science, intelligent design theory, anything Erich von Daniken ever published, anything Emmanuel Velikovsky ever published, anything James Redfield’s published with the word ‘Celestine’ anywhere in it, anything ‘non-fiction’ L. Ron Hubbard ever published, anything with the name Art Bell, Whitley Streiber, or Deepak Chopra attached to it....ach, the list is endless.
 
Reverend Blair
#2
Great links, Dexter.
 
peapod
#3
thanks for the links also dex, although my gut always told me deepak chopra was only working on his bank account :P
 
Vanni Fucci
#4
Excellent links Dex, and thank you...

In addition to, but related to points 4 and 6, I think it's imperative to look at the possible motivation of the claimant.

For instance, if a claim is made that greenhouse gas emissions do not cause global warming trends, replete with scientific data to support the claim, and the claimant may have a wall full of valid credentials, but if they also happen to be a consultant with a big oil company, then chances are the data is skewed and false.

Likewise, the motivations of the clergy, will almost certainly preclude them from offering any truths as to validity of religious doctrine or the existence of God. They have too much stake in the outcome to be impartial.

Again, thank you for offering us all the opportunity to hone our critical analysis skillset...because thinking clearly never did anyone any harm...
 
peapod
#5
Your post is deleted pancake lady, this is about "cyrtical thinking" start a bible verse thread if you feel the need, otherwise stop trolling the threads.

Best Ever Pancakes or Waffles

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk OR 3/4 c. plain yogurt + 1/4 c. water

1 large egg

2 tablespoons oil

Food processor method: Put the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a food processor. Process briefly to mix. Add the buttermilk, or yogurt and water, egg and oil. Turn the machine on-off (pulse) 3 or 4 times to make a smooth batter. By hand method: Put the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl. Stir to mix well. Measure the buttermilk in a 2-cup glass measure. Add the egg and oil to the measuring cup. Beat with a fork or wire whisk to blend. Add to the flour mixture and stir to form a smooth batter.

For pancakes: Heat the griddle or skillet over moderately high heat until it feels hot when you hold your hand directly above it. Lightly grease the griddle. For each pancake, pour 1/4 cup batter onto the griddle. Cook 3-5 minutes, until bubbles appear on the surface and the undersides are golden brown. Adjust the heat if the pancakes are browning too fast. Turn the pancakes over and cook 1-2 minutes longer to brown the second side.

Makes 8 4" pancakes.
Serves 4.
 
Reverend Blair
#6
8, 4" pancakes serve four people? Maybe with 3 eggs each and some sausages on the side.
 
Jay
#7
"the ineffectiveness of public education, which generally fails to teach students the essential skills of critical thinking. "

Now that’s critical thinking....
 
peapod
#8
Ya, and you have demonstated your over and over again Jay
 
Jay
#9
Oh come on Pea, no I haven’t....I believe in God, and I don't vote NDP....


As far as I'm concerned you have to be pretty darn high on yourself to post this statement...

"Given all the uncritical thinking being displayed in threads like “Vanni’s Challenge,” “Challenge Vanni,” and “The End of Reason,” I though it might be useful to post this somewhere, and this seems like the right place. "

Folks, the moral of this story is, if you believe in God, keep it to yourself, It isn't critical thinking. If you have conservative points of view, you’re not critically thinking. Basically if you don't agree with the "gods" around here, you’re not critically thinking.
 
peapod
#10
Stop preaching and actually say something. You have the brains apparently from what I can see.
 
Reverend Blair
#11
Belief in an invisible, omnipotent man up in the sky isn't critical thinking, Jay. That's very true.
 
Dexter Sinister
#12
Quote: Originally Posted by Jay

As far as I'm concerned you have to be pretty darn high on yourself to post this statement...

Ad hominem attacks will avail you nothing.
 
Twila
#13
Quote:

Belief in an invisible, omnipotent man up in the sky isn't critical thinking,

What about invisible omnipotent women in the sky?
 
Hard-Luck Henry
#14
Quote: Originally Posted by Twila

Quote:

Belief in an invisible, omnipotent man up in the sky isn't critical thinking,

What about invisible omnipotent women in the sky?

Now you're just being facetious. God's got a beard; everyone knows that.
 
Twila
#15
Quote:

Now you're just being facetious. God's got a beard; everyone knows that.

I maybe facetious but your being very chauvanistic to assume only men can grow beards!
 
Aizlynne
#16
All I can say is yipes! You guys sure get off track easily. They should start an A.D.D room! lol
 
Twila
#17
Aizlynne. Some of us have enlarged silly bones.
 
Reverend Blair
#18
That's true...I know this one woman and...well let's just say that if she had piercing eyes she'd look just like Chuck Manson.
 
peapod
#19
There also some of us that.....

Oh yeah I’m the type of guy/girl that likes to roam around
I’m never in one place I roam from thread to thread
And when I find myself a-arguing with some homo sapiens
I hop right on to that mouse of mine and ride around the board
Yeah ’cause I’m a wanderer yeah a wanderer
I roam around around around...
’cause I’m a wanderer yeah a wanderer
I roam around around around... :P
 
Aizlynne
#20
Quote: Originally Posted by Reverend Blair

That's true...I know this one woman and...well let's just say that if she had piercing eyes she'd look just like Chuck Manson.

I wonder what she looks like on a bad hair day!
 
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