In class this week we've been talking about two categories of cognitive biases: 1. biases that compel us to see PATTERNS where there aren't any, or attribute MEANING to meaningless patterns, and 2. biases that interfere with our ability to properly weigh evidence (e.g. confirmation bias).
We also talked about a historical case study, the "discovery" of N-Rays by Rene Blondlot in 1903, that illustrates how these kinds of biases can interact and lead scientists astray if they're not careful.
The slideshow used in the lecture is embedded below, followed by some links and discussion (click the "Read More" link).
One of the things I do with the blog is share answers to reader questions, if I think it might be of interest to the Critical Thinker Academy readership. Sometimes these are general philosophy questions, like this. Tarik asks:
Can you discuss the theory of "deontology" in an nutshell?"
I'll give it a shot.
There is a confusion that I’ve started paying more attention to recently. It’s rarely discussed in logic texts but it shows up frequently in student writing.
The problem is when students use the term “follows” when they should be saying “follows from”.
Example: “The argument is valid, the conclusion follows the premises.”
At first I thought this was a minor glitch, but now I think it's connected to a deeper problem, which is that the logical notion of “following from” is genuinely unfamiliar to many students and takes a while to absorb, and their initial interpretation of the concept of “following” isn’t logical, but rather sequential.
And this, I think, is symptomatic of a larger problem -- that many students manage to get through thirteen or more years of public education and are still, for practical purposes, "logically illiterate".
Let me explain...
Here's an old podcast episode that proved to be quite popular. [Note: the "criticalthinkerpodcast.com" website that is mentioned in the video no longer exists. All the podcast episodes are hosted on this site and on YouTube.]
As critical thinkers, it's important to understand how we OUGHT to reason. This is what we learn when we study logic, argumentation and other normative theories of reasoning. But it's equally important to understand how we IN FACT reason, how our minds ACTUALLY work.
Every critical thinker should be familiar with the concept of a "cognitive bias". In this episode of The Critical Thinker podcast I give an overview of what cognitive biases are and why they're important.
Did you like this episode? Feel free to share the link! And don't hesitate to leave comments below.
It's been pretty exciting launching the new site and getting so much positive feedback from people.
The decision to make all the video content available for free wasn't made lightly, since it commits me to a very different revenue model than the one I've been pursuing the past couple of years. But I'm convinced it was the best choice, both for me and for the audience that values this content.
Site development takes time when you're a one-person show. Apart from recreating all the pages on this new platform and writing up full transcripts, I've also been uploading dozens of videos to Youtube, creating completed playlists for all the tutorial courses. That task is still not done (the Propositional Logic videos aren't all uploaded yet, at the time of writing this).
Several people have taken the time to thank me particularly for the Youtube uploads. For example, I got this in my inbox just yesterday:
I want to emphasize how important the posting of your content on YouTube has made. My wife and I both have a Roku in our living room which allows us to watch all the online content we love (we do not have cable).
This convenience factor has now made it so that both her and I will make time once a week to watch your videos in our living room on our nice 50 inch HDTV. We usually follow up with the guys over at CrashCourse, SixtySymbols, or PeriodicVideos.
The intersection of your high quality content and easy to consume distribution channel has made a world of difference.
That's very nice to hear, and reinforces an important point about new media and content providers, which is that more people want to consume digital media in different ways, so if you want to maximize the value of the content you should be thinking about these different distribution channels. In this case, uploading videos in HD really helps the viewing experience when some people are watching them on 50 inch HDTVs!
The other big project I need to complete is the quizzes. I'm advertising embedded quizzes for each of the videos, but if you look around (again, at the time of writing this) there aren't any to be seen! This is just a matter of time. I've got to finish the Youtube uploads first, then finish embedding the Youtube videos in the site webpages, and then I can start the process of creating new quizzes and embedding them in each of the video tutorial pages. It'll take a while before they're all done, but once it's finished I think it will really add a lot of value to the site.
Thanks again for everyone's encouragement and support! It makes it all worthwhile!
In class earlier this week we were talking about the importance of understanding what's actually at issue in a debate before trying to analyze the arguments you encounter. This is especially important when assessing arguments presented through the mass media on issues that are ideologically contentious.
A good example is the debate over gun control laws. Those in favor of tougher gun control legislation are often puzzled by the degree of resistance these proposals receive from gun rights advocates. When you encounter this kind of resistance it's often a sign that there are deeper issues that aren't being addressed.
John Stewart's recent review of the gun control debate illustrates the importance of pushing an issue to uncover what's really motivating a debate. If you dig a little you see that the resistance isn't over what policies will best reduce gun violence, or how to interpret the Second Amendment. The resistance -- the "Alex Jones"-level of resistance -- is rooted in fear of government power and control. The issue is whether (1) it's reasonable to think that the US government poses a serious threat to its citizens, and (2) whether private gun ownership has an important role to play in mitigating or neutralizing this threat.
One of the six pillars of critical thinking is ARGUMENTATION. So let’s talk about this.
Rhetoric is the “art of persuasive speech”. Arguments are a form of persuasive speech, so argumentation is a type of rhetoric. But argumentation has features that distinguish it from other forms of rhetorical speech. Here I want to make a few points about what argumentation is and what we can realistically expect of a theory of good argumentation.
What is the ultimate goal of critical thinking? I don’t know how to answer that. It strikes me as similar to questions like “what is the goal of good writing?”. There are lots of ways in which writing can be good or bad, and some people will be good at some aspects of writing and bad at others.
Critical thinking is the same way. In general one might say that the goal of critical thinking is to improve the quality of one's beliefs and judgments, but critical thinking has many dimensions, and people can be good at some and bad at others.