I apologize that its been a bit long since the last update, but I took my time to work on this next post because it is both especially important to me and especially in depth.
I'm sure that you can tell by some of the links I may host over on the side bar, that I am a some what skeptical person. It's true, when someone comes up to you and your friends or colleagues and starts telling them about some new product or treatment they heard about, or some personal story about ghosts or aliens, I'm the one jerk that begins asking questions about the credibility of their information. It may seem like I'm just being doubtful or arrogant or close minded. What I am truthfully doing though isn't being skeptical, arrogant or close minded... in fact what I am really doing is thinking critically. I am applying the scientific method to both the information I am reviewing, and to my understanding of the subject. I am actually being more open minded than people who except information without a filter, by taking an objective look and critically thinking about whats being claimed.
The skepticism comes afterwards..
I should say that there are things I am typically skeptical of, because the subjects may raise certain red flags, or are subjects that are typically wildly speculated about. things like, Alien abduction, ghost encounters and big foot of course, but also things like sensationalist words "Organic" "chemicals" " Energy" "psychic". The list could go on.. but it basically encompasses unsubstantiated claims and pseudoscience.
But having the ability to think critically about something is much deeper than just being skeptical about things. What is the point of being skeptical and debunking things just to debunk things?
Besides shit loads of fun.
The Truth Is critical thinking is a major skill that is completely under taught, under appreciated, but absolutely essential to maintain a logical and reasoned society. It prevents people from understanding things based off of more than just feelings, and induction.
First there are some thing I should define. As i post my blog entries there, and delve in to certain subjects there is some air that must be cleared.
Lets start with:
I could post the dictionary definition here, but you can go look it up yourself.
ok fine here it is
sci·ence/ˈsaɪəns/ Show Spelled[sahy-uhns]
a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.
systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
any of the branches of natural or physical science.
Fine, but what does that mean?
well to simplify it, Science is a collection of systems put into place to objectively test observations about the physical world
Its not a religion.
its not a belief system.
its not a political party.
Its not an opinion.
its literally just a system of checks and balances that objectively examines data, and evaluates evidence.
its a just a tool, a method for understanding our universe.
when you hear people say that "science, is trying to hold back the cure for cancer!" they are literally saying Gibberish. Science cant hold things back or have an agenda, because all it does is look at evidence. If evidence is negative or unfalsifiable, then the "secret cure for cancer" is most likely not plausible.
enough about that, lets save it for a later blog post.
Today we are here for Critical thinking
So then what is critical thought and logic?
Its a simple formula. Science applied to thought, to set an objective basses for how ideas and arguments can formulate. A method for ensuring that our understanding of information and our interpretation of that information are not prone to be feelings or fallacious.
Look... you've got a dick load of information that flies at you all day like screaming Medusa heads in a castlevania game... and anyone who has ever played one of those games knows those fucking Medusa heads are BULLSHIT. Most of the information you will come across will also probably be bullshit or desperately in need of some type of filtering. More importantly though you have to protect your mind from all angles... especially yourself.
We are human. The first thing you need to realize as a human is that you are fallible, and that you're mind isn't perfect and that you don't know everything. When you make basic assumptions off of subjective experiences and reasoning, you are preforming something called inductive reasoning. The problem of induction, is that it typically cannot stand up to an objective method of checks and balances
An example of which is something I frequently come across daily
" Ive had a device like this all of my life and I've never seen it do this before"
That doesn't mean it cant.....
A person has induced that due to their own prior experience with similar devices that a particular issue or feature cannot be possible on this particular device, despite no other assurance other than that of personal experience. Their reasoning is inductive because it was gathered only from what they personally know, with out regard for the fact they did not bother to learn more.
A simpler example that is more well known uses swans to explain.
"I have only ever seen white swans, therefor all swans are white"
This inductive reasoning is of course negated by these mythical creatures
When someone does not take the time to, increase their own knowledge base on a subject, or check sources of information about the issues or claims they are making they are liable to fall to the fallacy of arguing out of ignorance, because the only attempt they made at understand it is scant or nonexistent.
People can also be ruled by feeling, because of induction. "I don't under stand, but I feel this is right."
In my last blog post I described how I had trouble with coming to terms with being an atheist because it I couldn't get over the feeling of wanting to believe in god. Despite all of my research and understanding, because I had emotions about the subject I felt that it had to be true. I could not fathom that the emotion itself was something that could be a flaw.
Just because we are aware enough to recognize that we have emotions, does not mean that the emotions them selves are anything special. Being objective means recognizing and eliminating bias to form logic.
In a real discussion or argument, an argument based off of how you feel about someone or a subject is garbage.
"It's very unlikely that the US government caused 9/11"
"But, George Bush is a corrupt selfish idiot!"
"That doesn't mean he caused 9/11"
Oh conspiracy theorists...have fun jumping at shadows
You cant just except everything you experience and hear or read, leaving the door in your head wide open to every crackpot Idea. You've got to ask the questions that help you discern whats reality based, versus what is hoopla.
You've excepted that you are human and cant know everything, but then how do you verify the reliability of something?
By asking questions!
You could go with the heavy Socratic Questions,
A method Developed by Socrates, of asking questions that helps one objectively gather information to analyze
Are you making assumptions?
What evidence is there?
Is there reason to doubt the evidence?
What are the consequences or implications?
Are the questions I'm asking relevant? If so, which ones and why?
Yeah that may seem a little heavy for some of our common, day to day interactions. You could leave this method to things you want to check out with more time or preparation. Especially things you are interested in or are planning to be involved in (read: new age or fringe medical practices).
For you more common occurrences you can at least abide by the "who, what, where, why, when, how" questions.
How did they do this?
Who said this?
when did they announce it?
why haven't we heard about this?
where can I look this up?
Bam.. you've just taken the time to critically think about a claim/issue/subject you've heard, seen or read.
Rather than just taking the information for granted and excepting it because it was said. Now in your free time if you choose to you can learn more about the subject, check the sources, deem if the information is credible or if it is the, some non peer reviewed jargon or urban legend.
You have the ability to detect and sift through bullshit, not fall pray to being taken advantage of, or flat out debunk a fallacious statement and encourage reason.
Of course for some of your more common urban legends, or "first hand account stories" this is harder to do especially when its a friend or someone you consider reliable.
The key here is really to just stay grounded. How likely is the event in question? If its claims are to good to be true or super natural then there is reason to be scientifically skeptical. Seriously! I'm not saying that cause I'm close minded, I'm saying it because all we have to go on is evidence in material reality. Supernatural claims typically have no way of testing or falsifying the evidence even f there is any and when something cant be tested its likely not plausible.
"I know a dude who says he can fly!"
"holy crap, can he show us!?"
"no he says he can only do it when nothing else is around"
"My mom can predict the future!"
"Oh My SHit can she tell me when I will die!?"
" No! she can only predict the future of random people she doesn't know. She predicted that a person would die in a car accident, the next day there was a car accident on the beltway!"
"There is a car accident on the beltway every day......."
"I know but isn't that creepy!?"
Another great tool? Google! When you hear something that has the makings of a great urban legend. Look it up! Most of the time you will find that the story has been passed around or modify for generations, or that the information is rehashed versions of some old already refuted hoopla.
An urban Legend that I encounter almost daily is this.
"Oh man! you re name is great... You know I know a woman Named Ladasha!? She spells her name La-a!"
No you fucking don't.
I've heard this over and over again in so many different variations, mostly because it is similar to my own name. I've seen it passed around in emails and on websites.
Whether or not there will be a person named La-a in the near feature doesn't matter( although it would be the worst). You don't know a woman named La-a, and My research on their even being one turns up this fake Facebook profile.
This is the most awesome wall post.
You wont always be able to tell when something sounds fishy of course. Brian Dunning on his Skeptoid podcast, describes some red flags you can use to detect, bad claims and what not. Its a great introduction to get you thinking. Another great source on living as a scientifically skeptical person in a world that is full of terrible Ideas is Carl Sagans, The Demon Haunted World.
Critical thinking is essential. For some reason though the entire world seems to lack the ability to do it. The only way you can have a truth argument about something is when you arguments are formed from logic and have had critical thinking applied to them. The entire world from governments to media outlets seem to completely ignore this fact and barrage you instead by listing opinion as fact, or not checking facts at all.
Believe me.. Just because its on TV does not make it true.. and I'm not just Talking about these Ghost adventures shows. I'm talking about the Bon-a-fide NEWS. Local, network, international. Even the outlets that are suppose to be "Fair and unbalanced" (shut the fuck up Fox News) and are suppose to be the epitome of Research and Journalism can often times feed right into feeding pseudoscience and or not using scientific skepticism. Whether they are parroting sensationalist claims or giving the same equal status to unsubstantiated claims as they would to scientific theory, they are just as capable of causing misinformation.
In the end, dont just take my word or anyones word for whats going on in reality. Take the time, ask the questions and do whatever research you can.
Critical thinking and scientific skeptism are not going to hurt you. You may be comfortable going through life with out them, but with these thinking tools you can avoid losing money to bunk products and claims, possibly save yourself froma lot of wasted time money and possibly pain by not being fooled but newage and quack medical treatments. You would be extremely surprised about the time wasted over useless claims and conspiracy theories. (If you ever want to see what it looks like when people who believe in conspiracy theories waste their lives, head over to Stormfront.org. I promise you'll be entertained or cry for the death of reason.).
The scariest thing about the fact that these tools are not held in high esteem, is that we seem to be heading back in to an era of superstition and fear mongering. The last time we lived in an era like that...it was called the Dark Ages.
When the most popular shows on the history channel are about ghost hunting and portals to hell.. I begin to worry
If we all prefer a world where superstition leads our lives and witch hunting is common. then fine Ill go hide in a cave till you all die of fear and not knowing shit. ..
You can have these dudes lead an army against ghosts
Hopefully I've at least peaked your understanding enough to further investigate critical thinking and scientific skepticism in life. I didn't go into Logic and many logical fallacies as much because well, the rabbit hole runs deeper than the mines of Moria, and I will save it for a later day.
I did post a Link to the top 20 fallacies that the world makes over in the links section, you should give some a look.
Im telling you.. those fucking medusa heads were SUCH. BULLSHIT.
Ill see you in hell..
We Are Hell.