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Proposal: How to make a positive *dent* in an adult population’s critical thinking skills

 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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07 July 2013 20:28
 

Premise: If an adult population’s aggregate critical thinking skills improve (even slightly), society improves.

Assumptions / building blocks:

1 - Learn from Montessori. (If you’re not already convinced, read about the “Montessori Mafia”, i.e. the degree to which movers and shakers in Silicon valley got a Montessori education.)

2 - Isolate important “80/20” skills. (See Roger Schank’s “Teaching Minds”, for more info.) For example, let’s say that the ability to “spot false dichotomies” makes a person a slightly better critical thinker. Create mechanisms to help adults develop small, isolated skills - like spotting false dichotomies.

3 - Leverage intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic. In short, bribery is not sustainable. Badges and points are nonsense, “gamification” is nonsense. Notice that newspapers have crossword puzzles and sudokus, and no bribery is involved - these activities are intrinsically fun.

4a - Focus on the fence-sitters. Target those people for whom embracing critical thinking is a small step, not a huge leap.

4b - Use Aikido, not boxing. Most people don’t learn when confronted, sneak memes in through the side door.

Examples (maybe?)

- Click and Clack’s weekly logic puzzlers
- A novelist or playwright who’s heroine uses critical thinking
- Adding Five-minute mysteries to the daily newspaper

Okay, rip it to shreds…

[ Edited: 07 July 2013 20:32 by icehorse]
 
 
eudemonia
 
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eudemonia
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08 July 2013 17:44
 

A positive ‘dent’? Meaning to get more adults to critically think?

Why I have no idea how to do that. Just don’t ever vote for a conservative reactionary perhaps.

 
 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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08 July 2013 18:02
 

Yes, that’s the goal, get more adults to think a bit more critically.

But the premise is that even incremental changes can make a difference. We don’t have to change everyone, and some people need only a small nudge.

For example think about how many close state elections have happened recently. If just a few more people could think just a bit more critically, we might have fewer congressmen who think that “if a woman is REALLY raped, her body shuts down and she can’t get pregnant”.

Why I have no idea how to do that.

So, the assumptions and building blocks are meant to be tools to help you figure how “how” to help more people think critically.

 
 
Sailwa
 
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Sailwa
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08 July 2013 19:02
 

It should be a key subject taught in schools from a young age.Some combination of logic, critical thinking and to some extent philosophy. Unfortunately i don’t think it’s in the interest of those in power to have a skeptical population capable of advanced critical thought.

 
eudemonia
 
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eudemonia
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08 July 2013 19:54
 

‘Unfortunately i don’t think it’s in the interest of those in power to have a skeptical population capable of advanced critical thought’

Exactly. Especially conservative reactionary types. That’s why they want Creationism taught in public Biology class.

 
 
icehorse
 
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08 July 2013 20:08
 

I agree with those assessments, but I still want to take a whack at it.

While I agree that we should be teaching our kids this stuff (perhaps discuss this in a separate thread), THIS thread is focused on making minor shifts in the adult population, and we can certainly add the stipulation, “even though the politicians don’t want us to”.

Of course it’s harder because of politicians, but that also makes it more fun to succeed smile

 
 
SkepticX
 
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08 July 2013 21:13
 
Sailwa - 08 July 2013 05:02 PM

It should be a key subject taught in schools from a young age.Some combination of logic, critical thinking and to some extent philosophy. Unfortunately i don’t think it’s in the interest of those in power to have a skeptical population capable of advanced critical thought.


With children it would need to be more about practical/experiential problem solving though. Their brains aren’t complete until late adolescence at the earliest. As I understand it our brains aren’t fully developed until the mid-20s(ish—some say this has a lot to do with why teens are so horrible at risk/consequence assessment and so damn good at finding ways to maim and kill themselves and each other), but we’re ready to think at least significantly critically by our mid-late teens.

But essentially I agree. Icehorse is talking about the Remedial Plan for adults who failed to learn or were just never taught how to think critically. The biggest obstacle is arrogance and presumption, which are the lion’s share of the Faith Formula so deeply instilled in many believers (even the vast majority of the more reasonable ones—at least to some significant degree). I’d argue weakening and/or correcting for arrogant presumption (I know what’s reasonable and what’s not when I see it! No one has any business telling me what’s what) would go farther than any positive training. In fact you can train someone to earn an easy A+ in the best traditional critical thinking course in the country, and with that kind of arrogant presumption in place it will amount to answers on a test and no more. There are a lot of highly intelligent people who can be strikingly idiotic when it comes to their sacred cows, or even in general (as in fundamentalists who strive to eliminate any aspects of their lives that aren’t driven/controlled by their religious ideology).

Of course it may be a lot easier to teach some critical thinking basics, like common fallacies. I’m still skeptical of the value, though, as long as the “students” still haven’t learned any intellectual humility and fail to apply what they’ve learned in any truly functional sense.

 
 
icehorse
 
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08 July 2013 21:20
 

Imagine that we can give adults a “thinking skills rating” from 1-10, with 1 being extremely dogmatic and close-minded, 5 being sometimes open / sometimes closed, and 10 being extremely open minded, reason-based, unattached, and so on.

I agree that tackling the 1s and 2s and 3s in the population is a tough task - maybe not possible. So the idea is to focus on the 4s and 5s - folks that aren’t so arrogant, folks that need just a little nudge. Folks who are just one Sam Harris YouTube away from leaving their religion : )

 
 
Sailwa
 
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08 July 2013 21:46
 

Yeah any educational solutions would have to be proportionate to the childs age, I’m sure simple logic puzzles could be introduced relatively early on, i just think any attempt to generally redirect the education system in that way would be helpful. But in terms of adults i’d have to agree that arrogance is a key issue. It’s almost a problem of ego, a lot of people are emotionally attached to their opinions and frame any challenge to them in personal terms. The way i personally improved my reasoning skills (which left a lot to be desired even after gaining good results at school) was through interactions online and simply having my opinions challenged in a calm manner. I think that’s the main thing anyone can do, as Harris has said in the past, just question poor reasoning and dogmatism wherever you find it.

 
icehorse
 
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08 July 2013 22:05
 

Hi Sailwa,

There’s no doubt that the one-on-one interactions you’re describing are a valid path.

I’m hoping to explore other approaches that can reach more people than the one-on-one approach. Not “as opposed to” one-on-one’s, but in addition to.

Let me try a crude example… Jeff Foxworthy is a comedian who’s main schtick is “you know you’re a redneck if…” followed by 1000 jokes (like “you’re at your 3rd wedding but it’s the same set of in-laws”.) In a gentle, humorous way he’s getting folks to look at themselves.

So what if a Foxworthy-esque comedian was saying “You know a politician is lying to you when…” (“you’re either with us or against us”). No one likes being lied to, so that *might* be a way to gently introduce ideas like “spotting false dichotomies”.

So in a nutshell, the point of this thread is to explore more leveraged, one-to-many ways to make shifts.

(And here I thought my opening post was pretty clear - it seems I was a bit too terse)

 
 
jdrnd
 
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08 July 2013 22:28
 
icehorse - 08 July 2013 07:20 PM

Imagine that we can give adults a “thinking skills rating” from 1-10, with 1 being extremely dogmatic and close-minded, 5 being sometimes open / sometimes closed, and 10 being extremely open minded, reason-based, unattached, and so on.

I agree that tackling the 1s and 2s and 3s in the population is a tough task - maybe not possible. So the idea is to focus on the 4s and 5s - folks that aren’t so arrogant, folks that need just a little nudge. Folks who are just one Sam Harris YouTube away from leaving their religion : )


and if I disagree with you on some subject would you rate my thinking skills at the lower end?

 
SkepticX
 
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08 July 2013 22:38
 
jdrnd - 08 July 2013 08:28 PM

and if I disagree with you on some subject would you rate my thinking skills at the lower end?


Would the answer even matter regarding the topic at hand?

 
 
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08 July 2013 22:50
 
SkepticX - 08 July 2013 08:38 PM
jdrnd - 08 July 2013 08:28 PM

and if I disagree with you on some subject would you rate my thinking skills at the lower end?


Would the answer even matter regarding the topic at hand?

Well I’m making the point that ...people sometimes/often reflexively assume that if during some discussion, some person doesn’t agree with their point of view then that person is stupid (i.e. that person can’t think critically).

 
Sailwa
 
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08 July 2013 22:50
 
icehorse - 08 July 2013 08:05 PM

Hi Sailwa,

There’s no doubt that the one-on-one interactions you’re describing are a valid path.

I’m hoping to explore other approaches that can reach more people than the one-on-one approach. Not “as opposed to” one-on-one’s, but in addition to.

Let me try a crude example… Jeff Foxworthy is a comedian who’s main schtick is “you know you’re a redneck if…” followed by 1000 jokes (like “you’re at your 3rd wedding but it’s the same set of in-laws”.) In a gentle, humorous way he’s getting folks to look at themselves.

So what if a Foxworthy-esque comedian was saying “You know a politician is lying to you when…” (“you’re either with us or against us”). No one likes being lied to, so that *might* be a way to gently introduce ideas like “spotting false dichotomies”.

So in a nutshell, the point of this thread is to explore more leveraged, one-to-many ways to make shifts.

(And here I thought my opening post was pretty clear - it seems I was a bit too terse)

Hi there. Yeah I see you were trying to establish some practical methods to improve critical thinking. I probably got too caught up in my theory about the failings of education and should’ve taken into account this is in the ideas for projects section. Anyway, I think something along those lines could be effective in people that already have a tendency to think more deeply about subjects, I think it may be a struggle to inspire people to think beyond the comedy who don’t already have that basis though. The main problem is that people need to actually want to improve and learn, and the people who actually need to be targeted almost by definition don’t have that. It’s a whole change in the culture that is required.

Could I ask what your profession is? I’m asking to find out what position you might be in to approach any practical projects from.

 
icehorse
 
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icehorse
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08 July 2013 23:18
 

For our purposes you can call me a publisher.  : )

And remember, this is about targeting the 4s and 5s - not the more entrenched.

 
 
SkepticX
 
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09 July 2013 00:19
 
jdrnd - 08 July 2013 08:50 PM
SkepticX - 08 July 2013 08:38 PM
jdrnd - 08 July 2013 08:28 PM

and if I disagree with you on some subject would you rate my thinking skills at the lower end?

Would the answer even matter regarding the topic at hand?

Well I’m making the point that ...people sometimes/often reflexively assume that if during some discussion, some person doesn’t agree with their point of view then that person is stupid (i.e. that person can’t think critically).


That’s not what I asked.

Feel free to consider the question rhetorical—that’s more or less how I intended it anyway.

I understood the comment just fine.

 
 
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