Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Critical Thinking

 
Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy posted this video from QualiaSoup. It's one of the best descriptions of critical thinking I've ever seen. Critical thinking is what we're supposed to be teaching our students in school and university.

We're not doing a very good job.




13 comments :

  1. Educators do not do a good work teaching critical thinking because it can only be taught to those that are capable of thinking critically.

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  2. That maybe true but it's also true that activities that develop critical thinking aren't to be found in the curriculum.

    People aren't inherently incapable of critical thinking (unless they are severely mentally retarded), they only become so after years of not being taught it, or even worse, directed towards its opposite. Of course, while we aren't incapable of it, we aren't naturally predisposed to it, quite the opposite, that's why concerted effort is needed to overcome that

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  3. A lack of critical thinking is best shown in the scientific literacy "exams" out there. Science is to factual memorization in the same way critical thinking is memorizing a solution to a problem.

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  4. For those interested in critical thinking, if you are north of the border, I HIGHLY recommend the book, "How to be a really good pain in the ass: A guide to critical thinking" by Chris diCarlo. If you are south of the border, email him through his web site:
    http://www.cdicarlo.com/
    (which is worth looking at anyway, as are his lectures on youtube). He was more than happy to shoot me a copy through the mail.

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  5. Yes I agree, a good video. I particularly liked the image of a fideist cutting off the branch on which he is sitting.

    Re: Black and white thinking. Do you think, Larry, this part of the video prompts you to reflect on your practice of lumping the world into clear cut "creationist" and "non-creationist" categories?

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  6. Timothy V Reeves asks,

    Re: Black and white thinking. Do you think, Larry, this part of the video prompts you to reflect on your practice of lumping the world into clear cut "creationist" and "non-creationist" categories?

    No. If you believe in a creator then you are a creationist. There are various subcategories of creationist like Young Earth Creationist, Intelligent Design Creationist, Theistic Evolutionist etc.

    If you believe in a creator then you are a creationist. What's that got to do with critical thinking?
     

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  7. Yeah, creationist and non-creationist capture the whole data set. You can't be something other than X or not X.

    Possibly saying you are aware of evolution or you are an idiot could be a false dichotomy, but certainly not just saying you either are or aren't a creationist.

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  8. Larry says:

    If you believe in a creator then you are a creationist. What's that got to do with critical thinking?

    I would have said it’s got quite a bit to do with critical thinking. Critical thinkers are reserved in their acceptance of black and white categories, particularly if the properties defining the category are complex objects like “Creator” and “Belief”. Critical thinkers will ask if these categories are well formed or if there is a clear “cut off” at the category edge. Often categories are fuzzy things that are vaguely defined by a cluster of loosely connected properties (Consider for example what defines a psychopath). I agree esaul17 the statement “X and not X” is logically false, but what if X is ill defined and/or fuzzy?

    Is “Creator” a clear cut category? I might maintain that anyone who seeks a deeper necessity in the apparent contingencies around us is looking for a “creator” (small ‘c’); the question, is that creator thought to be a sentient object? Trouble is, “sentience” sounds like one of those complex objects with fuzzy edges. I would also question the sharpness of the “Belief” category; terms such a “working hypothesis”, “provisional”, “heuristic”, “seeking”, “commitment”, “tentative,” suggest to me that once again we are dealing with a clustered complex object with blurred edges.

    However, I can understand why people want to be very clear about just who they can shoot first and save the difficult questions for afterward. This is the wild web after all.

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  9. Timothy,

    what you are saying is (essentially) that a definition of "Creator" is necessary for labeling people as creationists. Nobody here doubts that, but no matter what the definition is, people are either going to fit the definition or they are not. There are no in-betweens, and thus drawing a strict line is not really a problem.

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  10. P. S. Several definitions might be needed, according to the specific situation. An example using a single definition would be, "A creationist - a person who is certain or believes that there is more than a 50/50 chance that the Universe or a part of it was created by a supernatural agent".

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  11. I cannot disagree with any of that Io – as you suggest we can identify categories in the way you describe and those categories are based on aspects of reality and therefore it would be wrong to claim that they are entirely arbitrary inventions. However, which aspects of reality we select in order to define and identify a category may betray something about our interests, motivations, cultural milieu and what we think of as important. So, yes, category identification may be based on objective cues and yet given that there may be a myriad cues out there which could have been used to construct our categories, exactly which cues come up for selection appears to be bound up with our point of view, perspective, or whatever.

    In this connection I have often pondered why a mixed white-black marriage produces children that are labeled “black”. Is “black” a bit like a “dominant gene” category? Any answers?

    I have no grounds for complaint if someone like Larry regards it important to identify the creationist category based on what a person “believes” to be the ultimate source of the cosmos. In spite of us living in a world that shows gradations of opinion he no doubt has perfectly good reasons of his own for doing this. My guess is that he regards the distinction as a “mission critical” factor in the search for knowledge.

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  12. Nice in the context of "climateate"!

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