Critical Thinking in Video

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 24, 2009 in Intro to Logic,Video

Welcome to my course Intro to Logic (index). Here, we learn the basic skills of good thinking and their benefits in real life.

I’ve written earlier on What Critical Thinking Is and on Techniques of Critical Thinking. Here is another excellent introduction to critical thinking, by QualiaSoup:

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Beelzebub December 25, 2009 at 2:10 am

Great video. I especially like the part about cherished beliefs. It seems that a religious person should be the first one to recuse him/herself from examining the merit of their belief. There’s a lot to say for John Loftus’ idea that people rarely use critical thinking to assemble the foundations of their beliefs. By and large, belief is handed to people, and by the time they are capable of critically assessing them, it’s too late. Later, dumb people will be bad at defending belief and smart people will have more sophisticated methods to support their belief, but rarely do unsound beliefs themselves come under examination by any of the people who hold them. You can analyze this through game theory. What does it profit a person to change their mind? In other word, what is the payoff and what is the cost? During the holiday season this might be a particularly pertinent question, seeing how a number of people who frequent this blog are probably at this moment dealing with a rather tense family situation. You have to figure that for the majority of believers, the cost of ever abdicating belief is not only too great, it is probably too great to even contemplate. More than that even — because there is no discernible payoff, they simply relinquish control of their opinion to the dominant belief structure, and the choice of apostasy becomes an act of evil.
You can’t fault people for being rational game players. We may picture a human ideal that values truth over deception, but without a motivating theory saying such is human nature, this is simply a pipe dream. For people to play one strategy over another, they need to perceive an incentive to do so. Here’s perfect (and rather uncomfortable) example of this: In England, I am told, in the 70′s the national health system suddenly stopped covering male infant circumcision. Before then, parents had been blithely following the traditional norm, having the useless procedure done, but suddenly the motivation to do so was gone. Without incentive (meaning there was suddenly a positive incentive not to,) parents were free to follow their accurate estimate of the utility of the procedure. The result was that infant circumcision rate dropped like a rock.
In a like manner, for people to abandon the tradition of religion there must be incentive, and the only real incentive on the horizon is social and political disapproval. And even that is only in a beginning stage as of yet.


lukeprog December 25, 2009 at 7:07 am


Interesting comment.


Haukur December 25, 2009 at 9:11 am

The idea that reason can’t be used to criticize reason because “you’re sawing off the branch you’re sitting on” seems off to me. Using logical positivism to criticize logical positivism seems to have worked very well and surely I’m allowed to criticize critical thinking using critical thinking.

Thinkers have been advocating bettering society by improving the thinking of the common people since the dawn of history (back when ‘critical thinking’ was just called ‘philosophy’) but I’m not sure that this is what’s actually tended to improve societies.

This whole approach seems to ignore at least a couple of things that seem like they would be important: a) Intelligence has a very large genetic component, it’s not clear that a high level of good thinking can be taught to the average person. b) The majority of our cognitive processes are unconscious. Good ideas come to intelligent people without any conscious attempt to follow a particular process. I’m not sure what to do with that but it seems plausible to me that the Taoists are on to something.


Beelzebub December 25, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Thanks Luke. Yes, the subject is an interesting one. Viewing religious affiliation as a strategic life decision yields a number of insights. The game has carrots and sticks; unfortunately most of them are controlled by the religious side here in the US — not everywhere, of course; exuberant religious expression is frowned on in science and academia and, geographically, in many of the enlightened urban areas of the country. But vast swaths of the country are held tight in the grip of religious dogma, not speaking in terms of some ill-defined malevolent force, but the very real situation of game equilibrium. Their best response game strategy is to go along and get along. A move off this so-called Nash equilibrium would yield disutility, and there are most definitely disincentives to change. An apostate risks losing everything, everything. Family, livelihood, mental wellbeing, and so on.


Leomar July 30, 2010 at 6:16 am

Thanks Luke. This is very important, for life in general.


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