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A discussion of the Introduction (page 11 - 30) 
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Post A discussion of the Introduction (page 11 - 30)
A discussion of the Introduction (page 11 - 30)



Thu Jul 30, 2009 1:00 pm
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Riniolo makes his case here that even those of us who strive to be critical thinkers and who may pride ourselves on having very fine bullshit detectors (paraphrasing here) are prone to occasionally take a stroll down Uncritical Thinking Blvd.

I think this is Rinolio's thesis in a nutshell. When Good Thinking Goes Bad, meaning when even the finest minds amongst us are capable of prejudices and biases that can steer us into faulty thinking. I do believe we discussed on another thread here the importance of intellectual humility which, I think, goes hand in hand with awareness that we are naturally gullible creatures.

I really like the subtitle, When Your Brain Can Have a Mind of its Own. That seems to imply (to me, at least) that a lack of awareness of your brain's tendency for error leads to unconscious prejudices and biases that can steer us wrong.

Quote:
. . . [and if] nobody is immune from thinking uncritically in some contexts, then raising this issue can have some very positive benefits for us as critical thinkers in the long run and can ultimately be useful to improve the application of our critical thinking skills in a more consistent manner and to a wider range of issues.


This is a fairly simple but important concept. As Rinolio says here awareness of our tendency to accept beliefs without due diligence is an important aspect of what it means to be a critical thinker and we have to be vigilant in reminding ourselves of this tendency.

Michael Shermer, who is mentioned several times, wrote Why People Believe Weird Things. An excerpt of this book, Why Smart People Believe Weird Things can be read here. I think it makes for good parallel reading this book and especially this introduction.

http://skeptically.org/logicalthreads/id15.html


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Sun Aug 02, 2009 8:18 am
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Rinolio provides a good illustration for the notion that even good thinkers can be led astray, using the esteemed Isaac Asimov as his example. If you don't have the book yet, here's the story. In 1975, Asimov, an outstanding skeptic in his own right, endorsed a "doomsday" statement by the Environmental Fund that appeared in many newspapers which stated:

1. World food population cannot keep pace with the galloping growth of population. 2. "Family planning" cannot and will not, in the foreseeable future, check this runaway growth.

In hindsight, the claim that food production was not keeping pace with population was wrong, says Rinolio. Asimov accepted this prediction apparently without considering the actual data from agricultural economists which at the time said that food production was increasing and improving.

Here, Rinolio says, The prediction endorsed by Asimov was flat-out wrong and seems almost humorous today, given that obesity is a more pressing issue . . .

By the way, I would question Rinolio's assumption that obesity is a result of an over-abundance of food. I think it's much more complicated than that. I think it's possible that we could reach a tipping point in population where some parts of the world are over-indulging in junk food, while many in the third world are starving, but that's probably another topic for another day.

Regardless, the point that good thinkers can be led astray is well taken. Likewise, I'd say that Al Gore is promoting the idea of anthropogenic global warming way before the science has fully documented the hows, whys and whats. The climate data is very complicated and speculative, yet Gore is adamant that it is real and it is happening now and that we should engage the problem now. His position reeks of ideological bias to me.

The global warming issue, by the way, is addressed in Ch. 10.

I know many good thinkers seem to reserve a special place for pseudoscientific beliefs, such as naturalistic health remedies. And, as, Rinolio explains in subsequent chapters, it's pretty clear that an expert in one field doesn't make him an expert in another.


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Last edited by geo on Sun Aug 02, 2009 9:38 am, edited 1 time in total.



Sun Aug 02, 2009 9:26 am
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geo wrote:
I do believe we discussed on another thread here the importance of intellectual humility which, I think, goes hand in hand with awareness that we are naturally gullible creatures.

I really like the subtitle, When Your Brain Can Have a Mind of its Own. That seems to imply (to me, at least) that a lack of awareness of your brain's tendency for error leads to unconscious prejudices and biases that can steer us wrong.


*my bold


I picked this book up at the library the other day, gave it a cursory look and thought I wouldn't read it. Due to unexpected rain and a canceled tennis game I picked the book back up. To my delight, I had misunderstood what the book was about. I look forward to the discussion this book generates. Thank, Geo, for getting it started.


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Sun Aug 02, 2009 9:38 am
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Saffron wrote:
Due to unexpected rain and a canceled tennis game I picked the book back up. To my delight, I had misunderstood what the book was about. I look forward to the discussion this book generates. Thank, Geo, for getting it started.


I'm so glad it rained, Saffron. So far, I think it's a very interesting and worthwhile book. I've already decided to buy some extra copies to give to people. I've also taken to underlining numerous passages throughout something I almost never do.


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Sun Aug 02, 2009 9:48 am
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geo wrote:
I'm so glad it rained, Saffron. .


A nice little bit of serendipity, the rain. I too find the book most interesting. Here's my first underlining:

"This book will ultimately theorize that our our beliefs, especially our most cherished beliefs, can in certain situations influence our ability to appropriately apply our critical thinking skills that usually serve us well."


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Since critical thinking is to be used for evaluating claims, I find Riniolo’s coverage on that topic to be excellent. He quickly covers that “two widely agreed-upon key components are the attitude toward the claim and the method of inquiry “13). He recommends the scientific approach theory but reminds the reader that there are different kinds of scientific tests for different kinds of claims.

However, what I find most interesting is when he states that “critical thinking is not an ideological position … but it is loyal only to ascertaining truth” (15). Thus, the critical thinker is not trying to prove or disprove something; they are trying to find the truth about it.


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Sun Aug 02, 2009 11:05 am
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I'm just starting reading today.



Sun Aug 02, 2009 12:56 pm
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It will be interesting to see how well the author builds that case for the argument that, "we are all inconsistent critical thinkers. Even the elite critical thinker is not exempt."

I'm very interested to see how this discussion unfolds and if everyone reading this book and participating in this discussion agrees with the author's position. Often, even on BookTalk.org, I see critical thinkers not applying their skills to all areas of discussion. I think politics and economics are areas where biases flourish and cloud judgment. And I imagine I fall victim to stinkin' thinkin' (my father used to use that term) as often as the next guy. I am not trying to turn this discussion into a political debate, but it looks like Riniolo will be using examples of situations where critical thinkers turn off their critical thinking powers and cling to biases and crap beliefs. So we might be getting into that area no matter what.



Sun Aug 02, 2009 1:31 pm
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You're all making this book sound too interesting. I'm going to try to find it as I travel down to Norfolk tomorrow. One thing I'm thinking--and it could be no more than an analogous situation--is whether there is an equivalent to de Waal's emotional contagion in the realm of judgment. When we see others propounding arguments and seeming to be quite certain of their truth, we can be swept along with them--especially if we are in some way emotionally primed to accept their views. They're the good guys already, in our eyes, so of course they must be right.

Shades of our old friend Robert Burton in this speculation.


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Sun Aug 02, 2009 3:13 pm
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Krysondra wrote:
However, what I find most interesting is when he states that “critical thinking is not an ideological position … but it is loyal only to ascertaining truth” (15). Thus, the critical thinker is not trying to prove or disprove something; they are trying to find the truth about it.


Yes, this seems a key component. To that end, Rinolio also says the critical thinker not only engages the world with an evidence-demanding attitude, but has a nothing is off-limits policy. "Thus, not even our most precious beliefs are exempt from a critical evaluation." (14)


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Chris OConnor wrote:
I think politics and economics are areas where biases flourish and cloud judgment. And I imagine I fall victim to stinkin' thinkin' (my father used to use that term) as often as the next guy. I am not trying to turn this discussion into a political debate, but it looks like Riniolo will be using examples of situations where critical thinkers turn off their critical thinking powers and cling to biases and crap beliefs. So we might be getting into that area no matter what.


I like Michael Shermer's quick answer to why do smart people believe weird things. "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons."

I think you're right, Chris, that politics and economics are areas in which many of us are probably more inclined to throw critical thinking out the window. In part II of the book Rinolio provides some case studies of inconsistent thinking by Einstein and the author's own misconceptions regarding the Scopes Monkey Trial.

I like Rinolio's analogy of the baseball player who knows how to play baseball very well, but who will make mistakes if he doesn't stick to the basics:

"There exists the possibility that the baseball player will not appropriately use his ability (i.e. deviate from training and skill level) and make an error under certain conditions (i.e. performance does not match ability. . . . Likewise there exists the possibility that we may slip up and not use our critical thinking ability appropriately when evaluating certain claims." (16)


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geo wrote:
Yes, this seems a key component. To that end, Rinolio also says the critical thinker not only engages the world with an evidence-demanding attitude, but has a nothing is off-limits policy. "Thus, not even our most precious beliefs are exempt from a critical evaluation." (14)


However, at the same time, he does not think that universal skepticism will work and that the beliefs that we cannot / do not challange will influence how we evaluate new claims.

So, I guess there is a fine line between skepticism and belief.


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Krysondra wrote:
However, at the same time, he does not think that universal skepticism will work and that the beliefs that we cannot / do not challange will influence how we evaluate new claims.

So, I guess there is a fine line between skepticism and belief.


Right, we can't examine every single assumption or belief and our baseline ultimately influences what we do examine critically and what we give a free pass. Understanding this tendency to filter out truths based on pre-existing beliefs hopefully will make us more vigilant and be willing to reevaluate things. I was once pretty convinced in global warming, but I did step back at some point and actually look at some of the data. Currently I'm agnostic in that regard. But how many beliefs have I given a free pass to? Probably lots of stuff.

Edit: Doesn't the internet now give us the ability to examine many things that would have once required a trip to the library or for us to open an encyclopedia? So, in fact, maybe we can examine many beliefs that previously would have been given a free pass.


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geo wrote:
Rinolio provides a good illustration for the notion that even good thinkers can be led astray, using the esteemed Isaac Asimov as his example. If you don't have the book yet, here's the story. In 1975, Asimov, an outstanding skeptic in his own right, endorsed a "doomsday" statement by the Environmental Fund that appeared in many newspapers which stated:

1. World food population cannot keep pace with the galloping growth of population. 2. "Family planning" cannot and will not, in the foreseeable future, check this runaway growth.

In hindsight, the claim that food production was not keeping pace with population was wrong, says Rinolio. Asimov accepted this prediction apparently without considering the actual data from agricultural economists which at the time said that food production was increasing and improving.

Here, Rinolio says, The prediction endorsed by Asimov was flat-out wrong and seems almost humorous today, given that obesity is a more pressing issue . . .

By the way, I would question Rinolio's assumption that obesity is a result of an over-abundance of food. I think it's much more complicated than that. I think it's possible that we could reach a tipping point in population where some parts of the world are over-indulging in junk food, while many in the third world are starving, but that's probably another topic for another day.



But was Asimov entirely wrong? Yes, we have food, but it is based on junk and processed foods. Obesity may not be due to over eating of fooodstuff, but because of the junk we eat, the corn based (Riniolo also states that food is grown to produce food or something like that...) diet we consume that our bodies cannot really handle. We do not eat much real food anymore, says Pollan. See Pollan, "Omnivor's Dilema" & "In Defense of Food" for a treatment on this issue. Great books.

So, traditional food production may not be able to sustain our population. We would of course need to find evidnece and use the scientific method to establish the validity of this.



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JoshiGlobal Brain by Howard BloomThe Lucifer Principle by Howard BloomGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownFuture Shock by Alvin Toffler

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