Well, I’m back with posts besides Friday Fictioneers. The posts have been slow because I’ve been busy with work this past month, plus I’m looking to go to college(in my early thirties — more on the reasons in my previous posts). Also, I’ve been working on my foreign language skills, as I hope to go abroad and being a translator is one career path that appeals to me. However, it looks like work is slowing down, so I hope to dedicate more time to this blog. Well, now to the main post. Allons-y! (French for “Let’s go!’)
I’m planning on starting a series on critical thinking, covering topics such as logical fallacies, heuristics, and cognitive biases. I call this blog ” Seekeroftruthweb”, which, as I mentioned in my “Why I’m Here” post, this is inspired by a quote from Jeremy Beahan(former cohost of the “Reasonable Doubts” podcast): “Before you identify yourself as a Republican or a Democrat; before you identify as a Christian or a Jew; before you identify as anything, identify yourself — think of your primary identity as a seeker of truth. Put that first above anything else. Then whatever is worthy should follow that.” (This is from “RD Extra: Deceived Into Thinking; July 22, 2011”.)
Studies show the our brains get tripped up in predictable ways. If we are to be seekers of truth and, like my profile pic says, to come out of the Cave, we need to be aware of these things. Being aware gives us the tools to question; it gives words to moments when something doesn’t seem right but it can’t be expressed.
Learning critical thinking is a practical skill. In the Reasonable Doubts podcast referred to above, Beahan mentioned teaching critical thinking using cons(like the three-card Monty), scams(like Madoff), conspiracy theories(like the truthers), and the paranormal. Beahan observes that at first glance all these things may seem convincing, but fall apart upon further scrutiny. Another reason to pursue critical thinking is the rise in bigotry; such as racism, xenophobia, misogyny, antisemitism(including Holocaust denial), Islamophobia(which in my opinion does exist but should not be used to silence criticism of Islam, but that’s for another post; if you’re interested, I can move it up); and other forms. These bigots rely heavily on propaganda to spread their message; we need, as promoters of peace and justice, to be able to expose the propaganda as BS and present alternative views.
Also, this will help you to understand other people’s viewpoints, to try to know what they are saying and what they mean by it. Only after you’ve done this can you fairly evaluate whether they are right or wrong. This is important for building bridges and breaking down the walls of tribalism we hide behind on the one hand, but also for holding onto values and principles we hold dear. In other words, you need to use your head to have a heart(after all, the Good Lord gave us both)!
Critical thinking not only helps us to evaluate others’ opinions but our own, in order to refine them. This promotes humility, for we realize the limits of our knowledge, and humility is considered a virtue in many religions. For me, as I mentioned before, I grew up in an insular religious environment that filtered alternative worldviews (some even dismissed them as being of the devil). Discovering these viewpoints after losing my fear of them was a step on the journey of seeing the world differently. At first there were things that seemed off but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Discovering fallacies, heuristics, and cognitive biases helped me put into words that which was previously inexplicable.
A good point to remember is what MLK said in the title of one of his sermons, “A Tough Mind And a Tender Heart”, based on the words of Christ: ” Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”(Mt. 10:16). Other verses relevant to this subject are as follows: “But solid food is for the full grown, who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:14), and “Test all things, and hold firmly that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21; this verse is why I identify as both a Christian and a freethinker). The Hebrews verse reminds me of Descartes’s definition of reason: the power to judge well and to distinguish the true from the false. He goes on to say, “The diversity of our opinions doesn’t come from some’s being more reasonable than others, but only because we conduct our thoughts along different ways and don’t consider the same things. It isn’t enough to have a good mind; the important thing is to apply it well.” (René Descartes, “Discours de la Méthode” quoted in First French Reader: A Beginner’s Dual-Language Book, edited and translated by Stanley Appelbaum; but, needing practice, I put down my own translation of Descartes.)
The reference to “full grown” reminds me of Immanuel Kant’s essay “What Is Enlightenment?”. In it Kant says ” Have the courage to use your own understanding” and defines “nonage” as “the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance”. I agree with this from a Christian viewpoint, as it is written, “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). To bring in thoughts from outside Western cultures, Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yacov, author of Hatata(meaning “to question bit by bit” in Ge’ez), urged people to subject ideas to questioning before accepting them.
In her book Allah, Liberty, and Love, Irshad Manji observes that the Quran is full of instructions such as “to ponder”, ” to consider”, “to reflect”, and pushes for “ijtihad“, a Muslim tradition of questioning. She says that faith can handle questions, but dogma cannot.
This I invite you on this journey as we learn to ” consider “, to be ” seekers of truth”, to “test everything”, to question, to build bridges, and to make attempts at understanding.