Critical Thinking 2009-06-20 08:35

The word “argument” has a fairly specific meaning, yet we’re often conditioned to think of its negative connotations - husband and wife hurling dishes at each other, yelling and emoting, no real communication going on.

At another extreme is what critical thinking defines as an argument: an assertion based on a premise. This has nothing to do with people or emotions, but is a tool of logic and communication.

Thomas Jefferson purportedly would not abide in-person arguing. He had a rule for dinner guests: they may state their position, then he would state his, and then they would drop the subject. He felt that back-and-forth discussion was fruitless: it never changed anyone’s mind, only further entrenched the preexisting beliefs of the arguers.

I disagree with Jefferson on this point. In-person argument is extremely healthy, done right.

The key to accomplishing healthy debate - as opposed to unhealthy quarreling - is that the advocates for each side have to avoid feeling personally tied to the point they are arguing. The arguers have to be free to critically attack the other position with full force. For a position to prove its merit, it must pass the gauntlet presented by a skilled, informed, and highly critical devil’s advocate.


Critical Thinking, Silly 2009-03-16 01:25


Critical Thinking 2009-01-21 04:40

“Tradition means beliefs handed down from grandparent to parent to child, and so on. Or from books handed down through the centuries. Traditional beliefs often start from almost nothing; perhaps somebody just makes them up originally, like the stories about Thor and Zeus. But after they’ve been handed down over some centuries, the mere fact that they are so old makes them seem special. People believe things simply because people have believed the same thing over the centuries.”

Dawkins is up to his old tricks.

[citation needed]

The Two-Handed Professor

Culture, Critical Thinking 2008-01-12 05:08

two-handed professor (noun) - A person who, when asked a question, typically structures his or her reply as “On one hand… But on the other hand…”

I’m a bit of a two-handed professor myself. Any question worth asking has many facets to explore. As an information maven and critical thinker, I hate to leave out any details - even though the asker would probably prefer I boil it down, giving a simple conclusion that clearly favors a particular course of action.

Some Good Podcasts


  • My History Can Beat Up Your Politics
  • American History Before 1870
  • The History of Rome
  • Technology

  • Girls Gone Geek
  • I, Cringely
  • Google Developer Podcast
  • Other

  • The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe
  • Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders
  • Tool Talk
  • Podictionary
  • I’m too lazy to give links right now - just search, dangit.

    Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

    Critical Thinking 2007-12-30 04:33

    “They advise people to have “strong opinions, which are weakly held.” [..] Weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them. It is just as important, however, to not be too attached to what you believe because, otherwise, it undermines your ability to “see” and “hear” evidence that clashes with your opinions.”

    From Strong Opinions, Weakly Held by Bob Sutton

    Gambler’s Fallacy

    Critical Thinking 2007-12-18 01:01

    If you flip a coin several times in a row, you’d expect to get an approximately even proportion of heads and tails. The more flips you do, the closer to 50% heads / 50% tails you’ll expect to get.

    Let’s say that you flip a coin fifty times, and get heads every time. What is the probability that you’ll get a heads on a 51st flip?

    If you said something other than 50%, then you’ve just fallen into a logical trap known as Gambler Fallacy.
    Read more »

    Postulate Fewer Entities

    Critical Thinking 2007-10-06 08:06

    “God has chosen the world that is the most perfect, that is to say, the one that is at the same time the simplest in hypotheses and the richest in phenomena.”

    Gottfried Leibniz, Discours de métaphysique, 1686

    If you were to take a look in my refrigerator right now, you might see a bottle of water. Let’s say that you wanted to form a theory about how that bottle got there. (Actually, it doesn’t matter much if you want to or not - our brains do this sort of theory-forming automatically.) Which of the following theories would you be most likely to come up with?

    1. A thief broke into my house the previous evening and, as part of his skullduggery, placed the bottle of water in the fridge.
    2. Space aliens used particle-transporter technology to beam the bottle into its current location.
    3. Quantum fluctations caused a large cloud of particles, which just happened to be shaped exactly like a bottle of water, to appear in the fridge. (Presumably, there is an anti-particle version of the same bottle that appeared at the same time in my neighbor’s fridge.)
    4. At some point in the recent past I purchased the bottle of water from a local store and placed it in my fridge to keep it cold.

    I’m going to guess you chose the last option. But why? You have an equal amount of evidence for any of these occurrences. Empirical observation does not favor any of these theories over any other.
    Read more »

    The Forer Effect

    Critical Thinking 2007-02-04 04:55

    How well does the following describe your personality?

    “You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.”

    If you think that this passage accurately describes your personality, then you’re experiencing the Forer effect.
    Read more »