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Critical thinking

50 Critical thinking tips

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Critical thinking

In this article 50 critical thinking tips, everything you need to know to improve your critical thinking skills:

  • Learn logical fallacies until they’re second nature and you can recognise them anywhere
  • Learn cognitive biases (same as above)
  • Learn heuristics (same as above)
  • Study psychological effects and their impact upon your perception
    • Naive realism
    • Backfire effect
    • Belief perseverance
    • Continued influence effect
    • The illusory truth effect
    • Illusion of transparency
    • Illusion of asymmetric insight
    • Reactance
    • Schadenfreude
  • Identify which logical fallacies/cognitive biases/heuristics you’re most guilty of and seek to avoid them
  • Ask critical thinking questions of everything you read, watch and listen to
  • Practice intellectual honesty and avoid intellectual dishonesty
  • Learn the difference between Deductive vs Inductive vs Abductive reasoning and arguments that are valid and invalid, strong and weak, sound and cogent
  • Build your own toolbox of mental models and start using them
    • The map is not the territory
    • First principles thinking
    • Second order thinking
    • Probabilistic thinking
    • Inversion
    • Opportunity cost
    • Law of diminishing returns
    • 80/20 rule
  • Become familiar with philosophical razors
    • Occam’s razor
    • Grice’s razor
    • Hanlon’s razor
    • Hume’s razor
    • Sagan standard
    • Hitchen’s razor
    • Newton’s flaming laser sword
  • Think for yourself, don’t let anyone tell you:
    • What to think
    • What to believe
    • What to like/want/value
    • What the facts are
    • What the truth is
    • Don’t be intellectually lazy. You have a brain so use it
  • Identify and apply critical thinking to your sacred cows
    • God
    • Jesus
    • Buddha
    • Krishna
    • Shiva
    • Muhammad
    • Your guru/religious/spiritual teacher
    • The Bible
    • The Quran
    • The Bhagavad Gita

Instead of only using critical thinking and skepticism to attack and defend against the things you don’t like

  • No belief
  • No holy book/religion
  • No person
  • No subject
  • No teaching

Should be off limits, or safe from criticism, questioning or scrutiny

  • Read the following books:
    • The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
    • Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking
    • The Art of Thinking Clearly
    • Mistakes were made (but not by me)
    • Thinking Fast and Slow
  • Read, watch and listen to the following critical thinkers:
  • Watch the best arguments and debates – you’ll learn a lot from listening to the best arguments and watching smart people debate each other
  • Examine the statement not the speaker. It doesn’t matter if Albert Einstein or Adolf Hitler said it, a statement is either true or false, right or wrong, correct or incorrect, it doesn’t matter who said it or where it came from
  • Follow the evidence wherever it leads, no matter how inconvenient, uncomfortable, unpopular or politically incorrect it may be
  • Follow the logic wherever it leads, without dragging your feet and being difficult. Don’t drag your feet and refuse to follow a logical argument because it’s inconvenient and goes against your beliefs
  • Pay attention to ambiguous language, “maybe”, “it might be”, “it could be”, and watch out for doublespeak, euphemisms, thought terminating cliches, weasel words (anonymous authorities) e.g. “experts say”, “studies show”, “scientists say”
  • Read academic papers and original sources and studies, rather than just blog articles and YouTube videos
  • Recognise cognitive dissonance when it appears, don’t deny it, find out what’s causing it
  • Learn critical reading
  • Learn How to spot Fake News
  • Learn the Socratic Method
  • When you speak to someone pay attention to their body language, facial expressions, emotional state etc. don’t just ignore their signals and go off into your own world
  • Listen more than you speak, seek to understand before being understood
  • Read between the lines, pay attention not only to what is said, but how it’s said, and to what isn’t said
  • Demand evidence for every claim, and watch out for assertions without evidence: “Because it is”, “I just know”, “That’s just how it is” etc. It doesn’t matter how confidently or loudly a claim is made, how many people believe it, or how long it’s been believed, all claims need evidence to support them
  • Beware of framing. How has the information presented to you been framed? Remember: A frame is only one of a possible infinite number of interpretations or perspectives. It is not the only way to interpret or perceive the information. You don’t have to accept other people’s frames or buy into anyone else’s reality. Other people’s perspectives – especially the media’s – don’t need to be yours
  • Don’t attack or defend a position you don’t understand, or dismiss advice/information/evidence you don’t understand. If you don’t understand it, don’t have an opinion about it, but be curious
  • Be less interested in what someone believes, than in why they believe it. What evidence, information, rationale etc. do they have to support their beliefs? What led them to that conclusion?
  • Look to where the finger is pointing instead of taking people literally as if they were perfect carriers of information. Every argument and statement is only an imperfect expression of an idea or thought, so don’t get caught up in semantics and completely miss the point. Yes sometimes people are articulate and eloquent and say exactly what they mean, and use just the right words, examples and metaphors to perfectly articulate their thoughts, but most of the time they don’t
  • Before you get into an argument: Get clear on how words are being defined, this will make sure you’re both on the same page and everyone is arguing the same thing, it will also prevent equivocation and definitional retreats
  • Don’t attack strawmen, hollow men, weak men, or nutpick
  • Steelman opposition arguments. If you can’t defeat a steelman version of your opponent’s argument, maybe you should reconsider your position
  • Fight confirmation bias by seeking out counterarguments and disconfirming evidence against your beliefs, instead of only looking for arguments and evidence to reinforce your beliefs
    • You’ll get a better understanding of the oppositions perspective and their position (even if you don’t agree with it)
    • It’ll open your mind and give you new ideas and perspectives to consider
    • It’ll enable you to think like the opposition and speak their language, which will make influencing and persuading them easier
    • You’ll discover the flaws and fallacies in your opponents arguments and rationale, which will make defeating their arguments and proving them wrong even easier
    • You’ll discover the flaws and fallacies in your own arguments and rationale, which will help you to improve your own argumentation and thinking
    • It’ll make you smarter
    • Maybe you’re wrong. Just because someone disagrees with you, or has another perspective, or thinks differently, that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily wrong. Maybe they simply know something you don’t, or have thought of something you haven’t. It’s not impossible. Why not listen to them and ask questions to find out?
  • Study the best arguments for and against contentious positions e.g. for/against abortion, for/against capital punishment, for/against gun control, for/against the existence of God
  • Don’t assume you’re right about something just because your beliefs are on the side of the majority, have been believed for thousands of years, or because the opposition is wrong. The number of believers in a thing, nor the amount of time it has been believed, nor the delusions, errors, or fallacies of your opponent, says anything at all about whether a belief is true or not
  • Don’t assume you’re right just because you can’t be proven wrong. Is your argument or theory falsifiable?
  • Beware of motivated reasoning (arguing with a goal in mind, with an obvious attachment to one particular belief or conclusion), and mental gymnastics (unjustified leaps of logic)
  • Listen to your gut feel/intuition, but beware of emotional reasoning, and realize that your emotions and feelings aren’t the ultimate guide to reality, nor do they necessarily reflect the reality of the person/situation/thing you have feelings about

In fact, lots of people feel certain about lots of things:

  • The earth is flat
  • 9/11 was an inside job
  • The dinosaurs never existed
  • The Illuminati rules the world
  • The world is run by shape shifting reptilians
  • Jesus will return and the world will end within this lifetime

But that doesn’t make them true does it. How you or I or someone else feels about something, has nothing to do with the reality of that thing

  • Seek out other perspectives, and don’t assume that your perspective is the “correct”, “right” or the “only” way to see something
  • Study both/all sides of an issue, the arguments for/against, the evidence for/against, and gather as much information and evidence as you can to make an intelligent and informed analysis on the whole, instead of simply researching the arguments and evidence for the side that appeals to you more
  • Resist the urge to form a conclusion or to make a judgement when there isn’t enough data or information available to form an opinion one way or another. Uncertainty is better than the illusion of knowledge. It’s okay not to know, not to have an opinion, to say, “I don’t know”, “I’m not sure”, “I have no idea” etc.
  • Be a truth seeker, be intellectually curious, and want the truth more than you want to win arguments, or to be “right”. If you’re intellectually lazy, don’t care what’s true, don’t know and don’t want to know – forget it
  • Avoid black and white, either/or, all/nothing thinking
  • Watch out you’re not oversimplifying complex issues, or offering overly simplistic solutions to complex problems
  • Understand: The relativity of wrong (not all answers are equally right or wrong, there are degrees of “rightness” and “wrongness” e.g. there is a huge difference between the spelling of “CAT”, “KAT” and “XQW”)
  • Factor probabilities into your decision making. Yes, anything “could” or “might” happen if you make that decision, but what will most likely happen? What will probably happen?
  • Learn the scientific method (the most reliable way we currently have of knowing truth)
    • Make an observation
    • Ask a question
    • Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation
    • Make a prediction based on the hypothesis
    • Test the prediction
    • Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions
  • Learn the difference between science and pseudoscience. Pseudoscience is:
    • Something you would find in a mind/body/spirit or new age bookstore: astrology, numerology, tarot cards etc. instead of in a scientific journal
    • Makes claims which cannot be verified, falsified, tested, or reproduced, which defy the laws of nature, especially those of a mystical, spiritual, or supernatural nature, and are greater than what modern medicine and science can provide e.g. a cure for AIDS or cancer (When it is pointed out that the pseudoscience makes claims which go against scientific knowledge, it might be said, “science doesn’t know everything” or “science has been wrong before”)
    • Avoids peer review and outside verification by experts and scientists in the field
    • Based upon very weak evidence e.g. anecdotal, hearsay, rumor, blurry photos, shaky videos etc.
    • Cherry picks evidence to support its claims, and is quick to deny, dismiss, explain away or ignore, any disconfirming evidence (pseudoscience only counts the “hits” but not the “misses”)
    • Fails almost all tests (e.g. psychic predictions), doesn’t give any meaningful or specific predictions, also tends to blame failures and lack of results on outside circumstances or the lack of faith or belief of others
    • Claims to be based on “ancient wisdom” (as if that were superior to modern science)
    • Pseudosciences, like religions, don’t change or evolve in response to contradictory or superior evidence and information. The first edition of a book is the same as the last. Even if centuries or millennia have past. Astrology, numerology, palmistry etc. is the same now as it was 2000 years ago
    • Uses a lot of psychobabble and other meaningless scientific-sounding terms, or misuses actual scientific and technical terms and jargon in meaningless ways or out of context
    • Uses terms such as: “Alternative medicine”, “all natural”, “holistic”, “traditional” (just because something is natural, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy or safe e.g. death and disease is natural)

Pseudoscience examples:

  • Alternative medicines
  • Anti-aging creams
  • Anti-vaccination
  • Astrology & horoscopes
  • Bermuda Triangle
  • Channeling
  • Crop circles
  • Dowsing
  • Faith healing
  • Flat earth society
  • Healing crystals
  • Homeopathy
  • Natural cures that “they” don’t want you to know about
  • Naturopothy
  • Numerology
  • Palmistry
  • Parapsychology
  • Prosperity gospel
  • Psychic predictions
  • Reflexology
  • Tarot cards
  • Telepathy/Mind reading
  • The Law of Attraction/The Secret
  • Ufology

Open your mind – techniques that will help:

  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Psychedelics (Ayahuasca, DMT, LSD, Magic Mushrooms)
  • Listening to different perspectives/people who think differently
  • Seeking out the best arguments and evidence against your beliefs
  • Making friends with smart people who think differently than you
  • Read/watch/listen/study things you know nothing about. Variety is always good, and when you learn new things you know nothing about, it activates new neural pathways in your brain and it causes you to think in a new way
  • Variety. The more variety you have in what you eat/read/watch/listen to/talk about, who you hang out with, where you spend time etc. the more your mind will open to new possibilities
  • Travel the world to as many places as possible as soon as possible, and if possible, live in another country. The more you travel, the more you will see/hear/feel/experience, and the more your mind will open to new ways of thinking and doing things

Learn Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats and apply them to meetings:

  • Blue Hat – Project Management
    • What are we here for?
    • What are we doing?
    • What do we want to achieve?
  • Red Hat – emotions/feelings
    • Emotions
    • Feelings
    • Intuition
    • Gut feel
  • White Hat – information
    • What we know and what we don’t know
    • What information is missing
    • What information is needed
    • How will we get the information we need?
  • Yellow Hat – positive thinking
    • Being positive and optimistic about an idea
    • Thinking about how to make an idea work
    • Advocating for an idea
    • Looking for benefits
  • Black Hat – critical thinking
    • Caution
    • Judgement
    • Risk assessment
    • Being against things and why they won’t work
  • Green Hat – creative thinking
    • Generating ideas and being creative
    • Out of the box thinking
    • Possibilities thinking
    • Doesn’t have to be logical

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