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  • We're lucky to live in an age where the sum total of human knowledge

  • is pretty much available at the click of a button.

  • We've never had access to so much information.

  • But not all of what's out there is quite what it seems.

  • So here's a few strategies to navigate your way through.

  • And avoid falling out with people along the way.

  • We all enjoy that sweet dopamine hit of feeling like we're right.

  • In repeated experiments, psychologists have shown

  • we're much more likely to accept something as evidence

  • if it confirms what we already think we know.

  • And much more likely to discount information

  • if it contradicts our views.

  • It's what's known asconfirmation bias”.

  • It's one of the keycognitive biasesthat humans have,

  • and it operates at an unconscious level -

  • affecting our ability to process information.

  • This is especially true for issues which are emotionally charged,

  • or where our views are deeply held.

  • But it can come into play at any time.

  • So don't rush to decide,

  • and be actively prepared to change your mind.

  • So many of our discussions take place on social media platforms

  • where algorithms reward our desire to see and hear our views confirmed.

  • But in life, most situations are nuanced and complicated

  • acknowledging that can enrich the way that we view the world.

  • For example, what colour is the sky? Well, the obvious answer is blue.

  • But at sunrise or sunset, it can be red.

  • On a cold misty morning, white or grey.

  • At night, midnight blue or black.

  • But imagine for a moment the blue of the sky on a sunny day.

  • Is it really blue?

  • The colour blue has a short wavelength,

  • meaning it scatters more than other colours -

  • making it more visible to the human eye.

  • So the sky looks blue to us humans,

  • even though there's a whole spectrum of colours out there.

  • Even something that seems totally self-evident

  • can be more nuanced than you think.

  • One approach to, well, arguing,

  • is to let go of the idea of beingright”.

  • Or at least seriously consider that you might actually be wrong.

  • Putting yourself in the other person's shoes

  • can lead to much more productive outcomes.

  • Really try to understand where the other person is coming from.

  • It's what's calledintellectual empathy”.

  • It can be challenging, but that's the point.

  • This can only work when both parties are engaging in good faith.

  • Arguing just to waste somebody's time,

  • known online assea lioning”,

  • not only makes you that guy or girl people avoid at parties,

  • but we are intellectually, socially and politically worse off for it.

  • It's more important than ever

  • to know where your information is coming from.

  • That sciency-looking graph about the dangers of feral Dalmatian puppies

  • might look very convincing, until you dig a little deeper

  • and find it was commissioned by fur-coat-coveting

  • Disney villain, Cruella de Vil.

  • Be on the lookout for ulterior motives and vested interests.

  • Becoming literate in the basics of scientific methodology,

  • the use of data and the way it's presented

  • are all weapons in your arsenal when it comes to critical thinking.

  • Whether engaging in online debates or arguing with Uncle Frank,

  • it's very easy to lose our cool and resort to some

  • less-than-sound tactics.

  • One common tactic is what philosophers call,

  • The Straw Manfallacy.

  • Instead of engaging with the actual belief,

  • you engage with a caricature.

  • For example, if I said, “I prefer hamsters to gerbils,”

  • you might respond, “Oh, so you want to drown all gerbils?”

  • A viewpoint that's much easier to take down.

  • Another fallacy is thead hominem fallacy”,

  • where you discount an argument

  • because of your opinion of the person making it.

  • This can lead to ad hominem attacks,

  • which is basically Latin for name-calling.

  • In that situation, it's fair to say that everybody loses.

  • Engaging in critical thinking isn't as fun as picking up a pitchfork,

  • or feeling like you're fundamentally right.

  • But in the long run, it leads to a more curious,

  • educated and harmonious society,

  • which ultimately is the biggest win of all.

We're lucky to live in an age where the sum total of human knowledge

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Five simple strategies to sharpen your critical thinking | BBC Ideas

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    Summer posted on 2021/01/21
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