Tuesday, August 27, 2013

America's Gilded Capital

Mark Leibovich covers Washington, D.C., as chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine. In his new book, This Town, he writes about the city’s bipartisan lust for power, cash and notoriety. It’s the story of how Washington became an occupied city; its hold on reality distorted by greed and ambition. Leibovich pulls no punches, names names, and reveals the movers, the shakers and the lucrative deals they make — all in the name of crony capitalism.


Big Debt on Campus

As our public education goes, so goes our country. From Mother Jones, September, 2013

Monday, August 26, 2013

Thinking Critically

Frank Smith in his book To Think refers to the work of Ennis[1] in determining attributes of critical thinking: Grasping the meaning of a statement and judging whether 
  •  there is ambiguity in a line of reasoning 
  •   certain statements contradict each other 
  •  a conclusion necessarily follows 
  •  a statement is specific enough 
  •  a statement is actually the application of a certain principle 
  •  an observation statement is reliable 
  •  an inductive[2] conclusion is warranted
  • the problem has been identified  
  •  something is an assumption 
  •  a definition is adequate 
  •  a statement made by an alleged authority is acceptable
Ennis defines critical thinking as “determining the authenticity, accuracy, and worth of information or knowledge claims.”[3]

Smith basically thinks that critical thinking is not a skill, but a disposition and requires knowledge of the subject and the authority to think critically, even if that is granted by the person doing the thinking.

“Critical and creative thinking may be viewed academically as unique mental activities, in which individuals can be deficient, but the elements of thinking critically and creatively are in everyone's behavioral and cognitive repertoire. People may often not appear to be thinking critically or creatively because they are often not in situations that permit or call for criticism or creativity, or because they are not disposed to behave critically or creatively in such situations. This does not mean that some individuals are totally incapable of thinking critically or creatively, or that they lack training. It is just that they are not thinking in those ways, for one reason or another.”

He explains further:

“If critical thinking is not a unique set of skills, if it is essentially something that everyone is capable of, that everyone does in some measure all the time, why does critical thinking-or its apparent absence attract such attention? I have a few more remarks to make about specific knowledge[4], which is at the heart of the ability to be a critical thinker. But there are two other factors to take into account in explaining why some people might not appear to be as critical in their thought as they might be. One of them I have briefly alluded to already, the matter of disposition[5]. The other is more contentious-the extent to which anyone is allowed to be a critical thinker. In other words-how serious all this talk about critical thinking is in the first place.”

The author expands his comments on knowledge:

“Critical thinking does not demand a complex array of learned skills, but competence in whatever you are thinking about. If you understand cooking, you can be critical of the way a meal is prepared. If you are an experienced football fan, you can criticize a football game. If you are a particular kind of engineer, you can criticize the way a bridge or a ship has been built. If you are unable to do any of these things, it will not be because you lack essential critical thinking skills, but because you lack the essential experience. You do not know enough.”

He concludes that critical thinking is a disposition – “a tendency to behave in particular ways on particular occasions.” “Critical thinking is an attitude, a frame of mind.” “…reflective skepticism – the judicious suspension of assent, a readiness to consider alternative explanations, not taking anything for granted when it might be reasonable to doubt.”

“Critical thinking reflects the way we perceive the world; its concern is not with the solution of "problems" but with the recognition of prejudices and biases-including our own. The beginning must be the old Greek adage ‘Know yourself.’"

“Critical thinkers are often not popular. The right to engage in critical thought is not distributed equally, especially in hierarchical, authoritarian, and bureaucratic societies. You could lose your job or your promotion, or your colleagues might find you less agreeable to work with.”

“Critical thinkers are critical; they are argumentative and unsettling; they rock the boat. They can have difficulty treading the line between constructive inquiry and nitpicking trouble-making. They may not always be comfortable to know.”

He closes the chapter with this admonition:

“Critical thinkers must not only reason, they must give reasons; they must not only evaluate arguments, they must argue. They must recognize, and engage in, techniques of persuasion. Effective critical thought is largely a rhetorical[6] exercise. Uncritical passivity in thought and expression go hand in hand.
There is no doubt that the world could do with much more critical thinking. If critical thinking leads to better judgments, fewer problems, and happier consequences, then it is not just children and youth that are in need. It is unlikely that they will become better thinkers by uncritically emulating adults. The development of critical thinking requires a major shift across the generations, and the basis of that shift-if it is not to be catastrophic-must be through language.”

To Think, Frank Smith, Teachers College Press, 1990, 181 pp

Read my summary of To Think at:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/163221519/To-Think

[1] Ennis, Robert H. (1962). A Concept of Critical Thinking, Harvard Educational Review, 32 (1), 82 -83
[2] Inductive reasoning (as opposed to deductive reasoning) is reasoning in which the premises seek to supply strong evidence for (not absolute proof of) the truth of the conclusion. While the conclusion of a deductive argument is supposed to be certain, the truth of an inductive argument is supposed to be probable, based upon the evidence given. Wikipedia
[3] The author never mentions the ability to perceive when someone is lying. I think that this needs to be covered specifically and will do so in a separate article.
[4] Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); it can be more or less formal or systematic. In philosophy, the study of knowledge is called epistemology; the philosopher Plato famously defined knowledge as "justified true belief." However, no single agreed upon definition of knowledge exists, though there are numerous theories to explain it. Knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes: perception, communication, association and reasoning; while knowledge is also said to be related to the capacity of acknowledgment in human beings. Wikipedia
[5] A disposition is a habit, a preparation, a state of readiness, or a tendency to act in a specified way. Wikipedia
[6] Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the capability of writers or speakers that attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western tradition. Its best known definition comes from Aristotle, who considers it a counterpart of both logic and politics, and calls it "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion." Rhetorics typically provide heuristics for understanding, discovering, and developing arguments for particular situations, such as Aristotle's three persuasive audience appeals, logos, pathos, and ethos. The five canons of rhetoric, which trace the traditional tasks in designing a persuasive speech, were first codified in classical Rome: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Along with grammar and logic (or dialectic), rhetoric is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. From Ancient Greece to the late 19th century, it was a central part of Western education, filling the need to train public speakers and writers to move audiences to action with arguments.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Critical Thinking Class

A course of DVDs and discussions. Lectures delivered by Steven Novella in a series called "Your Deceptive Mind" Part 1 covers lectures 1-14 and Part 2 (a separate course) covers 15-24.
Tentative schedule below (subject to change)
Your Deceptive Mind with Steven Novella
Fall 2013
Part 1 (7 classes)
Sep 12  Class 1: The Necessity of Thinking about Thinking and The Neuroscience of Belief
Sep 19  Class 2: Errors of Perception and Flaws and Fabrications of Memory
Sep 26  Class 3: Pattern Recognition – Seeing What’s Not There and Our Constructed Reality
Oct 3  Class 4: The Structure and Purpose of Argument and Logic and Logical Fallacies
Oct 10 Class 5: Heuristics and Cognitive Biases and Poor at Probability – Our Innate Innumeracy
Oct 17  Class 6: Toward Better Estimates of What’s Probable and Culture and Mass Delusions
Oct 24 Class 7: Philosophy and Presuppositions of Science and Science and the Supernatural
Part 2 (5 classes)
Nov 7  Class 1: Varieties and Quality of Scientific Evidence and Great Scientific Blunders
Nov 14  Class 2: Science vs. Pseudoscience and The Many Kinds of Pseudoscience
Nov 21  Class 3: The Trap of Grand Conspiracy Thinking and Denialism – Rejecting Science and History
Dec 5  Class 4: Marketing, Scams, and Urban Legends and Science, Media, and Democracy
Dec 12  Class 5: Experts and Scientific Consensus and Critical Thinking and Science in Your Life
Cost is $20 for either part and $30 for both. $5 for a single class.

For more information go to  http://www.meetup.com/cfiaustin/events/120710772/