Maybe you’re wondering what critical thinking has to do with survival, but I suspect most of you know exactly. If you can’t think straight while sitting at the computer you might type something silly in your blog; if you can’t think straight in a survival situation it might kill you. Learn how to think.
Critical thinking is incompatible with authoritarian government. It’s easier to control ill-informed masses trained in group-think than it is to control individuals alert to propaganda, so for the last several decades the Statists have turned academic institutions into centers of diseducation (my own word). Their ostensible purpose is to educate, and they do this at the surface, but their actual function is to propagate state-approved information. That is, they create a population that knows or believes certain things that have the official stamp of approval. What they don’t do is teach people how to think so they can determine the reality of things. Students are trained to ingest approved knowledge. It’s safer for the State that way.
What I’ve just described is “indoctrination,” and it is alive and well in Western society.
I’m not suggesting that educators have deliberately set out to harm the students; but the harm that results is nonetheless a consequence of the structure of our educational system. My objective in this article and the updates that will follow is to teach some basic thinking skills that I hope will become a regular part of your everyday life. The ability to think critically is the primary defense against indoctrination.
Exercise 1. What are you looking at?
Let’s consider these two images:
Question: What is Image A? Most people will say “it is a dog,” but let’s be very precise. It’s not a dog; it’s a picture of a dog. I’m not trying to be funny. I’m making an important point. Let’s go to the next question.
Question: What is Image B? If you said “it is a picture of a triangle,” I’d ask you again to be more precise. This is not just a picture of a triangle — it actually is a triangle.
The reason the answers are different lies in how we define things. A dog can be defined as “a highly variable domestic mammal (canis familiaris) closely related to the gray wolf” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). We know a dog as a living, furry animal that plays fetch, does tricks, messes on the floor, and so on. It’s “man’s best friend.” Image A doesn’t fit either definition or description in any respect. The image is not a mammal, it’s not related to a wolf, it doesn’t play fetch, and it will never make a mess on your floor. Instead, it is an image, a representation of the thing that does all these, and which we call a dog.
A triangle is “a polygon having three sides” (Merriam-Webster). Image B is also a picture of a triangle, but as I said, it is not merely that. In addition to being a picture of a triangle, it is something more — it is a triangle, by definition.
Often it doesn’t matter whether you make this distinction. If I’m teaching my two-year-old to distinguish between a dog and a cat, I’ll hold up a picture of a dog and say “this is a dog.” Then I’ll hold up a picture of a cat and say “this is a cat.” When I point to a picture of a monkey and ask what it is, she says “monkey!” and I tell her what a smart little girl she is.
On the other hand, sometimes you need to know very precisely what you’re talking about; you need the ability to make fine distinctions that are both accurate and relevant to the context. To do that, you have to know what things are, and what they aren’t.
Exercise 2. Define something
Let’s stick with the dog. If I point to a furry mammal (in this case a dog) and ask “what kind of animal is that?” you’ll say “a dog.” It doesn’t take a lengthy science education to know what a dog is. Just ask any five year old.
This is because we don’t use science to determine what kind of animal it is. We see the furry mammal and we know it is a dog by definition. You see, “science” doesn’t tell us what things are; it is a cold, inanimate methodology by which we can determine what things do, or what properties they might have. It is a systematic way of making observations. We’re the ones who say what things are. Asserting what something is requires a mind and an act of will; “science” doesn’t have a mind and is incapable of asserting, thinking, or willing anything.
Watch how this works with the definition of life, for example. Is a virus “alive?” How do you determine this? Well, typically you go to the textbook and look up the definition of life. People like yourself have came up with various definitions of life which state that living things have certain properties; they undergo metabolism, reproduce, respond to stimuli, and maintain homeostasis, among others. The precise definition depends on who you ask.
Anyway, you start by getting observations in a way that makes use of scientific methodology; you get your microscope and some petri dishes and chemicals and run tests. These tests may be more or less rigorous depending on your skill and discipline, but in the end you have a set of results. Then you check those results against the definition of life and state a conclusion: “A virus is [or is not] alive.”
What happened here? Well, you practiced some degree of scientific methodology to make certain observations. Some of the tests might have been more or less complicated, but they were all basically physical and chemical processes by which you made observations. Then you did something very complex — you thought about the things you observed and made decisions as to how they correlate to the definition you found in the book.
This last part is not “science.” It is a cognitive exercise powered by your will. (Note that you can be systematic about how you think about or analyze this thought process, but thinking about how you think isn’t science; it’s philosophy).
OK, let’s get back on track. You observed the viruses using scientific methodology; you got some results, and then you compared them to the textbook definition of “life.”
Question: Where did that definition come from? Is there a code written in the stars that tells us the definition of life? Did someone discover the definition in the lab? What form did it take? Was it written down? If so I’d like to see it. Was it auditory? Can I hear the recording, please?
You get it? The definition of life is something human beings just like you have decided on. Some guy who was born a baby and soiled his diapers grew up, got a piece of paper saying he’s highly educated, and then wrote a book with his definition of life. Maybe it’s a good definition, but maybe it isn’t.
So here’s the point. You can use scientific methodology to prove that a virus does or maybe that it doesn’t conform to the textbook definition of “life.” But in the end you’ll never be able to prove scientifically whether it is or is not, in fact, alive, because “life” is a matter of definition, not scientific methodology, and no amount of science education is capable of altering that universal reality. Somebody wrote that definition, and he might be wrong.
Exercise 3: The Difference Between “Accuracy” and “Precision”
When we make value statements, we invoke the concepts of accuracy and precision, so it’s important to know how they’re related and how they differ. We’ll illustrate this with an analogy involving target-shooting with a gun.
Imagine a bullseye target — concentric circles with a red dot in the center.
You take five shots, and you get the following result:
Your shots are all over the map. You’re not anywhere near the intended target, so your shots are not accurate. Also, your shots are not close together, so your shooting is not precise.
You try again and get the following:
Now your shots are loosely grouped around the intended target. You are accurately targeting the “right” spot, but not very precisely. This means your own aim is good, but your gun is not built well enough to put the shot where you want it. You have good accuracy, but bad precision.
Let’s try again:
Here your shots are nicely grouped together, so they’re precise, but they don’t land close to the intended target, so they’re inaccurate. Good precision and an inaccurate result. The precision results from the gun being well-built, and the ammo is top-notch, very consistent, but your sights are off.
Finally, you get the following pattern:
Your shots are closely grouped right over the bullseye. This represents a very precise group of shots that hit the intended target with great accuracy. You’re right on target.
Look at the next-to-last image above. When applied to politics, the red center of the target represents truth. High precision (a tight group of shots) with poor accuracy (off-center) represents carefully crafted lies, or demagoguery, such as the baseline-budgeting scam.
In science this pattern represents issue-advocacy, like the global warming scam.
In education it represents indoctrination, like the statist assumptions in all state-funded educational institutions.
In religion it represents heresy. In navigation, a wrong heading; in applied math, a correct calculation of the wrong formula; and so on.
Whenever you see this pattern, beware.