Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On Critical Thinking

Kevin Friery Questions from the Floor
By nature, critical thinking leads to more questions than answers. For a skilled critical thinker, issues are rarely simple. Because critical thought requires approaching a problem from many angles and many perspectives, solutions tend to come in shades of gray rather than black and white. 

People who are not inclined towards critical thinking, have a much greater tendency to see things in terms of black and white. For them, conforming to a solution posed by the group with whom they identify is easy and even the obvious "right thing to do." They may interpret the failure of critical thinkers to do likewise as "crazy" or "stupid."

Critical thinking does not come naturally to humans. It requires ongoing training and self-discipline. The difference between the skilled critical thinker and the average thinker is as dramatic as the difference between the physique of a pro body builder and the average physique.

Teach's Precepts for Critical Thinking:

1. High levels of certainly often correlates to low levels of critical thinking [1]
Examples from the Left and the Right of failure to critically evaluate the issue:
1. On the Left: "All of my friends at the health food store say that immunizations are dangerous and cause autism. There are scientific studies that prove it. Immunizations are part of a conspiracy generated by the medical industrial complex."
In truth, there was a single flawed study linking immunization to autism. The results have not been replicated, and overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the need for immunization reflects the consensus of the scientific community. So, if you believe that immunizations are bad, this belief is likely based on anecdotes, your need to conform to the group with whom you identify, and on your intuitive feelings of paranoia.
2. On the Right: "The guys on Talk Radio say that climate change is a myth. Many scientists agree. The whole global warming thing is a conspiracy perpetrated by liberal scientists who want grant money."
Actually, there has never been a more researched natural phenomenon in history than climate change. Overwhelming scientific evidence supports the validity of climate change caused by human activity and this view is supported by a consensus of the scientific community. If you believe that climate change is not occurring or that it is not caused by human activity, this belief is likely based on anecdotes, your need to conform to the group with whom you identify, and on your intuitive feelings of paranoia. http://www.pnas.org/content/107/27/12107.short
That said, alternative theories to the scientific consensus are a VERY good thing. On occasion, the scientist who opposes the consensus will find strong opposing evidence. As opposing evidence accumulates and eventually outweighs supporting evidence, the scientific consensus will shift to the new position. So, if and when evidence opposing immunization and opposing climate change theory accumulates to the tipping point, good critical thinkers (like the scientific community) will shift to the new position.

I was once trying to teach a particularly difficult theory to a class. About half the class understood the theory and the other half didn't get it. When polled, 100% of the students who understood the theory said they agreed with the theory while 100% of those who failed to understand the theory described it as "stupid." It takes time and effort to become informed on complex issues and no effort at all to have a gut level response. Ironically, the informed individual is more likely to be uncertain about his/her position than is the uninformed individual.

2. Objective evidence and logic outweigh popular views and intuition

3. "Feelings" are not evidence. "Common Sense" is not evidence. "Faith" is not evidence. "How I was raised" is not evidence. "Anecdotes" are not evidence.
4. Changing positions when opposing evidence outweighs supporting evidence is the hallmark for critical thought.
5. Ego is the greatest obstacle to critical thought.

[1] "Critical Thinking and Emotional Intelligence." Critical Thinking and Emotional Intelligence. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

Resolution to Be Less Tolerant in 2015

I plan to be less tolerant of Bullies who camouflage insecurity by feeding cowardly egos on the suffering of the weak and less fortunate.

I plan to be less tolerant of Bigots. They are cruel and stupid, more animal than human. I will not eat at the same table with one and would prefer not to drink from water fountains used by these filthy creatures.

I plan to be less tolerant of Homophobes. Their obsession with what other adult human beings do in the privacy of their bedrooms is twisted and perverted. They should be excluded from any role where they have influence over children, be it parent, clergy, teacher, or scout leader.

I plan to be less tolerant of people who think the statement, “That's just how I was raised,” excuses bad behavior. As children we have no choice but to comply with the norms of our families and cultures. As adults it is our sacred responsibility to improve the world by meticulously evaluating the values and “morals” on which we were raised and discarding any that cause harm or suffering to others.

Message from the Bones of a Broken Pirate

We are here to remind you of who you are.
You are temporary.
You are broken.
You are parts that fit together less and less comfortably
You are a sputtering, coughing stream of semi-consciousness
See how easily the veneer peels away and exposes your frailty?
See how your posture mimics a sail on a still afternoon?
You are the scent of stale, empty space
Hear your voice deepen and crack like an old wooden hull?
There is no place to hide, but you try to hide
You are afraid
You are dishonest
What would happen if you forced your crooked frame into the light of day?
Dare you take a peek at what is real?
Would you die of shame?
Can you neutralize the mechanisms that imprison you?
You made the locks so strong
And you love them so

Its Not Really a "Stream" of Consciousness

Until very recently, consciousness was considered sort of a “black box,” a mysterious phenomenon too complex to even attempt to explain in any objective manner. However, new theories are beginning to shine a light on the nature of consciousness. The following is my interpretation of how consciousness operates.

“Stream of consciousness,” is a misleading and ultimately inaccurate metaphor. “Hive of consciousness” or “city of consciousness” is a better fit for our current understanding of the phenomenon. “Stream” implies a linear progression, thoughts moving forward single file. Human thought patterns more closely resemble a popcorn popper than an assembly line.

Consider my average morning. The alarm clock goes off and I enter a vague level of wakeful consciousness. The following blur of thoughts emerges in no particular order:

“Where is that alarm clock ugh I hate that noise my back hurts it’s cold outside no way its already 6:30 I have to pee man I don’t want to get up my mouth is so dry shit its cold in here I have so much to do today I bet the dog needs to go out what time is my first class ok five more minutes”

In less than few seconds, this barrage of thoughts has been condensed into a gut feeling, the cognitive shortcut that automatically tallies up every thought and feeling I have in reaction to the alarm going off and prompts me to act…   “I want more sleep,” so I hit snooze.

Hundreds of thoughts whirl in a nonsensical storm of neuronal firings. Then, they are bundled into chunks called gut feelings, and the gut feelings sometimes prompt us to take some kind of action. The whole process is very quick and very constant.

If we use the analogy of a factory, it would look something like this:
  1. Different objects (thoughts) are thrown from all directions into a hopper
  2. At varying levels of hopper volume, the objects are bagged up (gut feelings)
  3. The bags are conveyed to three different locations
  4. Most of the bags will go to the incinerator (the forgetting process)
  5. Some, will be warehoused for later use (memory)
  6. And, the remaining bags will trigger the “on” switch for any of a wide array of machines (taking some kind of action)

In the same way that our bodies are composed of millions of cells living out their lives as tiny coordinated components of the universe that make up your physical self, your consciousness is composed of millions of random thoughts firing from different parts of the brain and living out their sparks of existence as coordinated components of the universe that is your conscious self.

Personal Mythology: What's Your Theme?

Luca Masters Sand Castle
Freud was keen on the influence of early experiences on personality development. Recently, I explored memories of my own solitary, fantasy play themes from childhood. I chose solitary play, when a child is playing alone with only simple toys and his/her imagination, because the manifestations are a pure reflection of the child's inner world. What I found was a fascinating consistency in patterns that have endured throughout my life! I discussed the phenomenon with my girlfriend who was, likewise, able to recognize play themes that became woven into the very fabric of her personal identity and sense of purpose.

I grew up on the coast of South Carolina. My parents took me to the beach as regularly as parents from other places might have taken their kids to the park. After swimming, body surfing, and feeding some of my snacks to the seagulls, I always built an elaborate sand castle with multiple walls and moats to protect it from the incoming tide. I gained huge satisfaction from re-fighting this losing battle of frantically fortifying my creation against ever advancing waves. The theme of the underdog, bravely taking on impossible odds and fighting until the end resonated deep inside me.

At home, I liked to play smash up derby with my toy cars. I would repeatedly crash two cars together in head-on collisions until one of the cars capsized. The winner would be the car that landed with all four tires on the ground. Some cars were “good guys” others were “bad guys.” My favorite car was the oldest, most beat-up vehicle in my collection. The dilapidated car was an old veteran of the game, battle worn and over the hill, but with such heart that, win or lose, it would fight with its last ounce of strength.

Fighting for the underdog continues to provide a deep sense of meaning in my life. For good or ill, I equate suffering for a good cause to nobility. I have always considered myself peculiar in that, while “winning” in a challenge is nice, it has never been my top priority. For me, "fighting the good fight” takes precedence above all else. Giving my best effort and enduring whatever difficulties that might emerge, represent my gut level measures of success. Winning and goal achievement are wonderful, but of much less importance than giving my all.

My girlfriend's early fantasy play involved pretending to organize elaborate fashion shows. Her role was always to provide support and encouragement to aid her imaginary friends in successfully “starring” in the shows. For my girlfriend, her own inner knowledge of the importance of her contributions and NOT recognition from others defined nobility of character. As an adult, creativity, fashion, and working “behind the scenes” continue to shape her personal sense of meaning.

What were the themes of your fantasy play as a child? Do those themes continue to play out in your adult life? I would love to hear your stories.

Robin Williams

One in four people with bipolar disorder will die by suicide. Abby Hoffman, Phil Ochs, Ernest Hemingway, and Robin Williams all suffered from mental illness. Complicating factors in these deaths are the intrinsic resistance patients have to complying with medical treatment, and well meaning but poorly informed friends and family who reinforce the idea that treatment is unnecessary in all but the floridly psychotic.

I have known two good people who took their own lives and in each case there was a denial of the seriousness of mental illness both by the victims and by the people who loved them.

Psychiatric medicine is still in its infancy. It requires patience and good communication between practitioners and patients. Psychiatry is not snake oil and it is not a conspiracy to "drug people up." Like any serious medical treatment, a cost/benefit analysis should be employed and second opinions should be procured.

The world loses many brilliant minds and kind hearts unnecessarily to mental illness. Think twice before you tell someone to stop or refuse medical treatment for mental illness.

Wealth Distribution in the US if there were 100 People and the GDP was $1000


1 person gets $430

4 people get $72.50 each

15 people get $14 each


80 people get $0.87 each

Monday, December 1, 2014

Chicago Marathon & Race Gear to Africa


$2,230 of $3,000
Raised by 23 people in 2 months
Donate Now


Created May 12, 2015
Erica Schwarting

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