How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

June 16, 2020

How do you become more rational, logical, and improve your critical thinking in general?

Critical thinking starts with the premise that all you know is subject to change or revision, even your most closely held beliefs. Once you accept that, you have begun to think critically.

For starters, I'd recommend taking a look at Neil deGrasse Tyson's Masterclass. I don't think I have to introduce this guy.

After that, a critical thinker compares everything they know or believe to reality, and strives to resolve inconsistencies. When knowledge can't be squared with reality, it is because either available evidence is insufficient to draw a conclusion, or the idea itself is incomplete or incorrect.

When reality and understanding collide, reality rarely gives way.

Question everything, your beliefs, the system and everything you've been taught. It can be a mind fuck, but it can also help you improve your thinking abilities. And careful with what you believe to be the thuth.

Take anything you believe and type "debunked" after it. Follow that rabbit hole until you hate yourself.

What are the best books to improve your rational thinking skills?

  • How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler - the first book anyone looking to get into non-fiction should read!
  • The Predictioneer’d Game by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. Game theory will change your life.
  • Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Taleb. I'm reading this one, and the whole series again and again.
  • People Skills by Robert Bolton. A great reminder on the importance of listening skills and body language and how to be assertive without being a jerk.
  • Flatland by Edwin A Abbott. Great satire. Bonus: Learn how to think in multidimensional space.

Improve your critical thinking skills by learning programming

If you know high school math and basic programming, try The Algorithm Design Manual. If you're completely new to programming, start with an online crash course for python, c++ or java first. Shouldn't take more than a few hours to get a handle on the basics.

Programming Pearls is another good read for improving your problem solving skills.

How to improve your reasoning skills quickly

First, consider the media you take in. Do you only listen to one radio station, watch one news outlet, or value the reporting you receive on social media?

Second, listen - watch - value something different. For example, if you only listen to NPR, tune into AM talk radio. Conversely, if you only watch Fox News, tune into Colbert or late night tv to hear the other side.

Third, listen to what others are saying. Oftentimes we can expand our critical thinking skills when we suspend our judgments and authentically listen to what others are saying.

Fourth, although being right and agreeing with others is not required, please consider your values and think for yourself.

Fifth, question your own thoughts and actions. Consider your values again, are you doing or saying something that is helpful to another person - or are you doing or saying something harmful? Are your thoughts and actions aligned?

Is it possible to be unbiased?

I'd say most important thing to remember is, there isn't anything unbiased and there wont ever be, all we can do is approximate to that point. Further, anything challenging our judgement/opinion/evaluation is something to actively strive for, as this is something new, something beyond and thus an opportunity to learn and strengthen the validity of our judgement.

The standard I try to hold for myself is, if I'm arguing or explaining a phenomena I studied in depth, I need to be able to argue the other said better, than somebody without my detailed knowledge. How much of the critique you can actually include is depending on the extend of your presentation, but certainly many of the strongest points that you can make in favor of a specific interpretation are directly related to the contesting arguments there of. It also helps clarifying where hard evidence reaches its limits and why and how you conclude beyond that point.

If I give a presentation of a topic I prepared in depth and don't end up triggering (valid) contra arguments myself beyond the ones coming from the audience, I'd consider myself badly prepared.

Try to disprove everything meaningful you claim and just as you're unable to do that, accept you're maybe right. There is nothing to learn from nodding into a mirror, but challenges can open up the whole world to you.

Try applying a genealogical analysis to the problem at hand

Applying a genealogical analysis to things: I.e. Taking a view of things qua historical product.

A term like genealogy has the feature of a) ’reversal of perspective’ i.e. to take what is left out of the histories and take the perspective of the masses. Also has focus on b) marginality - don’t privilege the discourse of the dominant group, look at the discourse of the marginal groups as they show more clearly the assumptions of the dominant group. c) A principle of discontinuity - write and read your history without the assumptions: i) that history is continuous, ii) that it is tends towards being a rational story, iii) that there is a beginning-middle-end — rather accept history in its materiality i.e. with all of its contingencies and lucky things that happened, don’t assume a telos.

I would say this is certainly a form of critical thinking taken from continental philosophy. This method was most famously applied to morality by Nietzsche, and to various institutions of power by Foucault.

What's phylosiphical cynicism?

It's a shame cynicism has such negative connotations as a word. It is the view that self-interest is the main motivator of all human action.

"What vested interests are being served by this narrative?"

"What psychological/emotional pulls are creating bias here?"

"Why might someone want this to be true, even if it is false or open to doubt?"

"If this were in fact false, why might people still try to make people believe it?"

"Who gains money and power of people believe/disbelieve this claim?"

I think such cynical lines of critical question are especially useful in an age where disinformation is often being spread to make money or gain political power.

The power of discourse

Honestly the best way is to engage in debate. Whether you're understanding someone else's viewpoint, teaching your own, having an argument or just a collaborative discussion, discourse is key to refining ideas and practicing critical thought on the fly.

It definitely helps if your opinions do not become a substantial part of your identity, you have to depersonalize yourself from your positions. By doing thid you allow yourself to be more critical of your own stances and you will listen better to what others have to say, because an attack on your opinions will feel a lot less like an attack on you as a person.

Argue things with other people, it might not make you appear the most favorable person with most people but others will enjoy debating and discussing things.

Play devils advocate whenever possible.

Ask people questions you already know the answer to and then try to change their position.

Think more. Let the stream of consciousness take you. Tangents can be interesting.

Take things more seriously and be precise about expressing yourself and how others express themselves.

How studying logic and rationality improved my life outside of philosophy

I feel like it has helped me understand the news better. Especially political news. I'm able to mentally remove faulty logic in articles that have a left or right leaning point of view. However, I try to stick to more middle of the road sources usually. It just helps especially with Facebook and the type of content some of my friends share. I don't often start a discussion, but I definitely mentally work my way through the topics. (I don't discuss with my friends because many are so deeply attached to their points of view that even trying to open their mind would be impossible)

Honestly learning more about something abstract like this won't likely be immediately applicable in a direct sort of way. It won't ground-breakingly revolutionize the way you see every single aspect of the world.

Learning Logic in your non-academic case would be like being handed a 20-sided die that's blank on say, 18 of those sides.

You get to roll the die for the rest of your life whenever something comes up, (unless you forget what you've learned), but you can never really rely on the die to actually impact the scenario you just rolled it for.

Every once in a while though, it'll land on a non-blank side and your knowledge will kick in in a way that influences how you approach the scenario.

So the die is there for you to take(learn), and you'll always have it to look at(think about), and the chance is always there for it to be useful so it's not a complete waste of time(it has a non-zero impact), but you won't use it in a huge way all that often.

My take on learning critical thinking from others

Also known as learning by osmosis. You can read more about the whole idea here: https://medium.com/@Aegist/critical-thinking-by-osmosis-99df335b80e1

I think the idea has great appeal, and I think it will be successful only because of that, if not successful by merit (ie it actually working)

A major problem of the project is that it rests on the assumption that critical thinking can be learned by "osmosis", and that it can be learned by casual internet use. I don't think there's anything to suggest that the nuances of critical thinking can be learned by observation or by, after seeing 2 sides, getting a better overall picture of the issue. And (most) people don't use the internet to exercise their brains, they use it to relieve their brains (no judgement there). The whole idea behind critical thinking is "question everything", and questioning things, especially things that go against your own beliefs and perspectives, is a hard thing to do! It becomes even harder when you're just casually surfing the internet and you have no (extrinsic) reason to question what you're reading

Overall, I think its biggest strength is the idea behind introducing a reader to opposing viewpoints. That way, a reader can see that there are always two sides to every single issue, no matter how "right" or "factual" a piece of information is. For learning to happen in the first place, assumptions have to be challenged, so it's a great place to start for expanding knowledge! But like I said, I don't think this will necessarily equip them with the base skills of critical thinking, ie skills that they can use for a situation where there is no Socratic Web or rbutr to guide them or to help them decide what to believe. That, they will have to learn for themselves with the help of education, family, culture etc, but most of all, an open mind and desire for truth rather than something that just makes you feel good. Nonetheless, I personally can see myself using rbtr for school to make it easier to find opposing viewpoints for my arguments.

"Critical thinking" isn't an overt behaviour or some kind of observable, communicative mental state. It's a rational process. Like shit, if abstract, complex reason and logic could be learned by observation or communicated through non-verbal means, we would be 500 years ahead of where we are.

This will be a highly valuable feature to aid those who already have some inkling or motivation for "critical thinking", like students or academics or those who are genuinely looking to expand their horizons. But I don't think it'll magically produce increasingly better "critical thinkers" across generations. I could even argue that it will eventually do the opposite, regardless of it's motivations, but I don't care to go there.

Don't go overboard with rationality

If you become obsessed with critical thinking it might become something that is called scientism and instead of thinking rationaly, you will rationalize.

There has to be a balance to everything. Do not disregard empathy and your mental health.

I used to be an atheist and very focused on 'science' and 'reason'. I'm still don't believe in God but I don't identify with the label "atheism."

I realized how limited and dogmatic that viewpoint can be.

We are these tiny humans, little microbes on this random planet, and we have no sweet clue what's going on. We can't explain dark matter/dark energy, which makes up most of the observable universe. We have no idea what lies beyond what we can observe.

What makes us so certain that there aren't overlapping dimensions all around us, but that we just can't perceive more than three because of our limited senses?

I don't believe in supernatural beings. However I think that option, of it all being in your brain, is STILL extremely magical and fascinating! Why do we have these parts of our brain that can give us these important messages and knowledge through intense symbolism? Why is it that we can rarely access this function of our brain, but certain drugs help us to?

We may carry some ancient knowledge or something in our DNA/brain/cells. Seems like our brains create symbols/images in response to information (even when sober - the blue/gold dress was a good example of consensus reality breaking down because our brains created the image of that information differently). So DMT visions could be our brains getting some kind of information, and creating symbolism/imagery that represents it.

I'm still living rationaly and I'm sad for people who are irrational to the point of being anti-vaxxers or flatearthers. About the big questions - quantum mechanics, meaning of life, God — all that I know now is that I know nothing and these questions are a waste of time. And it's nice.

Are typical women less rational than typical men in general?

I don't think of women as less intelligent or intellectually inferior. I actually believe using empathy and practical methods doesn't have to be irrational and, on average, in our society, women's minds and tools are vastly superior to men.

The way many women are taught to use intelligence/logic is different to men.

Men are usually trying to get a logical understanding of the world. Once they can get an understanding of it they will subordinate what they believe to what they have learnt. (or get really angry at the part of the world that disagrees and try and kill it).

The nature of many men's approach (though certainly not all) to logic is to gain accurate information about the world. And then believe that information. They're often extremely bad at that. And it's very challenging to give up a belief in the face of new information that contradicts it.

Women do it almost the completely opposite way around.

They use logic to work out what is the most beneficial/practical/good thing to believe and then believe that. Whether its an acculate description of reality is irrelevant. Their beliefs are just tools to get things done. Not accurate represenations of the world.

For a typical man "true" means this is how the world is when calculated by maths.

For a typical woman "true" means this is what needs to be done.

It makes debating and arguing with women a difficult thing to do. What guys are trying to do in a debate is to pin down exactly what the other person believes, and then show that it is a less accurate view of reality than what they themself believe.

Men are stubborn. But women don't have fixed beliefs, so trying to pin it down goes nowhere. What a lot of the female commenters "believe" changes from discussion to discussion. And that's a huge advantage over men.

Sometimes even from comment to comment within the same discussion, or even from paragraph to paragraph within the same comment. Thare are no fixed beliefs, just useful supporting evidence for whatever they're arguing at the moment.

That inability to have a consistent set of beliefs (or more accurately, the ability to change beliefs from moment to moment) is what guys mean by "the hamster". When faced with a novel situation/threat a women will "spin the hamster wheel" looking for the most useful thing to believe right now.

Schopenhauer believed that women were more adept mentally in what is near at hand, this is born out in women's aptitude for conversation, improvising things.

In contrast men are better at studying causal chains.

Also, Schopenhauer was a rich introvert asshole, did not enjoy success until his twilight years, and hated women.

How to help a bigoted irrational person become more rational?

By listening to why they are so "bigoted". Berating, guilt tripping or other strong arming just reinforces their views. I see so much of that online and it just makes me shake my head.

When these people who they are being bigoted towards want to be understood and get respect don't try to do the same. Or outright disregard the other person's reasoning. Sure you might not be able to get rid of their bigotry, but you might be able to help lessen it.

Humans Don’t Realize How Biased They Are Until AI Reproduces the Same Bias

https://medium.com/syncedreview/humans-dont-realize-how-biased-they-are-until-ai-reproduces-the-same-bias-says-unesco-ai-chair-9968bb1f5da8

Data can be biased, but statistics based on data is only biased to that data. What’s more biased though? The human that looks at statistics and doesn’t like the results, or the results of statistics?

We can try and keep our models as general as possible, but removing features in the name of “fairness” is not helping with accuracy. May earn some social points though.

All we are is numbers in fields, values and vectors in multidimensional arrays, operating in accordance with the equations of physics. You, flowers, and microprocessors are made of the same stuff, so the substrate on which your pattern runs isn't important. What matters is the complexity of the pattern and connected sensorium.

No one is saying any current AI is sentient though. We all mean it in the same way that you meant when you called it "a replica of intelligence". In machine learning, AI means a thing that makes decisions based on accrued 'wisdom' in the form of a neural network.

I don't mean to patronize with the links, I'm sure you already know at least the basics, and maybe more than I do. Those are just what to me are the most compelling explanations, interesting in their own right.

How do philosophers respond to the uncomfortable idea that all humans are somehow "a slave to their passions?"

On one interpretation, Epicurus claims that our primary aim in life should be to free ourselves from pains, because if we engage in any and all pleasures that become available to us we will end up being pained by the negative consequences of those pleasures. For instance, it would be pleasurable to eat cake for dinner every day, but the long-term health costs outweigh the short-term pleasures.

Support for this interpretation is found Epicurus’s Letter to Menoeceus, ‘For it is not drinking bouts and continuous playing and enjoying boys and women, or consuming fish and the other dainties of an extravagant table, which produce the pleasant life, but sober calculation which searches out the reasons for every choice and avoidance and drives out the opinions which are the source of the greatest turmoil for men's souls.’

Epicurus, then, did not advocate a life of sensual delights, but rather the pursual of sober reasoning to achieve the ultimate pleasures of aponia, which means the absence of pain in the body, and ataraxia, the absence of pain in the mind. Aponia and ataraxia are best achieved by limiting one’s desires to what is natural and necessary or natural and unnecessary where appropriate.

To Epicurus, natural and necessary desires are desires for basic needs like food, water, and shelter etc. They are natural because they’re hard-wired into us naturally, and they’re necessary because without them we cannot be happy. Natural and unecesarry desires are desires for luxury foods or sex; they are natural but we don’t need them to be happy. Unnatural and unnecessary desires are desires for wealth, power, fame, and the like; they are unnatural because they aren’t hard-wired into us, and they are unnecessary because without them we can still be happy. Epicurus was not against natural but unnecessary pleasures, however. When one is in a state of aponia and ataraxia, i.e. tranquility, one doesn’t avoid opportunities to enjoy unnecessary desires when they’re available and when they won’t ultimately cause more pain than pleasure, but at the same time one is not bothered by the absence of these opportunities. If one has developed a taste for luxury chocolate, like I have, for example, one enjoys it when it’s available but is not disturbed by its absence.

Epicurus thus argues that to get the best life possible, what we need is the right attitude. If we have the right attitude, we can, even if we are poor, live more pleasant and less painful lives than wealthy emperors. If we lack it, all the power and wealth in the world cannot help us.

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