Skeptical and Critical Thinking 101

Stupid is stupid — faith doesn’t make it smart.
“To Sail Beyond The Sunset” by Robert A. Heinlein

If you have a lot of creative ideas, you will likely need some anchor to reality, some way to test the feasibility and the worth of ideas.

There are a lot of good books about skeptical and critical thinking and I think that some of the guidelines can be used not only to evaluate the ideas of others but also to evaluate one’s own ideas. Combining the rules of skeptical thinking by Christoph Bördlein and those by Carole Wade & Carol Tavris lead to the following skeptical guidelines that I find quite helpful:

Skeptical Guidelines

  1. What is the issue? => Ask questions and wonder.
  2. What is claimed? => Define the terms.
  3. Which reasons are given to support the claims? => Examine evidence, make inferences visible.
  4. How well is the claim supported? => Analyze assumptions and biases, avoid emotional reasoning, and do not oversimplify.
  5. What would be a reasonable support of the hypothesis? => Consider other interpretations and tolerate uncertainty.
  6. Why is the claim believed by the proponents? => Consider the motives.

I can recommend reading a bit more about skeptical and critical thinking. If you understand German, the book by Bördlein is a good start. Regarding Psychology, the Invitation to Psychology book by Wade and Tavris is helpful. However, consider that when you are dealing with highly invested individuals (e.g., charlatans, frauds, self-deceivers) that manipulation is often involved. James Randi illustrates very well that often a stage magician is needed to expose fraud, because a stage magician is able to find out which trick was used.

Fantasy and imagination is quite well and needed for creativity, but you need a firm grounding in the facts and examine what is true and what is not. Otherwise you invest a lot of energy (and often: money) in things that do not work and will never work, no matter how hard you wish for it.

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