Critical Thinking, Part 3
Let’s say, for the sake of this post that I believe in dragons (and I’m not talking komodo). How, you might ask, could I continue to believe something that is not backed by the facts?
1. I could, and most definitely would, look for information that confirms my existing beliefs, and take that evidence at face value (1).
Last week, on the Internet I saw a picture of “baby dragon,” named Agni, which means fire in Sanskrit. Seriously, awesome name for a dragon, am I right? (2) Fired up by the potential that dragons are real, I could avoid critiquing the potentially shoddy evidence put forth in the above fanciful article and search for MOAAAR information telling me that dragons are real. As I noted in last week’s post, people are motivated to prove themselves right and do so by searching only for evidence that confirms their beliefs, processing information in terms of the appropriately named “Myside” bias (1).
2. Ignore and avoid looking for information that contradicts my beliefs.
If conflicting evidence does happen to present itself, I would be less likely to notice it in the first place because I’m more motivated to find information that is in line with my “dragons are real,” hypothesis. However, if I was presented with information telling me about how unlikely it is that dragons do exist, I could argue that whoever told me was not a reputable source while painstakingly tearing down their “terrible” argument (1).
“Wait a minute”… you say, “I’m too smart to do any of this”. Unfortunately for all of you MENSA candidates, intelligence does not protect people from these biases, and some theorists have argued that smart people can be more biased (2). Their reasoning is that intelligence provides people with an enhanced ability to find an explanation for anything (in other words, an enhanced capacity for B.S.). Intelligence does help, however, when people are asked to take their prior beliefs out of the equation (1).
So, what’s the solution?
· Be aware of these biases.
· Try to forget about your beliefs and commit to even-handed evaluation.
· I also think it’s important to cultivate an attitude toward learning more. This means that we have something to gain even when we’re wrong. It feels bad to come up with evidence highlighting our wrongness, but it feels less bad when we’re able to view it as an opportunity to improve our understanding of the world.
· Lastly, ask yourself honestly if your explanations are B.S., because they really really could be.
Also, maybe dragons do exist and the government is trying to hide it from us on account of all the gold they’re hoarding….
1. Stanovich, K. E., West, R. F., & Toplak, M. E. (2013). Myside bias, rational thinking, and intelligence, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22, 259-264.
3. Shermer, M. (2003). Why smart people believe weird things. Skeptic, 10(2), 62-73.