LETTER: Re: Thinking to make up your mind!

To the Editor:
I liked Pat Robinson’s article in the March 18, 2016 Westside Weekly on “Make up your own mind.” I would like to expand on the idea. “We are drowning in data yet starving for information” as many different people have said. How do we cut through all the chatter, newscasts, newspapers, emails, and so on, such that we can make sense of anything, let all of it? The Foundation of Critical Thinking (http://www.creativethinking.org) offers an approach called Universal Intellectual Standards and some questions that we can use to think about them.
Clarity: is the message clear? Do I understand it? Would an example help me to understand? Would anything help me understand it?

Accuracy: is the message true? How might it be supported, justified, confirmed, or falsified?
Precision: Is the message precise or specific, or it is more of an abstract generality with little meaning?
Depth: does the message cover the topic in sufficient depth or does it just provide a high-level perspective that while interesting may be essentially meaningless?

Breadth: does the message cover the topic in sufficient breadth or does it just provide a narrow perspective?
Logic: is the message logical and does it make any sense? Is there any supporting evidence?

Significance: does the message address the so what question? Would anyone really care?

For example, we frequently hear or read phrases such as “we are going to make America great again.” Or, “we are going to heal the country.” Or, “American’s don’t like Obamacare.” But, what do these messages mean, really? We actually don’t know unless the person or person’s saying them provides more detailed information. We can assume, and we usually do, that we know what the messages mean, but assuming is rarely accurate.

Other approaches to critical thinking exist as well. We might want to know what the person’s point of view is (for example, progressive, conservative, religious, or whatever), we might want to know what evidence the person has to support the message, and we might want to know the implications of the message.
Thinking is not actually easy, which is why we make many decisions based on our trust in some authority figure or based on our emotions. Yet, thinking about what we read, hear, or see provides us with better information and a means of making up our minds about the topic. Given the urgency of today’s problems and the potential effects of not solving them, thinking and acting is a better approach than blinding accepting what we read, hear, or see.

At one time, people thought the earth was flat and that the planet, sun, and stars revolved around the earth. Now we know these ideas are false. We know this because we learned to think differently and look for evidence by experimentation, observation, and quantification instead of argument or authority.
To move forward, we should not be looking in a rear view mirror but to new approaches to thinking and a search for evidence regarding what we see out the front window. New thinking approaches include critical thinking, scientific thinking, and systems thinking and while these may be new terms to many people; the concepts are essentially simple and have been around for years. We just don’t bother to teach them. Critical thinking is important for us to make sense of what we read, hear, and see. The more we learn how to critically analyze, the easier it becomes to develop a more accurate sense of the world. Because if we don’t learn to make sense of the world, we can end up believing just about anything anyone wants to tell us.

Some examples—check for multiple sources of information to see if there is convergence or divergence; examine the background of sources—what do they believe and want you to believe? Follow the money! Follow the beliefs! If someone tells you that Smith is a socialist, ask yourself some basic questions. What does that mean, really? Who thinks Smith is a socialist and how would they know? What evidence is there that Smith is a socialist? Is being a socialist bad? And so on.

Society is changing, even diverging and fragmenting in many ways, and while we may not always like the changes we see around us, perhaps they are not always as bad as we might think. Look for evidence. Think about it. Don’t just listen to one channel or one station or one person or one organization, but think about what is going on, where we are going, and what we want to do in life. Talk to others. Approach thinking differently and more critically; ask more questions, look for evidence, and then make up your own mind. 

David Gould
Fauntleroy Area

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