Stop Thinking Like An Idiot: Lessons in Critical Thinking – Episode #62

I think we are all idiots. At least, to some degree. Probably more often than we’d at least care to admit to ourselves or others.

Many of us probably fancy ourselves pretty clever. We might not think we are the smartest person in the room, but we seldom think we are the dumbest person in the room. Most of us probably think we are at least above average in our intelligence and knowledge. In truth though, we all have to admit we are probably dumber than we realize, and just because we might know a lot about one issue doesn’t mean we know a lot about others. And to some degree, we all suffer from an idiot syndrome known as the Dunning Kruger Effect.

The Dunning Kruger effect is when someone’s lack of knowledge in an area doesn’t stop them from confidently acting like they are more knowledgeable than they in fact are. Being an idiot isn’t an issue of IQ as much as it is hubris. Our ego makes us blind us how little we really know, and as a result, we don’t know what we don’t know. We see this every day on Facebook; in the professional world; in the realm of academia; and especially in the political arena.

So maybe you are thinking… how can I stop playing the idiot? We could do what Dwight Schrute suggested in an episode of The Office, who said, “Whenever I am about to do something, I ask, ‘Would an idiot do that?’ And if they would, I do not do that thing.” Funny. But that doesn’t really help us.

In today’s podcast, I want to explore the different ways we can stop playing the role of the idiot. Be sure to listen to the full show above in order to hear me expound on everything listed below. Hopefully these points will help you think better about thinking.

How To Think More Critically (And Less Like An Idiot)

  1. We need to be willing to leave the comfort of our shadows for the light and life outside the cave. (see: Plato’s Cave Allegory) We must be willing to leave the world of superficial memes and Buzzfeed worthy headlines.
  2. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” ~ Socrates. We need to question everything boldly, and not just take accept something simply because someone says it is true. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Question with boldness the existence of God, for if there is a God, he must more approve of the homage of reason than blind-folded fear.” ~ Thomas Jefferson.
  3. We need to position ourselves to be listeners with inquisitive minds. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” (James 1:19) We must always be willing to grow and change our opinion on things. We must stay ever humble, and we must always stay thirsty. Even if you think you know everything, never feel like you’ve “arrived.”
  4. Instead of burning books written by heretics, we need to read the heretical writings. My wife, a librarian, suggests that your personal collection should be made up of at least 13% of books you find offensive. We need to read broadly from as many sources as we can, even sources we know we’ll fundamentally disagree with, or suspect them of having bias.
  5. Learn to understand both sides of an argument. Play the Devil’s advocate. I believe it was St. Augustine who once said something to the effect that we should seek to understand someone else’s position as well as they understand it. And instead of simply seeing everything in purely terms of extremes, as black and white, we should be able to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of our understanding, as well as those we disagree with.
  6. We must think, as much as possible, logically about things. We should understand the basic differences between inductive and deductive reasoning, some basic logical fallacies, and the reality of paradoxes. “It’s our ability to endure paradox that makes us saints.” ~ Art Katz. Let’s also keep in mind Godwin’s Law, which reminds us that the longer a conversation online goes, the probability of it mentioning Hitler and the Nazi’s is 1.
  7. We often see things as having a causal relationship when they really don’t. “Correlation does not equal causation,” as they say. For example, as this chart shows, between 2006 and 2011, the annual murder rate in the United States dropped almost 14%. But during that same time, the percentage of people using Internet Explorer as their web browser of choice dropped from 80% to 45%. Based on this chart, one might infer that one caused the other.
  8. Question even your questions. One might ask, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” as they used to back in medieval times. But one might also ask, “What does that have to do with anything? And, do angels even dance? If so, how do we know that? And why are we asking if they can actually dance on the head of a pin?”
  9. Avoid a sectarian and party spirit. Don’t make everything into a Green Bay Packers vs Chicago Bears type of rivalry. Falling into tribalism just clouds our thinking.
  10. Be willing to admit when you don’t know or understand something… and be even so bold as to excuse yourself from having to form an opinion on every single thing. The world is so huge. We simply don’t have the time or capacity to process everything. It’s sometimes okay to be an idiot.

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