Critical Thinking Skills–A Skeptical Attitude

by Stephen Mills on August 1, 2011

The ability to easily share information has led to rapidly advancing knowledge in many fields.  At the same time the average person now has available what seems like an infinite amount of information at their fingertips.  The ability to discover and take advantage of all this information may be the key to thriving in 21st century.

Take health as one example.  One can find endless amounts of information on the Internet about diseases, symptoms, drugs, traditional solutions, alternative therapies, nutrition, exercise, and supplements.  You can dive into anyone one specific topic in very deep detail and get every opinion and idea imaginable.

The problem with all the information available is that much of it is worthless and some of it may be seriously harmful.  While we do have some high quality reliable information fed to us through the mainstream and while there is an enormous amount of good information available at our fingertips, most of what we consume is false or simply trivial junk. Unless we practice some good habits of mind in dealing with that information we are liable to be misled; high quality information is buried under a mountain of crap.

Who we are at what we do ultimately comes down to how we process what we take in. There is a computer term called GIGO which stands for Garbage In = Garbage Out.  It’s becoming more important every day that we develop the skills needed to filter out the garbage; to learn critical thinking skills that help sort through what is important and what can be trusted to have a reasonable probability of being true.

This article serves as an introduction to a series of articles that will provide some ideas on critical thinking skills to help you sort through all this information.

A Skeptical Attitude

I think the best approach to take is the skeptical approach.  Being a skeptic doesn’t mean you aren’t open to new ideas; quite the contrary.  I consider myself a strong skeptic and yet I’m fascinated by new ideas and hold quite a number of them that would not be considered mainstream.  I’m always on the lookout for the new and unusual in the hopes that I can learn something and thereby grow.  I don’t mind being on the leading edge, but I want to be on the correct leading edge.  Truth as best we can determine it is very important to me.

A skeptic doesn’t accept received wisdom on the basis of authority or tradition.  We don’t accept things because our parents, our teachers, a minister, or a guru says so.  A skeptical attitude is a “show me” or “prove it” attitude.  It is one that depends on the methods, not the authority of reason, logic, and science.  A skeptic can be very inquisitive and curious (I am), but he simply cannot be credulous towards the unproven claims made by others.  We are swimming in a modern sea of information and a credulous person is going to be a sucker for those peddling nonsense.  Life is too short to waste your time on nonsense.

cred·u·lous (krj-ls)

  • Disposed to believe too readily; gullible.
  • Tending to believe something on little evidence

If you make a claim that I find interesting and relevant to my life, I might choose to consider it, but I’ll usually remain uncommitted unless and until you provide some good reasons, in other words evidence, for me to believe it.  The burden is on you to prove your claim, it is not mine to disprove.

More to come…

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike August 1, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Hi Stephen,
I consider myself a strong skeptic as well. In my opinion it ‘s silly to follow the “gurus” unquestionably, yet so many of my friends do. Even when I “prove” them wrong, their faith in so strong in them there is nothing I can say or do.

But, most of them are doing just fine in life, so I guess it’s working for them.

However, like you:

I’ll usually remain uncommitted unless and until you provide some good reasons, in other words evidence, for me to believe it.

Though!

Especially in our Internet age, there is so much crap online it can be incredibly difficult to cypher through some times.
Mike´s last [type] ..List of the Best Book Search Engines

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Derrick August 2, 2011 at 11:39 am

So true. Skeptical can tend to have a negative ring to it. But if our wisdom and intelligence from the past warrents skepticism,then so be it. Sometimes it can appear that we as humans don’t “live life”, rather “life lives us”. But it’s all in the interpretation. How much choice do we really have? Thanks for the article.

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Mark Bryan August 4, 2011 at 12:44 pm

I think it is very healthy to have a large amount of skepticism about most things. As you say, much of what you read on the internet is either wrong, out of date or misinformed. I would certainly rather be skeptical than gullible.
Mark Bryan´s last [type] ..Cordless Drill Reviews

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Sonny August 4, 2011 at 4:53 pm

For the past few years, I’ve adopted a slogan contained in the lyrics from the song “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”:

“Believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear.”

Words to live by, in my opinion…
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Ravit August 7, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Today’s truth is so tricky, it looks like people own it by having more “likes” in FB…
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bettyboop80 August 10, 2011 at 9:01 am

Yes! Life is too short to waste your time in nonsense. I am just as skeptic as you. I have to see it and very inquisitive to believe on something.
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akash August 12, 2011 at 2:44 am

skeptical thinking is very important for me as i deal with many types of peoples in different domain so can not believe on something so easily!
You are right in your views.
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hannamay August 12, 2011 at 10:08 am

hi, I agree on mark bryan for me skepticism is more on the negative side.. but I like your post.. I learned a lot.. I respect your attitude.. now I understand my friends with skeptic attitude..
hannamay´s last [type] ..How To Conceive Quickly

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Christy August 13, 2011 at 12:54 am

Hi Stephen, I like your idea about being skeptic. I totally agree with you.

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Jason August 15, 2011 at 6:24 am

Same here. Being skeptic puts things into perspective, and that’s a good thing.
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Christy August 19, 2011 at 12:41 am

Yes and we come to weigh things right.

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Siti Ezekwesili August 17, 2011 at 5:55 am

I love your point. It’s as if I am writing the article myself. Being a skeptic is indeed not a bad thing, especially in the kind of world we live in now. Sadly, there are people who find it easy to believe everything they read or see in the internet. They never take into consideration that anyone can just post something online without going through an authentication process of some sort.
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barak August 21, 2011 at 3:13 am

I know what u mean when you say that most of the information is useless and can be even harmful, but this kind of websites doesnt get a good reputiation by google and less people going inside those kind of lame websites.
barak´s last [type] ..A Peaceful Death for Your Beloved Dog (euthanization)

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farouk August 22, 2011 at 8:44 am

that’s a good attitude but it isn’t the way many skeptics are, they don’t believe in whatever they dont want to believe in even when you provide them with proofs

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mico August 23, 2011 at 3:10 am

i respect your insight when it comes to skepticism.. i somehow disagree with you but i had no problem with your post right here.. i deeply appreciate your point of view regarding this matter
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Sarah August 23, 2011 at 7:25 am

Yeah, I agree with farouk, even when I prove them wrong, there faith is strong and there is nothing I can do or say anything..
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Clark Minn August 24, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Critical thinking skills are very important especially for the writers…Thanks for making me realize it…
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Letty September 6, 2011 at 11:41 pm

For me, thinking is really important for every writer and even to all people…
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Apple September 7, 2011 at 1:44 am

Sounds great post you have here, love this tough with me..Thanks for discussing it.
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Jacq September 8, 2011 at 11:27 am

Along that line, as the years have gone by I’ve tended to shy away from general self-help books, blogs and websites and spend more time reading scientific approaches to these areas. eg. Richard Wiseman, Carol Dweck, etc. Even then, I apply what research shows to myself – there is no one size fits all approach after all. How will that approach fit within MY circumstances, MY personality type, MY challenges and strengths.
Coincidentally (or not), the blogs I most relate to are written by INTJ’s – my guess is that’s your Myers Briggs type? We’re great skeptics.
Jacq´s last [type] ..This management proxy circular is making me feel stabby

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Emily September 12, 2011 at 8:55 pm

Thinking is important if we are writing…This is a help for all authors and writers too…
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Michelle September 19, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Writing requires a lot of things and one of them is thinking…Inspiration can be considered too…
Michelle´s last [type] ..Introduction of Computer Monitoring Software

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Solenn September 27, 2011 at 1:54 am

Thinking can be very helpful especially when you are going to school or even for a job…
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William October 10, 2011 at 1:24 pm

For most of us who often surf the net for information, it is understandable to be skeptics. It is unavoidable to find trash from time to time. There are a lot of sites that doesn’t value quality contents which is very discouraging.
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