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.
- 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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