Thinking: Sorry But We Don’t Do That!

Posted by: michael  :  Category: DIY Brain Health

Question: How do you make politicians, scientists, the media and advertising executives happy? Answer: Stop thinking. Hey, that’s easy… we already have!

Now look I don’t want you feeling too miserable about that so let’s take step back in time a 100 years or so. Here are some snippets from a weight-loss product advertisement that that apparently appeared in a newspaper around 1900… “My obesity food….. you can eat all you want… it makes muscle, bone… nerve and brain tissue…. from the excess fat….. it takes off your big stomach…”  and more!

So snake oil sold products then, it sells products now…. Nothing much has changed, so that should cheer you up.

So what’s going on?
Why don’t we think critically? Critical thinking is a process of evaluating material rather than simply accepting it at face-value and should not be confused with criticism.

There are suggestions from the scientific community that the brain is hard-wired to take the easy way to finding solutions and will use memory recall rather than work through analysis and evaluation of material and hence our inclination to accept rather than assess. That may well be so but that statement too requires evaluation.

There will be occasions when simple acceptance proves adequate but what about information that is complex and or new.  What should we do?

I want to use the climate change debate to provide an illustration of how we might apply critical thinking to new information. I am choosing global warming because it is topical and complex .I am not a global warming sceptic and still in the process of weighing up the ‘evidence’.

Okay, here’s the scenario…Let’s say a panel of climate scientists make the pronouncement that global warming will cause a four- degree temperature rise by 2075.

What can we do?
Well, the easy way is to simply say that these are climate scientists, PhD’s and it’s their job to study climate change… so they must know what they are talking about.. Let’s accept what they say at face-value.

The critical thinking way is quite different. I’ll just take one element to illustrate the process. A critical thinking might ask themself “I wonder how they work out the temperature rise”. He/she finds out that they use global computer models that have equations to predict the future state of the atmosphere. So he/she explores a bit further and finds out that the equations have lots of variables – such as cloud cover, air temperature, humidity, ice cover and so on.  Bear in mind that we’ve done nothing difficult…. we simply asked a few relevant questions that anyone could do..

This is getting interesting so let’s probe a bit deeper (please hang in)…

Obviously if the models are to predict the future state of the atmosphere we need to put in starting points for the various variables the model uses. The rub is that we can’t accurately measure all the variables on a global scale so we have to make some educated guesses based on known relationships between them. So future predictions are dependent on the quality of the information we put into the model to get it up and running.

But there’s more….
A keen critical thinker will by now be starting to wonder how all these variables interact with each other and which are likely to have the greatest impact on the model’s predictions.  At this point we start to uncover even more problems in arriving at reliable predictions of global temperature.

One such problem is how to account for what are known as feedback mechanisms. For example, what is the role of cloud cover… if the temperature rises the air can hold more water and therefore more likely to form cloud cover which could affect the amount of temperature rise.

Then there are sinks like the oceans – which have a massive capacity to absorb greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide. In that case a critical thinker might ask questions like … have the oceans reached saturation point… will melting icecaps  allow greater absorption by adding more water to the ocean? How have these factors been represented in the models?  Appreciate that so far we are only exploring the tip of the iceberg, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Perhaps you can see the problem – most of us have simply accepted at face-value what we have been told when It seems reasonable to conclude that given the ‘current state of the art’ that climate model output is indicative at best. And it didn’t really take much effort to find that out.

If you were to pursue the critical thinking process still further we might find out more about the background of the scientists involved, what fields they actually specialise in, who funds their research and so on..

I started by asking the question “how do you make politicians, scientists, the media and advertising executives happy”? You may recall the answer was – stop thinking.

In future posts I want to look at how our reluctance to undertake critical thinking allows us to be controlled and manipulated by such groups.

If you’ve read this far and feeling a bit flat… here’s something to cheer you up. The punch line in the obesity food advertisement was “you’ll feel better on the first day you try it

So are you ready to put up a sign CRITICAL THINKING AVAILABLE HERE – may be you’ll feel better the first day you try it

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3 Responses to “Thinking: Sorry But We Don’t Do That!”

  1. Ayako Ealy Says:

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  2. Keven Overpeck Says:

    I have been a reader for a long time, but am a first time commenter. I just wanted to let you know that this has been / is my favorite update of yours! Keep up the good work and I’ll keep on checking back.

  3. Alessandra Rose Says:

    This blog is great. How did you come up with the idea?

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