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Journal Journal: Muddled Thinking

I have, over the last few years, posted many comments on the dirth of critical thinking in our society. I think that forumns like /. amplify the problem to some extent because people are motivated to get their comments in quickly so that they will got moded positively. This is not /.'s fault, it is a consequence of the medium. However, I am still suprised that a community largely made up of engineers can contain such a large number of muddled headed people.

Let me back up for a second and define what I mean by "muddled thinking." The essential aspects of critical thinking include an ability to site errors in logic, unstated assumptions, straw men, red herrings, and ad homienem attacks. The muddled thinker is deficient one or more of these skills. That is not to say that these people are stupid or unintelligent. Critical thinking takes diciplined training. That training can be obtained in good schools or on your own but it must be acquired. Some of the most intelligent people on this planet fall prey to this mallady.

The dangers of this muddled thinking is a faith in "facts" that are just not so. Some examples are people with deadly diseases attempting to cure themselves with homeopathic medicines. This happened to a close friend of mine and when he finally decided to go to the hospital it was really to late. He died within a few days of arrival. This happend in 1992, and it still hurts to this day that I was unable to convince him that the herbs and homepathic medicines were not working.

Most of the time this muddled thinking leads to situations that are less catastrophic. For instance, the poor souls that are duped by people like John Edward. This man is very adept at cold reading techniques and makes his job easier by performing those techniques on groups of people. People so want to believe that thier brother, sister, father, mother, etc. is comming through, they lay down thier reason and buy it hook line and sinker.

The remedy for this is to point out the muddled thinking when you see it. I call on all /.'ers to practice incredulity and challenge the credulous.

Thanks for reading :)

Neckties strangle clear thinking. -- Lin Yutang