Psychological Dividends: On the Necessity of Critical Thinking

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Knowledge can produce any change in the universe that’s compatible with its laws. — David Deutsch

Logic is a virtue only when it’s maintained as a method for reasoning. In addition, reasoning is a process rather than an abstraction. In other words, the rigorous application of logic is not exclusive to philosophical idealism.

Knowing how to think is invariably more important than knowing what to think. Processes matter. Likewise, in today’s onslaught of information overload, knowing what to get rid of can be as essential as knowing what to keep  (e.g., a way of scrutinizing the landscape of our mind to eradicate what neuroscientist and psychologist Dean Buonomano described as “brain bugs”).

Formal logic consists of three basic rules of engagement that are operationally independent but mutually cohesive when analyzing propositions to develop a reliable framework of epistemology.

1. Inductive reasoning: Specific premise to a general conclusion.
2. Deductive reasoning: General premise to a specific conclusion.
3. Abductive reasoning: Most likely explanation given all available data.

However, regarding the seemingly infinite abyss of logical fallacies and their increasing regularity in daily conversation, there are five particular travesties of cognition that I encounter as a clinician more than I care to document during any given session. In addition, given today’s inauspicious trend of factual relativity and a blatant disregard for expertise, the need for intellectual vigilance has become something of a moral emergency among those still concerned with the concept of truth.

1. The fallacy of illicit transference is an informal fallacy that is committed when an argument assumes there is no difference between a term in the distributive (referring to every member of a class) and collective (referring to the class itself as a whole) sense. This fallacy occurs within two categorical errors: What is true of the part is true of the whole (composition), or what is true of the whole is true of the part (division).

Examples: {A} This politician in corrupt; therefore all politicians are corrupt (composition). {B} This agency is known for malfeasance; therefore any employee of this agency is untrustworthy (division). * Anomaly hunting is a common, supplemental approach to this fallacy in which an individual searches for confirmation of a belief while ignoring information that refutes their belief.

2. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is a logical fallacy that infers the premise that if something occurs after an event, it must be caused by the event; used to indicate that a causal relationship has erroneously been assumed from a merely sequential one.

Example: The WTC 7 building in New York City (north of the Twin Towers) was known to contain private, financial banking records and collapsed shortly after the initial 9/11 attacks; therefore an attempted cover-up of fraudulent banking practices explains why 9/11 was an inside job orchestrated by the government via controlled demolition. Obviously, correlation does not prove causation. However, efforts to preoccupy oneself with erroneous associations often persist long after additional evidence has been produced to falsify such claims (e.g., the Backfire Effect).

3. Just-World Hypothesis (aka the Just-World Fallacy) is the assumption that a person’s actions are inherently inclined to bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person, to the end of all noble actions being eventually rewarded and all evil actions eventually punished.

Example: People get what they deserve. This idea also derives from the presupposition that the world is an “equal playing field,” or that a person has unmitigated free will to “choose otherwise” (also known as a fundamental attribution error).

4. Argumentum ad populum is a logical fallacy that occurs when something is considered to be true or good solely because it is popular.

Example: Millions of people agree with my viewpoint; therefore, it must be right.

5. The Nirvana Fallacy is the informal fallacy of comparing actual things with unrealistic, idealized alternatives. It can also refer to the tendency to assume that there is a perfect solution to a particular problem (e.g., the perfect solution fallacy).

Examples: {A} Seat belts are a bad idea because people are still going to die in car crashes; therefore wearing a seat belt is an unecessary precaution. {B} Either there is a perfect solution to ending gun violence, or we shouldn’t do anything about it at all.

Alleviating the tyranny of confirmation bias prevents us from assuming the answers before investigating the questions. The facile satisfaction of asserting a comfortable narrative to explain complex or uncomfortable circumstances may be alluring, but it’s not a reliable way to understand the world and can result in the collateral damage of equal-opportunity credulity. In contrast, the psychological dividends available from exercising critical thinking skills allow us to remain honest while providing the most effective strategies for comprehending, accepting, and adapting to the nature of reality.

*Recommended reading: Crimes Against Logic by Jamie Whyte
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