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It’s not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
As Derren Brown points out, being “skeptical of skepticism” can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.
Read Michael Shermer’s latest book “Skeptic: Viewing the World with a Rational Eye” at https://amzn.to/3c7vP58
LAWRENCE KRAUSS: I like to keep an open mind but not so open that my brains fall out. And that’s the key point. We have to skeptically assess the information we receive. We can’t be gullible because when we get a lot of information, it’s absolutely certain that some of that information is wrong. And so we have to always filter what we get. And we have to ask ourselves the following question: “How open does my brain have to be to accept that information? Does it have to fall out?” And by that, I mean when someone tells you something you have to ask “Is this consistent with my experience? Is it consistent with the experience of other people around me?” And if it isn’t, then probably there’s a good reason to be skeptical about it; it’s probably wrong. If it makes predictions that also appear to be in disagreement with things that you observe around you, you should question it.
And so we should never take anything on faith. That’s really the mantra of science, if you want, that faith is the enemy of science. We often talk about a loss of faith in the world today. You don’t lose anything by losing faith. What you gain is reality. And so skepticism plays a key role in science simply because we also are hard-wired to want to believe. We’re hard-wired to want to find reasons for things. In the savanna in Africa, the trees could be rustling and you could choose to say, “Well, there’s no reason for that.” Or, “Maybe it’s due to a lion.” And those individuals who thought there might be no reason, never lived long enough to survive to procreate. And so it’s not too surprising, we want to find explanations for everything. And we create them if we need to, to satisfy ourselves, because we need to make sense of the world around us. And what we have to understand is that what makes sense to the universe, is not the same as what makes sense to us. And we can’t impose our beliefs on the universe. And the way we get around that inherent bias is by constantly questioning both ourselves and all the information we receive from others. That’s what we do in science and it works beautifully in the real world as well.
MICHAEL SHERMER: The problem is this. None of us has the truth. The only way to find out if you’re deceiving yourself or not, if you’ve gone off the rails, if you’re wrong in some way, is to listen to other people who disagree with you. I started encountering other people that disagreed with me. You know, we-never-went-to-the-moon people, conspiracy people, whatever. And I thought, “Okay, so how do we know, if I don’t know what’s coming down the pike say in 10 years from now, if I was gonna teach my students how to think critically, what are the key points, like just basic questions they could ask?” So, it begins with one: How reliable is the source of the claim? Here’s the claim, how reliable is it? What’s the evidence for it? What’s the quality of the evidence? Where does it come from? Who said that? Is this some fake news, alternative site thing, or is it The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times? The source really matters. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim? This is super important because everybody thinks they’re right and every website has testimonials about this product or that idea. The question is not “What do your supporters think?” but “What do the people who don’t agree with you think?” Because that’s what I wanna know. Has anyone run an experiment to try to disprove your theory? And so in science, this is as basic as it gets. Karl Popper called this the Principle of Falsification. That is, we can’t ever prove a theory correct, but we can disprove it by having an experiment that shows it’s wrong.
So, if you can’t falsify it, what are you really doing? And my favorite story on…
Read the full transcript at https://bigthink.com/videos/critical-thinking-skills