Critical Thinking

Free Speech Under Assault

One of my maxims is:

If you cannot defend the right of free speech for the person you disagree with the most, you don’t believe in free speech.

As this article from The Economist relates, free speech is under attack around the world. It’s not surprising to see this in dictatorial countries, but suppression of free speech is alive and well in democracies. Most disturbing is how it is tolerated — encouraged even — in the American university. The purpose of universities is twofold: Preserve and pass on knowledge and history to one generation to the next; and promote the free exchange of ideas and foster new knowledge. Instead:

Free speech is hard won and easily lost…[even] in mature democracies, support for free speech is ebbing, especially among the young, and outright hostility to it is growing. Nowhere is this more striking than in universities in the United States…and an incredible 10% approved of using violence to silence [speech].

I have been following the Death of the University, which itself is a sad situation of this great institution of western culture. Just as bad is the trend of silencing speech — often by the very people who claim to be for it.

This trend must be stopped dead in its tracks.

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Ancient Aliens? No, our Ancestors Weren’t Dumb.

Ancient Aliens is one of those infuriating shows to those who have studied ancient history. The premise of the show is that the ancients weren’t smart enough to build structures like the pyramids. So, in one of the most disconnected lines of reasoning ever, they must have had help from aliens.

The fact is, the ancients were smart. They had the same brains we have. The more we learn about them, the more we have realized this.

Because something is difficult to do, doesn’t make it impossible. We are so enamored with our electronic technology, we forget that humans used math and brain power, combined with physical strength, for many millennia.

To listen to some of the “experts” on Ancient Aliens, it’s as if they haven’t been to these sites, or if they have, they had blindfolds on. One of the funniest moments is when one is showing how perfect a block has been carved (supposedly beyond the ability of the ancients), but the camera shows his square revealing the block is far from perfect. That’s only one of many head-scratching moments revealed in this documentary, Ancient Aliens Debunked.

To be certain, there are many mysteries to be solved from ancient times. Much has been lost and every day we learn something new. The ancients left us much to learn in their structures, stories, and myths. Over the years, I have written here about those things, and integrated them into my books. Our ancestors left us history, knowledge, and warnings, to ponder.

Not aliens.

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Who is Responsible for Education?

This podcast, Your Son Isn’t Lazy — How to Empower Boys to Succeed, has some great insights into boys and learning. If you listen closely, you may also notice some unspoken implications concerning our [the government’s] enlightened ways in educating children, which are causing the very problems that seem to increase with each generation.

My three maxims for education are these:

1. The person most responsible for your education is you.

2. The people most responsible for a child’s education is his or her parents.

3. Learning never ends.

If we adhered to these, would we constantly be trying to reinvent education, only to see it spiral further out of control?

P.S. Also check out Why Arizona’s Plan To Teach Kids Cursive Is Great For Kids where we learn, among other things, handwriting “engages the brain more deeply in creative thinking” and “strengthens students’ memories.”

Categories: Critical Thinking, education | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Ruins of Rome Speak to Us

Recently, I wrote that humanity can overcome the prophets of doom who predict all manner of ends to humanity. Perhaps their lack of hope arises from their belief the world is borne out of randomness. One may ask them, then why worry about our fate? For those who have not given up, who see purpose in the universe, and want to keep civilization from faltering, there are many tools at their disposal.

History is one.

What looks impossible in the present looks inevitable in hindsight.

Those are the words written by Lael Arrington when discussing the fate of ancient Rome. In hindsight, the events of history often evoke a certain question: How could they have not seen that coming? Probably because those people were saying: That could never happen to us.

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What is Tolerance?

“Treat people as equally valuable, but treat ideas as if some are better than others, because they are. Some ideas are true, some are false. Some are brilliant, others are dangerous. And some are just plain silly. Real tolerance is about how we treat people, not ideas. Classic tolerance requires that every person be free to express his ideas without fear of abuse or reprisal, not that all views have equal validity, merit, or truth.” – Greg Koukl

The claim that “all views are equally valid” is a logical contradiction, just as the belief that all ideas must be accepted and unchallenged is intellectually empty. Nor does challenging an idea make you “bigoted, disrespectful, ignorant…[or] intolerant.”

Tolerance is easy, and so is thinking — you just have to do it.

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Start Your Week with Some Brain Food

On learning:

“The worst thing you can ever do is think that you know enough. Never stop learning. Ever.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

“Investing in yourself is the most important investment you’ll ever make in your life…There’s no financial investment that’ll ever match it.” – Warren Buffett

On thinking for yourself:

“People have to learn that consensus is a huge problem…consensus is how we bully people into pretending that there’s nothing to see.” – Eric Weinstein

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

On testing what you believe:

“We can live in deceit and illusion until one day we hit the wall of reality. When our false beliefs collide with reality, we then have a choice: Will we live according to knowledge — true belief justified by good evidence? Or will we settle for illusion?” – Lael Arrington

On academic freedom:

“The university is not a safe space…it is a place to be confronted by horrible ideas…if you want to be safe, stay home with your mom…don’t come to university if you want to be safe. If the university is going to make you safe, then it ceases to be a university.” – Jordan Peterson

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Want to ‘save’ Science? Then Follow the Evidence, not the Consensus

Science has run into some problems as of late and the organized March for Science didn’t address these.  In fact, it turned out to be mostly about politics, and set an example of how to not do science.

The central issue is that people are being taught not to question what science tells us, or what is being passed off as science. The celebrity scientists of our day encourage STEM programs, wax on how amazing science is, and how important it is for you to study it.

But don’t question it. Anytime someone yells “the consensus says,” you should stop and shake your head in agreement.

This isn’t science. It’s pseudoscience at best, brainwashing into conformity at worst.

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Categories: Critical Thinking, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Instruments of Tyranny

In the November 1970 issue of National Geographic, an article entitled “Behold the Computer Revolution,” has Peter T. White breathlessly writing on the coming changes computers would bring.  Among them are paying your bills by computer, a “truly theft-proof” credit card, the impending arrival of home computer use, and many more examples how the computer would touch every corner of our lives. This was about a decade before computers started entering homes, and over two decades before the internet would morph into the world wide web. And then White shares this from a Professor Alan F. Westin:

Man has progressed over the centuries from the status of a subject ruler to that of a citizen in a constitutional state. We must be careful to avert a situation in which the press of government for systematic information and the powerful technology of computers reverse this historical process…making us ‘subjects’ again.

Perhaps what we need now is a kind of writ of ‘habeas data’ — commanding government and powerful private organizations to produce the data they have collected and are using to make judgements about an individual, and to justify their using it.

Now, forty-eight years later, we have fallen into the very scenario that Westin warns about. It happened little by little, yet largely out in the open. How many major data breeches at banks and retailers, how many shady government data collection schemes, or how many social media abuse revelations, must continue to happen before people realize that technology is no longer their tool to control?

How long until we realize that it is being used to control them? To spy on them? To shape their beliefs?

If you read my last post, you can’t help to agree that Distraction is our greatest downfall. It is what politicians have long used to cling to power and shape our world. Corporations and social movements use it to mold your thoughts. Be happy with who you are — only if that “who” is on the approved list. Do what you want — only if that “what” is on this other list. And computers have been used with frightening efficiency by social engineers and by those who subvert democratic processes.

In 1970, some warned that “the computer’s potential for good, and the danger inherent in its misuse, exceed our ability to imagine. Wouldn’t that be the worst it could do — to become an instrument of tyranny, propelling mankind into a new dark age?”

And decades before that, Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury warned us in their fiction. Some people have listened.

Many more have not.

Categories: Critical Thinking, Modern History | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Hate Homer?

I was listening to this podcast concerning how students aren’t ready for college. In particular, what they have read in their educational or personal lives is rather deficient. Instead of offering the best of the best for them to read, colleges instead replace classics with forgettable, trendy books.

So while colleges are falling down on their job of broadening minds and overcoming prejudices — through the abandoning of classical education — what about the student or not going to college? What about the person who doesn’t care about reading the classics or doesn’t think it’s necessary?

As educator and writer Susan Wise Bauer writes, “A classical education is valuable [even] for people who hate Homer.” In her book The Well-Trained Mind, she describes the frustration of employers who are expected to prepare people for life in the world. Many graduates of high school “can’t write, don’t read well, can’t think through a problem.”

Bauer writes that, “A well-trained mind is a necessity” no matter your path in life, and even though a “classical education is not intended to teach all subjects comprehensively,” it is designed to teach us how to learn.

But it goes further than that. There’s something deeply fascinating about reading books that have often endured for centuries. They reveal our past and our history. It allows us to join what Mortimer J. Adler named the “Great Conversation” which is the “ongoing conversation of great minds down through the ages.”

And there is the rub: Perhaps at no time in history have we had such a widespread hubris in society. We think those who came before us can’t possibly have anything to teach us.

The truth is that we wouldn’t be here without them. They experienced far more great events — and terrible disasters — than we can imagine. Our civilization is built on their millennia of knowledge. We mistakenly believe many of our contemporary issues are new — rarely are they.

Schooling, at all levels, can be very important in achieving your purpose. Increasingly, though, secondary education has lost its way, forgotten its purpose. These institutions that were built on an idea that stretches back to the Middle Ages — Western Civilization’s contribution of the university — is in terrible trouble. However that all may play out, realize this:

Your education, your mind, and where you take them, is solely up to you. “Being smart” is not based on the decision of others, but what you decide to be. Be part of the Great Conversation and rise above fast-food-internet “knowledge.” See beyond the selfish views that act like we are the first to walk the Earth. The voices of our ancestors left many lessons for us. One in particular stands out.

When they forgot what truly mattered in their lives, they lost it all.

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Do You Have to be a Scientist to Understand?

Molecular biologist Douglas Axe, whose credentials include U.C. Berkeley, Caltech and Cambridge, has written quite the clarion call for us to return to sound science in Undeniable. As the subtitle How Biology Confirms our Intuition that Life is Designed indicates, a central focus is the debate on the successes, or failures, of Darwinian biology to explain life as we know it. Indeed, Axe brings some detailed and technical science to bear on this topic, but he is using that discussion to explain how science is not unreachable or unknowable by the masses. We need not blindly follow experts or celebrity scientists unquestionably. To do this, we first must rid ourselves of flawed views of science.

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