We can teach children to be more effectively empirical

We can teach children to smell bullshit – Vox

A good critical thinker is able to keep track of assumptions made when evaluating evidence, and over time builds up a collection of powerful and general assumptions that accelerate their accurate modelling of reality.

Double-blind tests make the least assumptions, but are not the mechanism by which most knowledge is obtained. Teaching children to avoid assumptions altogether is misguided – what they need is to introspect and make more aspects of their own thinking explicit and hence improvable.

Introspecting into motivations and detecting unrealistic wishful thinking is a large part of this. For example, someone with a privileged background has to account for their own propensity to adopt meritocratic world views that tell them they deserve what they have, and someone with a disadvantaged background has to be cautious about attributing too much to bad luck.

Powerful implicit motivations feed the spread of bullshit. Why is bullshit so attractive? What makes something feel like a good explanation? Confirmation of existing beliefs? Simplification of reality? These have to be balanced against “changing your mind” and “accepting that the world is complex and messy”, depending on the strength of the evidence.

Comments are closed.