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Saturday, April 15, 2023

"Mental Immunity?"

Hmmm... cue the Cognitive Antivaxxers in 3, 2, 1?
Is the marketing metaphor broadly apt, or potentially problematic? (Let a thousand Marxist Woke Lib Re-Education Camps proliferate.) Are there identifiable material neural cognitive "pathogens" equivalent to bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, worms, and prions? Will we find them in "the Electrome amid "the battle for your brain?"

More stuff to study.

Looking fairly promising early on.
Oh, so, it's merely an "analogy? OK.
Andy Norman gets big props for this:
That was imparted to me in grad school a quarter century ago. This is the first time since then I've encountered someone else succinctly making the same point. Major brownie points, Sir. Very cool. 
apropos: "What image does the word philosopher conjure? Maybe Socrates, bearded and barefoot, counseling Plato on the agora; Rousseau on one of his solitary walks around the outskirts of Paris; Sartre sucking pensively on his pipe at the Café de Flore. What it may not call to mind is a woman.."
BTW: I would also commend backing up a bit to Adrian Bardon's deft "The Truth About Denial."

All of this stuff goes to my ongoing Jones regarding so-called "Deliberation Science."
A SMH headline this morning.
Okeee dokeee, then.
Moving along. Dr. Norman:

I taught undergrad "Critical Thinking" and then graduate "Argument Analysis" as an Adjunct for a number of years (evening school part-time faculty; day gig risk analyst in a bank at the time). I loved it (notwithstanding the crap compensation), but, I never really dug the conventional phrase "critical thinking." Whole 'nuther digression, that...
But, first, Dr. Norman:
The Twentieth Century’s Critical Thinking Crusade

A third initiative centers on the concept of critical thinking. A hundred years ago, the philosopher John Dewey introduced the phrase to name a quasi-scientific frame of mind. His insight was sound: responsible thinkers test ideas and try not to rely on the ones that don’t survive scrutiny. As we now like to put it: we can teach people how to “think critically,” and thereby reduce their susceptibility to bad ideas.

This approach, too, has fallen short of expectations. Despite being the focal point of higher education for one hundred years, our species remains distressingly prone to irrational thinking. There’s some evidence that higher education imparts a limited immunity to some forms of ideological contagion, but on all accounts, the effect is weaker than hoped. One study found that “many colleges fail to improve critical thinking skills.” Another found that, while a large majority of professors claim to impart critical thinking skills, relatively few can say what they mean by critical thinking or explain how their teaching imparts it. In 2016, 43 percent of American college graduates voted for the disastrously unqualified and unprincipled Donald Trump. This massive failure of America’s critical thinking factory should be a wake-up call for us all.

I no longer find the concept of critical thinking particularly useful. It’s mostly a vague, feel-good term that means “the way we educated people like to think.” It’s really a conceptual black box, one that hides important differences. It’s not a solution, but a placeholder for one. Yes, the term critical hints at the need to reduce our susceptibility to bad ideas, but the concept of critical thinking does little more than gesture clumsily at the traits that make that possible.

Immunity to bad ideas depends on far more than the critical thinking skills we like to talk about in higher education. Indeed, our focus on skills has led us to overlook the better part of the mind’s defenses. (It’s more important to shape the deep sensibilities that marshal these skills for one or another purpose, and mold the resulting habits of mind.) Meanwhile, we need to acknowledge this truth: the critical thinking paradigm has not served us particularly well.

Reason, science, and critical thinking: these concepts give shape to some of our best efforts to prevent outbreaks of bad ideas. Each effort is well intentioned and worthy of admiration. None, though, can claim true success. Now we can see why: each approach has limitations rooted in its defining concept. The conceptual toolbox we’ve inherited isn’t channeling our efforts in the right way. As a result, we’re not doing enough—or enough of the right things—to promote responsible cognition. In this sense, philosophy’s reason project—and its science and critical thinking–based variants—are failing us.

Norman, Andy. Mental Immunity (pp. 28-29). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 
Resonates with me. My initial faculty experience was also that too many of my students assumed that the "Critical" part meant that they'd get to endlessly criticize each other, and vent off their pet peeves via classroom verbal free-for-alls. Moreover, I'd look out over my classes and think "man, most of you people need to re-take high school English." And that was no mere irascible elitist conceit; the university publicly admitted during my tenure (1999-2004) that more than half of incoming freshman had to be remanded to remedial English.

Some things that bedevil our thinking, particularly as it goes to persuasion and influence:

There is no first-person singular present-tense active voice usage of the word "wrong." No one ever says "I AM wrong."
[props to Kathryn Schulz]  Our aggregate default is that we're right about everything. To the extent that we continue to survive, that's an understandable assumption—as it pertains to minor, inconsequential issues, anyway, and it inexorably tilts us toward "confirmation bias."
Our education system mostly tells us there's one "right answer" to every question—lurking amid a boatload of "wrong ones."
And, those who quickly alight on the "right answer" get reinforced and nurtured as they move through the system.
Being wrong is not a synonym for being "stupid" or ignorant. 

Neither is "ignorant" a synonym for "stupid." But it's mostly epithetically spun that way

Humans "reason" to WIN the argument.

 Should truth happen along the way, so much the better. (See "Why Do Humans Reason?" by Sperber & Mercier) Evolutionary adaptive utility, "The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword."

He/She with the best story WINS!

Trial Lawyering 101. Prior to writing and movable type, stories were the whole ballgame. Hence, our evolved affinity.

Once you decide that X is right or wrong / good or bad, you cannot unring that bell.

A staple look-before-you-leap admonishment of mine back when I was teaching "Critical Thinking."

If, when it's all said and done, your logic is impeccable, and your facts and evidence are bulletproof, yet you remain unpersuasive, what have you really accomplished?''

Another classroom staple of mine. That one was "exceeding my brief" as it were, but my Sups never noticed or cared. Anyway, my overall teach-to-the-text priority focus as a piddly Adjunct necessarily had to be "OK, here's how this stuff works. Take it or leave it."

Once you finish her book you will have a firm grip on just why. I love it when I learn stuff.
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT the individual genetic and developmental differences that impact the sensory portions of our nervous systems, it’s remarkable that we can agree on a shared reality at all.  Linden, David. Unique (p. 253). Basic Books. Kindle Edition
 Stay tuned. More to come...

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