Monday, April 28, 2008

An Exercise...

For anyone interested, here's a brief examination of what it means to accept the premise of an argument using a rather timely topic.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Is this a Dead Blog, or does it just smell funny?

Most creative energy these days is going into E3 Gazette and The Chase Lounge.
Come on by!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Judge Not

Hey Guys!I invited a friend over. Goes by the name "Xi."
We'll try to keep the noise down while you sleep.

Xi, You here?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Monday, November 5, 2007

Speaking of ‘Critical Thinking’… What IS it? Why should I care? (Part 1)

By way of introduction, this is my first blog post ever.

Like Mr. Unquiet, in his “Fish” post, below, about ‘da rules’…

So, please… be gentle. Be kind. And be patient. This is a pretty daunting task for a novice -- especially a novice “critical thinker.”

May I introduce myself?

My background includes undergraduate studies majoring in Chemistry at a well-known liberal arts university, and a career of some thirty five plus years as a Business Systems Analyst. From a serious interest in “science” as a youth, and having been introduced to the Scientific Method and formal Debate Clubs and competitions in the lower grades, I guess I’ve been lurking around the edges of Critical Thinking for a while, now. I certainly do not consider myself an “expert” at it, and would frankly take serious umbrage at being called such.

My reasoning?

1.) “X” is a common mathematical notation for an Unknown value or variable.

2.) A “Spurt” is commonly the release of some quantity of liquid under pressure.

ERGO: An “expert” is simply…

An Unknown Drip under Pressure.

(subdued rim-shot, please. Source, Unknown.)

While there are those who might disagree, I do not consider myself either a drip OR under pressure. I undertake this post with willingness and high hopes of doing the topic justice to some small extent. It is a subject I consider of importance, given our world since 9/11.

I had become interested in politics, and political “discussions,” well prior to 9/11/2001. I had engaged friends and family in numerous direct and on-line, email “debates” leading up to that fateful day. Ever since high school, I have “leaned” conservative, but I have always tried to base my opinions on what I thought to be “sound reasoning.” I generally tried to apply at least the principles of the Scientific Method to my argumentation, but in an informal, undisciplined way.

Brief review, here:

The Scientific Method is generally accepted as involving an iterative approach to achieving understanding and arriving at properly qualified conclusions by:

1.) Making Observations.
2.) Forming Hypotheses to explain the Observations.
3.) Creating and executing measurable, verifiable, repeatable Tests of the Hypotheses.
4.) Refining the Hypotheses based on the results of those Tests.
5.) Returning to Step 1.

Also, the Scientific Method (when properly applied) “encourages” the elimination of human bias and prejudice, and always remains open to modification, and even outright rejection, of specific hypotheses. It is never “settled,” and there is no such thing as “consensus.

Back to the Introduction.

In applying the above to my career, I achieved a modicum of success through the years. I have been gainfully employed for most of those years, and I remain so (keeping fingers crossed
behind back, for luck).

I also came to recognize some of the standard fallacious argument techniques that are employed to manipulate public opinion from time to time by various entities in the public forum. The “Straw Man” fallacies. The “Red Herring” fallacies. And others.

Then, 9/11.

After a few brief weeks of blessed national unity in the somber rage and anger engendered by the attacks on that day, I watched in disbelief as that unity began to dissipate, and the echoes of times past reached my ears. You see, I had been a freshman in college during the Spring of 1968. I was there when the “Blame America First” movement was born, (or re-born, as the case may be). And I had witnessed “up close and personal” the effects of late 60’s radicalism on my college campus. I had overheard quiet talk over beers that might have been related to organization of The Weather Underground, and I was certainly familiar with the rantings and ravings of the Students for a Democratic Society.

The fact that supposedly intelligent and “well educated” individuals could blindly follow the path down moral relativism to believe and espouse the tenets of outright communism, and, ultimately for some, to even subscribe to nihilism, was one thing. To see them take that path and completely deny the obvious fruits of Western Civilization embodied in the United States was, and remains, beyond the pale to me. It appalled me then. It still amazes me, in a negative sort of way.

I found Bill Whittle’s blog, and began reading, studying his essays. Every one of them. Here was a man speaking from his convictions, with passionate logic, and in a manner that spoke directly to both my intellect and my heart. I became bold enough to add a comment now and again into his essay blogs. In those comments, I was received kindly, and with respect. I appreciated that greatly then, as I do now.

Eventually, I read “Seeing the Unseen,” parts 1 and 2.

In that fascinating piece, I saw reference to a kind of thinking to which I had long aspired – clear, concise, fact-based, with a solid logic that was tight, and awfully close to unassailable, IMHO, (In My Humble Opinion). It spoke of CRITICAL THINKING, and I wanted to know more.

Then, along came “You Are Not Alone,” parts 1 and 2.

I was completely enthralled, excited, and motivated.

For here was a path to self-improvement, and some incredible support along the way!

I knew from the comments sections of the essays that there were people volunteering to teach so many of the things that I wanted to learn!

But, not only that… I realized that,

by contributing to the effort, I could “encourage” my own learning and self-improvement. Just by contributing!

And so, my journey to better thinking begins.

I cordially invite you to walk alongside us on this little blog, as the topic begins to come into focus, and we explore one of the most fundamental contributions made by Western Civilization to the cause of mankind – CRITICAL THINKING.

For without it, and its predecessor (IMHO), the Scientific Method, there would be no technology such as we see today. There would be no modern electrical power grid. No conveniently packaged foods in abundance at the store just down the street. There would be no telephony, much less wireless, mobile, cellular telephony. No iPod, no iPhone, no internet. No memory of Sputnik or Mercury, no human footprints on the moon.

No, none of that. And there would certainly be no “pretty picture” of NGC 4258 to enthrall Mr. Otto Gass or the rest of us.

In fact, I maintain that without the earlier manifestations of Critical Thinking, there would be no Declaration Of Independence, no Constitution of the United States of America, no Federalist Papers, no Poor Richard’s Almanac, among other treasures and gems. Western Civilization would remain trapped in the Dark Ages, as are some other parts of the world.

So, what IS this thing called CRITICAL THINKING?

Initially, and through most of my career, I considered “good thinking” to be simply the application of the Scientific Method to anything requiring analysis or problem solving. I would observe. I would research the literature to see if the problem, or similar problems, had been previously addressed and resolved. I would form a “testable” hypothesis, test it, refine it, and so on. I would try to keep my own bias out of the way. I would remain “rational” to the best of my ability.

I had been exposed to the basic disciplines of Logic, and tried to apply that, also. However it was always in an informal manner, and seldom with the discipline I really wanted to achieve. Results were adequate and acceptable, but I wanted better.

And then, in “Seeing the Unseen, Part 1,” Mr. Whittle introduced me to the term, “Critical Thinking.”

When I began snooping around on the internet for a more complete, formal explanation of the term, I came across the following web site, which appears to be a pretty substantial source for information on the topic:

Browsing there and elsewhere, I learned that, for some time, people have been extending the knowledge base on “good thinking” way beyond the Scientific Method! I learned that, especially in the education fields, a great deal of work has been done exploring what Critical Thinking is -- how to better do it and teach it! I even recognized some elements I had seen in some business seminars I had attended, including the subject of “mind mapping!”

I learned that there was much to learn. Much to explore.

(And I just absolutely love when that happens!)

The “Journey” Begins.

I posit that the DEFINITION of Critical Thinking is CRITICAL to eventually reaching the destination.

And so, I start my journey toward better thinking by referencing the first chapter of a book written by Alec Fisher, titled Critical Thinking – An Introduction©, that first chapter of which is available for your review here. In it, Mr. Fisher gives a brief history of the development of a definition for Critical Thinking, beginning with one coined and published about 100 years ago by a man named John Dewey. Mr. Dewey, as Mr. Fisher points out, is “widely regarded as the ‘father’ of the modern critical thinking tradition.” The definition he (Dewey) proposed for critical thinking is:

“Active, persistent, and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds which support it and the further conclusions to which it trends.”

As Mr. Fisher suggests, let’s stop, breathe deeply, and consider that for a moment… Fisher “deconstructs” the definition for us, starting with the key words “active,” “persistent,” and “careful.”

Active, in the sense that critical thinking does NOT “just happen.” It requires effort and energy. The critical thinker must actively participate in the process of thinking, and not just passively absorb thoughts, arguments, or statements. He must work the intellect to independently raise further questions and find more information.

Persistent and careful in the sense that Dewey is contrasting the practice of Critical Thinking from other types of thinking that we engage in, such as the seemingly instantaneous thought involved in responding to emergencies, or the shallow thought involved in non-reflective conversations and activities. Critical Thinking takes some time, and is done carefully… it is reflective.

Then Fisher points out what might be the crux of this definition – the combination of the phrases “in the light of the grounds which support it,” and “the further conclusions to which it trends.” In those two phrases, we realize that Critical Thinking requires an examination of the reasons that support a conclusion, the reasoning used and its soundness, and the ramifications of the conclusions. We ask if the reasoning is sound and the conclusions justified. We bring to bear the discipline of Logic, and all the resources available to help us evaluate the structure and “strength” of the arguments.

Fisher then introduces a second definition of Critical Thinking for our consideration, which extends and (hopefully) clarifies Dewey’s. This one is from a man named Edward Glasser, who co-authored the most widely used test of Critical Thinking at the time of Fisher’s publication, the Watson-Glasser Critical Thinking Appraisal.

That definition reads:

“(1) an attitude of being predisposed to consider In a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one’s experience; (2) knowledge of the methods of logical enquiry and reasoning; and (3) some skill in applying those methods. Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the conclusions to which it tends.”

As Fisher astutely notes, Glasser’s definition builds on Dewey’s by recognizing that Critical Thinking individuals possess a set of skills and a predisposition to use them. We can therefore, (IMHO), develop those skills, and encourage (or nurture) that predisposition. I suspect those realizations helped to provide and/or reinforce the basic justifications for the efforts that have been made to further understand Critical Thinking, and modify curricula in the education disciplines to support its propagation!

With that, I will close this first part of what I intend to be a series of blogs on the topic of Critical Thinking.

I will be following this up with a second part, to further define the topic and describe why it is important to me, in the near future.

However, I can’t close this without “assigning” some “homework” for “extra credit,” should you feel so inclined.

I ask that you consider the definitions and discussion provided so far, and reflect on how they relate to your own circumstances. Are you a “critical thinker” from time to time? What are some examples of your “best” critical thinking – what are some of the areas in your experience to which you may have given “critical thinking” consideration? Might you use these areas, or the results of that “critical thinking,” to form underlying premises on which you base most, or all, further thinking on the particular topic?

Finally, consider the worth of critical thinking to yourself, to your family, (if applicable), to your community, and to Western Civilization in general. For assistance, you might consider reading pages 17 through the end of this resource:

And if you have read this far, may I thank you for your time and attention. It is with humility that I undertake this journey, as I seek to improve my own thinking. I sincerely appreciate the company!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What I know of critical thinking – the ones and zeros

In the next few days, some very bright people are going to be publishing some very bright things here along with some very interesting links. I thought I’d get the inanity out of the way right now.
Everything I know about critical thinking I learned from writing computer programs. A computer is the ultimate in literal mindedness. It will do exactly what you tell it to do; no more and no less. If your spiffy bit of code doesn’t do what you intended it to do it’s not because the computer is hard headed. The computer doesn’t understand your intentions, only your instructions.

Many years ago, when computer speeds were measured in Hz, I gave an “introduction to computers” class. Trying to de-mystify the sci-fi aura and trepidation my students felt about computers, I told them that computers really aren’t very smart: They can only count to one. But they can count to one, a lot of times, very fast. It’s those lightening fast combinations of ones and zeros that make most of our modern life possible. And they are unforgiving.

At the fundamental level, computers only know two states of being: One or Zero, On or Off, Yes or No, True or False. There are no shades of gray in computer speak. Even when programming "fuzzy logic", to get a computer to “think” like a human and make decisions based on incomplete information, varying degrees of “truthiness” are still given a “true/false” value.

So what does this have to do with critical thinking? When your program fails to behave as you think it should, you must question your assumptions and trace your logic step by step to find out what went wrong.

Invalid assumptions, such as assigning an incorrect value to a variable, will lead to invalid results. No matter how impeccable your reasoning, if you begin from a false premise, you will reach a false conclusion.

Likewise, an error in logic, such as failing to advance a counter, will corrupt the outcome. No matter how solid your precepts, you must provide an unbroken logical chain to prove your conclusion.

Now, I’m gonna sit back and listen to the smart guys.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Glenn Greenwald has demonstrated how not to think critically. He's received a spoofed email, and doesn't understand how it can be fake:

UPDATE IV: After a crash course in tracing email headers and IP addresses and the like
. . .
All three of those sets of emails came from the same IP address — — as the original email I received today, so clearly that is an IP address used by the U.S. military in Iraq.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the alleged jury, it appears that some education is in order. Whenever you see an IP address that starts with “10.”, “172.16.” through “172.31.”, “169.254″, or “192.168″, it is the rough equivalent of a “555″ telephone number. These ranges of addresses are set aside for local networks. They cannot be assigned to servers on the Internet, and properly-configured Internet routers will refuse to send traffic to them.

An email that comes from a 10. address is prima facie fake.

How is this a failure of critical thinking? Greenwald conflated "This email says it's from" with "This email was written by Colonel Steven Boylan, spokesman for General Petraeus". If you don't realize the difference, you might be interested in a buying a bridge.

UPDATE 1: (heh)
This is not to state that the message itself is necessarily fake, only that the 10. address itself is not "on the Internet". Validation of the author is purported to be done by that machine with the 10. address, which may be valid within a local network, but cannot be verified outside that network. This part of the message is assumed to have been placed there by the next machine above it, which is the one to point to when establishing its validity.

In fact, the validity "chain" must always begin at the top of the headers, for it establishes a nested "Computer A says " Computer B says "Computer C says ... "person X says "..."...""" statement. If Computer A is lying, it doesn't matter whether Computer B is truthful or not, because it never said the rest of the statement. What does make the 10. address special is that it is entirely a creation of the local network administrators, so there is no mechanism to contact it directly to validate that part of the chain of custody.

In that respect, perhaps it's better to say that a 10. address is like a sock puppet.