Friday, June 27, 2014

How-to Guide to Be a Skeptic #2 (Read this one first please)

After writing the How-to Guide to Be a Skeptic, I realized something.  It's a horrible guide on how to be a Skeptic, but a pretty wonderful article on being a Skeptic if I do say so myself.  So I've decided to write a more goal oriented piece that's easier to digest with more structure.  That said, here we go.

As disclaimer, I will pilfer parts of the original as it was intended to be a how-to guide.

Why would you want to be a Skeptic?   

Skepticism is a structured way of thinking that will allow you to prioritize, and organize the information you take in for easier utilization.   The most common way of thinking is that if it sounds good, it is good.   That's not good.   Critical thinking helps filter the bad or wrong information that's available to you so that you can focus on what's right and true.

The main reason that skeptics have a bad rap is because liars, con artists, and other smooth talkers want people to buy their bill of goods without question.  Skeptics get in the way of that, so they are demonized and vilified.  It's also easy to accept these bad arguments because Skeptics can be frustrating to try and convince.  However, Skeptics do a great service by keeping people that would scam you in check.   Here are a few examples of philanthropic skeptic organizations.   Charity Navigator verifies the legitimacy of charitable organizations so that you know you're donating to a good cause.  Most charities are scams, and organizations like these protect you.   Another is Snopes that works hard to debunk and call to light internet rumors that are not true.   Politifact works diligently to dispell any falsehoods when it comes to politics.  As you can see, skepticism is very valuable, and ultimately works to your advantage.

Therefore, the very reason to be a Skeptic is to help yourself, and others.  It's not about tearing anything down, but examining all new information under the light of critical thinking.   If this new information can not withstand scrutiny, than it can and should be thrown out.   After all, you would research an investment offer, would you not?   So why not a news story, or Aunt Jamilla's claim to fame?  

There are two ways to be a Skeptic.  The first is to just learn the way, and put it to work when you like.  For example, a skeptical outlook would be to:

1.  Observe something either by hearing or seeing.
2.  Examine what you've observed and form a theory.
3.  Research, and/or test said theory.
4.  Come to a conclusion based on the results.

So now you know how to be a general Skeptic, but it's not a natural way of thinking.  You can call this process up whenever you need it, but it's not how your mind generally works.  That leaves us with the second way to become a Skeptic.  The hard way in which you can train your mind to automatically be skeptical.   To do this, it can take quite a while with consistency, and you just need 10 minutes per day.

STEP 1


The first thing a good skeptic needs is humility, and to understand that he/she is not perfect.   Faulty personal perception can greatly inhibit a person's ability to find the truth, so before you even entertain the idea of examining someone else's position, you need to be prepared.   Here are some ways of thinking that you need to watch out for in order to keep your own mind in check.

They are called Cognitive Distortions.


We all make these mistakes, and the best way to avoid them is to be aware of them.   Memorize, and try to catch yourself whenever you make these mistakes in your thinking.   This can take a month or two.   The best way is to keep a journal on you; a little notepad of sorts, and write down whenever you have an unsubstantiated thought.   "My co-workers were a little standoffish, and my immediate thought was that they were displeased with me.   Maybe I'm not working hard enough, or maybe I'm working too hard.  Maybe I made a mistake.   All fallacious as I am jumping to conclusions.  Perhaps they were just busy.  There is no conclusive evidence that anything is wrong."   Writing down each faulty thought and analyzing it will help you to focus your thoughts in positive and constructive ways.

This is just one exercise in Cognitve Behavioral Therapy which has many health benefits including, but not limited to, a drastic improvement in depression.   We're simply utilizing it for balance before critiquing someone else's work.

STEP 2



So now, are you ready to examine and critique another person's viewpoint or claim?   Not quite.   Most people skip the last section on self evaluation, and go straight to the next part which are fallacies.   They completely dismiss their own faults, and try to find faults in other people.   So once you have the cognitive distortions nailed down, you need to keep your own fallacies in check, and be able to recognize the fallacious arguments given by others.

This list is very large, and will take quite a bit of time to study.   I would recommend studying one fallacy per day, and finding at least 10 examples of it.   Then do the list 3 times.  This will take many months at 10 minutes per day, but that's OK.  It's called self betterment.  It can go more quickly if you study two or three fallacies per day, but no more than three, otherwise you'll burn out.  You can find 10 examples in 10 minutes, but your mind can wander off by taking on more.   So the first set takes 10 minutes, and the third set takes 20 minutes to find your 10 examples.  I recommend one at a time.  Quality and consistency over quantity and speed.

List of fallacies


STEP 3


CONGRATULATIONS!!  Now you are ready to critique other people.  You've examined yourself, and gotten familiar with fallacies.   So now all you need is a method of Skepticism to put your hard work to use.   There are a few different types of critical thinking, and feel free to go it your own way, but I prefer the Scientific Method.  It works for everything including debates, sales pitches, politics, shopping, personal arguments, relationships, and so much more.   So long as you can utilize it correctly.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD




Reiterated; This works with just about everything, especially skepticism.   If anything doesn't pass this sort of scrutiny, than it's not worth adopting.   Let's examine a vacuum cleaner salesman's pitch, shall we?

Frank comes to your door, and offers to shampoo, and clean the carpets in one room completely free of charge.  All he asks is that he can show you the product while he's doing it.  Fair deal right?  You're under no obligation, so you agree, and set a date.   Frank comes back with the Super Sucker 4000 (Thank You Jeff Daniels for the inspiration by making your movie Super Sucker.  I've honestly never seen it, but I'll buy it just because I pilfered the name.), and it's an awesome vacuum, or so Frank says.   Frank gives his spiel, and it's only $2,000 dollars.   Pretty Spendy, and is it worth it?

Well, let's scrutinize.

  • Is this vacuum worth $2,000?
  • Studying, there are various types of vacuums out there from $60 to $3,000.   The mechanics are pretty much the same on most, and some are made more cheaply than others.   Customer reviews are an immense help.  
  • I already have a vacuum that works just fine, and not only do not need to spend money, but I believe that $2,000 for this particular vacuum is a complete rip off after researching.   (You can obviously end here after the hypothesis for this particular example, but for the sake of the example we will continue to the bitter end.)
  • You're skeptical, and you relay your concerns to Frank who just brushes them aside.   So you challenge him to a vacuum off with several other different types of vacuums.   May the best vacuum win.  
  • Worked like a charm.  Come to find out, this mega super duper vacuum is just a plain old vacuum, and one that cost $250 (Which is fairly expensive for a vacuum) completely decimated Frank's vacuum, and even looks to be built better.)   
  • Now we put together all the data for the experiment, and present it to all the participants.  Sorry Frank, you came in 4th.   
  • It's all for naught as you already have a great vacuum, but you've decided which one you're buying when that breaks down.   

And there we have it.  Skepticism at work.  You just stopped yourself from getting screwed for $2,000.

Just like with the Cognitive Distortions, and the Fallacies, you need to practice this method as well.   Not by having an argument on facebook, even going all out with a public debate, but with every day mundane things.   Which cable do you buy?   Should you eat that?   Is your particular exercise working?   Who is that hottie next door?   Should I buy this vacuum?   Make a chart, and map each thing you try, and try to do at least 5 per day.   This will train your mind to work like a Skeptic, and pretty soon, critical thinking will come naturally.

STEP 4



There are things to keep in mind while being a skeptic.  The first are compassion and empathy.   Anyone you critique honestly believes their way is the best way, and respecting that will go a long way.  If they are wrong, leaving them unchecked is not respect, but supporting their ignorance.   But you can present your findings in a way that shows respect.  However, they could be right, so we can't discount anything until scrutinized.

 I personally prefer the Feedback Model that most businesses use.

Admire Accomplishments, and give credit where credit is due.  Compliment them on where their presentation is good, and acknowledge the positivism of what they are doing.  Offer your criticism, and lastly your altered presentation.

Yes, I cut a few things out of the feedback model for being a skeptic.  The more respect you have from the person you're critiquing, the more input you will have from them.   An argument on the internet should follow the previous paragraph, but critiquing your nephew on his plan to get involved in a pyramid scheme will have a lot more input, and you can use one of the Feedback Models on their website much more effectively as he will contribute a lot more.

Conclusion



You are a strong person, so please don't let anyone pull the wool over your eyes, and don't let your friends get taken advantage of.   You have the tools available to you, and you can be a wonderful person in employing these various tactics.   You don't have to be a staunch, dismissive jerk to be strong.   That's not really being strong either, it's merely protecting yourself with ignorance.

Instead, be a skeptic.

SCHEDULE


Week1 CD:

Mon- Study Cognitive Distortions for 10 minutes, and think of an example when you thought this.
Tue- Write down whenever you think of a Cognitive Distortion throughout the day.
Wed- Study Cognitive Distortions for 10 minutes, and think of an example when you thought this.
Thu- Write down whenever you think of a Cognitive Distortion throughout the day.
Fri-Study Cognitive Distortions for 10 minutes, and think of an example when you thought this.
Sat- OFF
Sun-OFF  (Days off can of course coincide with days off of work or school.  This is your project.)

Week2 CD:

Mon- Study Cognitive Distortions for 10 minutes, and think of an example when you thought this.
Tue- Write down, and analyze each Cognitive Distortion.
Wed- Study Cognitive Distortions for 10 minutes, and think of an example when you thought this.
Thu- Write down, and analyze each Cognitive Distortion.
Fri-  Write down, and analyze each Cognitive Distortion.
Sat- OFF
Sun-OFF  (Days off can of course coincide with days off of work or school.  This is your project.)

Week3 CD:  Repeat Week 1
Week4 CD:  Repeat Week 2

Weekly schedule for Fallacies:

Mon- Study a Fallacy, and find 10 examples of it throughout the day.
Tue- Study a Fallacy, and find 10 examples of it throughout the day.
Wed- Study a Fallacy, and find 10 examples of it throughout the day.
Thu- Study a Fallacy, and find 10 examples of it throughout the day.
Fri-  Study a Fallacy, and find 10 examples of it throughout the day.
Sat- OFF
Sun-OFF  (Days off can of course coincide with days off of work or school.  This is your project.)

Finish the list 3 times, and you should have it down.

Weekly Schedule for Skepticism:
Mon- Critique and analyze 3 simple questions you ask yourself throughout the day.
Tue- Critique and analyze 3 simple questions you ask yourself throughout the day.
Wed- Critique and analyze 3 simple questions you ask yourself throughout the day.  
Thu- Critique and analyze 3 simple questions you ask yourself throughout the day.
Fri-  Critique and analyze 3 simple questions you ask yourself throughout the day.   .
Sat- OFF
Sun-OFF  (Days off can of course coincide with days off of work or school.  This is your project.)

Should I eat this salad?  Should I turn left or right?  Should I stop at the gas station for a snack?

This should be done for at least 6 weeks.

Weekly Schedule for Feedback:

Mon- Critique and analyze 3 statements given by other people, and give constructive feedback.
Tue- Review Monday's 3 statements given by other people, and analyze your constructive feedback.  
Wed- Critique and analyze 3 statements given by other people, and give constructive feedback. 
Thu- Review Wednesday's 3 statements given by other people, and analyze your constructive feedback.
Fri-  Critique and analyze 3 statements given by other people, and give constructive feedback.
Sat- OFF
Sun-OFF  (Days off can of course coincide with days off of work or school.  This is your project.)

This should be done for about 3-6 weeks.

After you teach yourself how to be a Skeptic via the above method, you will have completely changed the way your mind processes information.   Side effects may include, loss of depression, ease of thought, quicker wit, and more smiles.   

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