Friday, November 15, 2013

The Critical Thinker's Dictionary

The Critical Thinker's Dictionary: Biases, Fallacies, and Illusions and what you can do about them is now available from Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble as an e-book and from Lulu as a paperback. Click here for more information about ordering.

The Critical Thinker’s Dictionary grew out of a suggestion made by Harriet Hall, M.D., in a review of my book Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed! Unnatural Acts. That book concluded with a chapter that advised the reader to study 59 cognitive biases, fallacies, and illusions that I briefly described. This blog was set up with the goal of posting expansions on those descriptions. So, every Monday for 59 weeks I tackled one of the biases, illusions, or fallacies and posted them here. Those posts have been rewritten and a few more topics have been added to produce The Critical Thinker’s Dictionary.
A guiding principle of Unnatural Acts and The Critical Thinker's Dictionary is that critical thinking does not come naturally. Not only must we work at becoming critical thinkers, doing so goes against our nature. Evolution has provided our species with a magnificent brain, capable of extraordinary things like self-consciousness, memory, facial recognition, and thousands of other “miracles.” But we evolved to think quickly, a necessity in the environments our species found itself during most of its 100,000-year history. There are times in our modern world where quick thinking is needed, but there are also many times when we should slow things down. Sometimes we are better off if, instead of relying on our instinctive, natural way of thinking about things, we take some time to do some research, to reflect, and to discuss before making a judgment.
 'Know Thyself' advised the ancient Greek sages at a time when philosophers defined us as rational animals. Rationality was thought of as an ideal largely achievable by controlling the emotions and avoiding logical fallacies. Today, we know better. Biology and neuroscience have exposed the brain as a great deceiver. Unconscious biases drive us to believe and do things that the conscious mind explains in self-serving stories, making us appear more rational to ourselves than we really are. Modern science has taught us that rationality involves much more than just controlling the emotions and avoiding fallacies. Today’s rational animal—what we call the critical thinker—must understand the unconscious biases that are directing many of our most important judgments and decisions. The Critical Thinker’s Dictionary explores the insights of ancient and modern philosophers along with the latest findings in such fields as neuroscience and behavioral economics to lay out the many obstacles and snares that await anyone committed to a rational life. The Critical Thinker’s Dictionary isn’t a collection of dry definitions, but a colorful, three-dimensional portrait of the major obstacles to critical thinking and what we can do to overcome them.