Episode 3: The Death of Critical Thinking

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So many times I have heard the line, “this is how it has always been done”. This is uttered as a battlecry by many who are, perhaps, not interested in thinking critically about the processes and knowledge they possess for some rudimentary part of the work role.

In this episode we delve into the notion of “critical thinking”, talk about what a reluctance to utilize this skillset looks like in every day business environments, and then propose a solution to how we can overcome this particular obstacle to create a more productive workplace!

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Music for the show: Foolish Game / God Don’t Work On Commission by spinmeister (c) copyright 2014 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/spinmeister/46822 Ft: Snowflake

Show Notes:

Welcome to data couture, the podcast about data culture at work at home. And on the go. I’m your host Jordan bohall. If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe lows, get the latest episodes wherever you get podcast. And if you’d like to stay up to date on everything data couture, be sure to follow us on Twitter at data couture pod. Finally, if you’d like to help support this in future episodes, consider becoming a patron of the podcast through our
Patreon page@patreon.com. forward slash data couture. Now on to the show.

Welcome to data couture. I’m your host Jordan On today’s episode, we’re talking about the loss of critical thinking and everyday life. And the first act will be talking about exactly what critical thinking is both in a general sense, and perhaps in a bit more of a philosophical sense, before in the second act, talking about exactly how this plays out in our day to day lives, at work and at home, and anywhere else that we choose to go. And then finally, in the third act, we’ll talk about how to solve this problem of the loss of critical thinking in our everyday lives. So stay tuned.

So what is critical thinking? I’m sure you’ve heard it before. I’m sure you know. Well, the direction we’re taking with it is that critical thinking is an intellectual discipline. It’s a process of actively and perhaps skillfully conceptualizing and applying, analyzing and synthesizing information gathered, from observation, sometimes experience reflection, reasoning, various types of communication, and this type of reasoning, it serves as a guide to belief and action. Now, I’m not going to lie to you. In my academic career, I’ve taught loads of classes, and critical thinking and, and logic and reasoning and mathematical logic.

And so I have a bit more, how would say annoying view, perhaps, of what critical thinking really applies to and in my case, I think that critical thinking or I see critical thinking, as the act of logically evaluating arguments for its structure for its premises and conclusions, and determining whether or not those premises lead to a true conclusion. Beyond that, if it’s a intro course, for my students, for example, we also talk about things like fallacies, fallacies and logical reasoning logical fallacies. My favorite version of a logical fallacy is sometimes referred to as the camels nose fallacy. And so this is meant to show that everything is not a slippery slope.

An example of a slippery slope fallacy could be the oft repeated Oh, if we let couples in the LGBT q plus community get married. Well, the next thing is, people will be marrying dogs and the grass in their front yard and all these sorts of things. And so it’s this step from first premise being well, man and a woman should be the only ones allowed to be married to, oh, well, if we allow people in the LGBT q plus community get married? Well, then the next logical step is that people will be doing outrageous things and clarity and determining that they’re married to those things as well. Well, the camels nose fallacy points out that this sort of reasoning is utterly ridiculous. And so let me regale you with the camels nose fallacy.

It goes something like this. It goes, that person and their magical camel and this camel happens to be magical, because the camel can speak, are traveling through the wilderness and happens to be a rather cold night coming up. And so the person pitches a tense and post the camera right outside the tent. Now the camel being this mythical magical beast, pokes up in a hole in the tents and says to the person, hey, it’s really cold out here. And I tend to regulate my heat by breathing through my nose. I know it’s warm in your tent. So why don’t you let me just stick my nose in the tent. And of course, the person who loves their camel, their magical camel says, Oh, of course, it’s just your nose. I’ve got plenty of room for your nose and myself in this tent. So we can both stay warm. Great. So some time passes. And the Campbell says, you know, my, my ears are really cold. So can I put my face all the way up to my ears into the tent?

You certainly have enough room. So surely you can allow me this one dignity to put my face in the tent with you. And so the person says, of course, you can put your face in here and there’s still plenty of room. I feel perfectly comfortable with that. Okay, so some more time passes. And the gamble says, Oh, you know, like, my, my shoulders are cold. Can I can I put like just my face in my neck and my shoulders in the tense and at this point, the person and it says, Okay, well, it’s going to be tight in here. But that’s fine. skipped a few hours later, and all the sudden, what do you know, the camel is fully inside the tents. The persons in there with them.

They’re completely stuffed inside the tents. Why is this a fallacy? Well, even if you had previously unknown camel that could speak, surely you would understand the limits of your tents. Namely, it could hold you and maybe a camels nose and you would stop the camel from fully putting in this ridiculous situation where the entire camel and you are inside the tent? Likely or likely? Likewise, in the case of slippery slope arguments, it’s not how is the case that you start with a couple fairly innocuous premises and then end up in some ridiculous inclusion. Why? Because there’s going to be some practical reason why you’re going to stop somewhere in that argument chain before you go into an insane a ridiculous solution. And so in my mind to get back to critical thinking, when we look at arguments when we look at logic, logical arguments and a reasonable way, what we’re talking about is the skill set where we can see various premises leading to a conclusion.

Whether or not that conclusion logically follows using good, sound logical principles. And coming up to a conclusion that makes sense that it’s practical, and it leads to the right sorts of actions that are necessary to follow. What I’m seeing is a loss of this critical thinking capability. So in the next hour, we’re going to talk about what exactly is happening, what are we losing? Why is critical thinking such a desired skill set in today’s modern workforce, so stay tuned.
Okay, welcome to the second act of the show.

Now, before we get going into what I’m seeing as the actual problem and our normal business lives, let’s talk about the things that are contrasted to critical thinking. And I’m going to break this into three parts. The first is how we acquire and retain information. So if we find out some sort of piece of information, we might forget where it comes from. But then we might use this information to enact our decisions and our process, he’s at work. The second piece is possessing particular skill sets, and then improving on those skill sets. But using those skill sets each and every day throughout the entire course of our career. And the final piece is using those skill sets without having any sort of acceptance or any sort of ownership of what results from those skills. Until in the first case, yeah, we learned quite a few things by just existing in the world.

However, if we don’t think critically about them, then those things that we come to understand, aren’t necessarily the best ways to deal with a particular belief. Or, perhaps they’re not the best ways to deal with certain way of understanding the world. And the second case, by possessing a set of skills, great, we get to work, we go through basic training, so to speak, we go through the training that the company gives us if they do when we employ those skills on a particular process for the rest of our working lives. Who’s to say that this particular set of skills is the best process through which to do that particular action. Without thinking critically about it, we may be wasting a lot of our time, a lot of the organization’s time, a lot of our customers time, right. And the third piece, using those skills without accepting or understanding the ownership of the results. And so by doing that set of skills over and over and over again, we just push the the buck down the road for the next person to deal with.

If we were to think critically about these particular skill sets, then maybe we realize while our processes aren’t great, it leads to quite a few inefficiencies down the line. And it ends up in a process for the entire organization that is problematic and leads to the downfall perhaps, and the most extreme case of the organization itself. Now, this show is a sensibly about data culture work at home and on the go, right? That’s my tagline. Well, where does critical thinking fit into that? Easy if we’re going to be fearful, like we talked about in a former episode of the rise of automation and artificial intelligence, those sorts of things can easily take care of simple patterns, simple uses of a particular skill set, the end up passing the buck down the line.

Similarly, if we just acquire a certain set of knowledge without thinking critically about it, well, when it comes time for automation to come through your business unit, and you are unwilling to change your position, because that’s how things have always been done. Chances are automation, artificial intelligence, any sort of data process is going to leave you in the dust and the worst case leave you without a job. So what am I seeing at work? What am I seeing and my wife as a data profession,

I’m seeing quite a bit of hesitancy to accept anything that looks like automation looks like artificial intelligence looks like any kind of data process. And it’s because the people and the team members at my job or at my university or at former jobs are unwilling to think about their roles and how they might be able to improve their own work lives in the in the process. And in my opinion, this is really where fear of data comes in the fear, because they don’t have the critical thinking skill set. and critical thinking skill set, it doesn’t have to be so formal, it doesn’t have to be academically logical, it doesn’t have to have some sort of clear guidelines. But at the end of the day, what does need to happen is that all of our team members, everyone across the organization, be able to look at their beliefs, look at their processes, look at what they’re affecting downstream, look at the entire system as a whole.

And be able to poke holes and the way things have always been done, be able to look at a process and see how each one of the steps each one of the premises in this case, and critical thinking leads to the conclusion, namely, the completion of the task. And this is something that will talk about in the next act, namely how to overcome it. But I’m sure so many of you have experienced this, at least at some point in your working lives. If you have, be sure to leave a comment, I’d love to hear your experience, I’d love to hear what you’ve gone through. Because even though we’re going to talk about potential solutions, it’s going to be different for every single industry, it’s going to be different for every single company. And I would love to see, I’d love to hear how you are handling it, how you’re dealing with it. And perhaps if you’ve been successful, maybe you can help others to. So stay tuned.

Welcome to the final act of the show. And this act, we’re going to talk about how we can overcome this loss of critical thinking in our lives. And, as you’ll probably guess my solutions going to revolve around education. However, let me talk a little bit about that before I talk about what it means in our business lives and our work lives. So when I teach students, usually undergrads in this case, and an introductory critical thinking class, we go through quite a few of the formal logical rules how to get from one premise to the next guarantee that we have a valid argument which sometimes the sound sometimes not over, one of my favorite activity is to do with my students is to look at a piece of advertising and discern what that argument is, this seems to be the most effective for my students and the most visceral for my students. And so if you follow the show, had Derek to our pod on Twitter, you’ll know that I recently put a tweet out there about a particular automotive companies forward foray into the automated motorcycle industry.

And even though I desperately would love to have this motorcycle, given that I’ve been writing for the majority of my life, I often like to tell the story that my parents gave me a mini bike, one of these small little kind of dirt bike like dirt, bike licking motorcycles that have little lawnmower engines in them. And that I would put around and we had a yard where I could go fully around the house. And I put around the front because my parents were sitting on the porch watching me to make sure that I didn’t die or something. But then as soon as I got right out of I shot of them, I would just slam on the gas, and just haul ass around the back of the house. And then right when I was about to hit the corner where I knew they could see me I would immediately slow down and just put butter on the front.

Of course I didn’t think about when about this when I was a kid. But of course they could hear me rev up the engine and just haul ass around the house until I got around the front and then pop out right, but they still let me do it. And I think that was when I was four. And then I can vaguely remember being around six and getting a bicycle and being disappointed that it didn’t have an engine on it. Because how could I possibly go nearly as fast as my little mini bike when I didn’t have an engine, right? That’s ridiculous. And so I’ve been deeply in love with motorcycles my entire life, I still ride got i right trying just they’re not a sponsor, but I absolutely adore that company. And that’s my daily driver at the moment. But nevertheless, what I’m trying to say is I see this ad for this motorcycle from this major, well known historical motorcycle company. And they say in the ad, this bike is so safe, because of the artificial intelligence built into it, that you don’t need to wear a helmet when you ride.

Now, maybe some of you are also motorcycle enthusiasts like myself. And if you don’t wear a helmet, then please start because you will die if you get into an accident, and the chances are, you will get into an accident. So there’s my PSA soapbox for the night. Nevertheless, if I were to present this to my students in a critical thinking class hand, I said, well, what’s wrong with this argument? Well, there are a lot of premises that go into this claim that this particular company is trying to sell, namely, our artificial intelligence, for example, is so advanced that it will predict any sort of crash or any sort of adverse event on the road when you’re riding this motorcycle.

Because second premise the bike, the motorcycle can predict these sorts of incidents, you will be so safe, as to conclusion not have to wear a helmet any longer. Well, what’s wrong with that? If I were to print this out to my students? Well, there are a lot of issues with the first premise, namely, the AI is so advanced that it can handle any situation that comes across it.

Well, as many of you, my listeners will know, ai machine learning, predictive analytics requires quite a few inputs to learn. And chances are the engineers while they probably did a very, very good job at presenting a most of the situations on the road, they very likely did not present every possible solution that could come up or riding a motorcycle. I have lived in San Francisco, and every day on my motorcycle, I’ve almost gotten into a wreck, or I almost got into a wreck and no longer live there, of course. But each one of those near misses presented various challenges very, maybe my new differences in the challenges. But in the case of this AI driven motorcycle, if it hasn’t seen that scenario, before it would have to experience it and then learn from it.

And that case, the AI and the motorcycle is not prepared to save you from that particular deadly situation or potentially deadly situation. So what does that mean? That means that that first premise, which in my mind is clearly false, leads to a conclusion that cannot be anything but false. It leads to the conclusion that Yeah, you better wear your helmet, you better wear your writing gear like you wouldn’t any normal motorcycle. So while I’m still very desperate, only this particular motorcycle, I will certainly be wearing my protective gear. Great. You guys got to know quite a bit about my particular love obsession with motorcycles. But what does this mean for our real lives? How can we stand this gap?

How can we reduce the impact that this loss of critical thinking is happening or is is causing in our society in our work lives? Well, like I said, at the front of this of this particular act, it’s going to be down to education. Now, while I don’t necessarily agree that you should teach every one of the people in your company, formal rules of logical reasoning, there should at least be a very rigorous training and how to recognize basic arguments and argumentation and tell them the difference between a argument and the technical sense, namely premises leading to a conclusion and arguments in the emotional sense, right, step one, but then to how can we identify the various parts of the argument and address whether or not they’re true whether or not they have some sort of cause to have our belief in them why, or how we can use data to show that they’re either true or false.

And so the data hopefully, and hopefully you have robust analytics program at your organization, but if not, start now, how the data can help us discern whether or not these premises are true, and hence how the conclusion that we’re reaching how the action that we’re looking to take will result in the best course of future actions for the organization. Similarly, like we talked about processes, we can look at every process we use, and we can discern, oh, are these steps truly necessarily the most efficient and how we need to get to our end goal.

And once we get to that end goal, how does that affect the entire system, the entire reason for doing this particular action for the entire organization. And so by training your team, by training all the people in your organization, you reduce any sort of real effect that automation or artificial intelligence or machine learning or any of these other buzzwords are going to have to their jobs in the future and hence, you will have a far more educated workforce, you’ll have a far more creative and critically thinking workforce, which can only result and your company being able to avoid the inevitable takeover that some upstart or some disruptor is going to have in your industry in the time being.

That’s it for the show. Thank you for listening. And if you liked what you’ve heard, then consider leaving a comment or like down below. Stay up to date on everything data couture, be sure to follow us on Twitter at data couture pod to consider becoming a patron@patreon.com forward slash data couture music for the podcast. It’s called foolish game. God don’t work on commission by the artist spin Meister used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license, writing, editing and production of the podcast is by
your host Jordan Bohall.

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