What Is Skeptical Thought?


Today I’m going to talk about skeptical thinking in general and how you can apply skeptical thought to yourself through examining your own beliefs.

Skeptical thinking is simply asking yourself “Is this real?” For instance if you watch commercials on TV you can apply skeptical thinking to those commercials. For example there was a floor cleaning product I saw a couple years back.  They ran the device over the floor and it went from dusty/scuffed to bright, shiny new. A miracle of house cleaning? No.

Ken and I watched and noticed that as the announcer brought the product towards the floor a fine dust of what appeared to be baby powder briefly puffed out as though it were being blown outward and away from the device. Once the thing was applied for a few seconds, then the floor looked brand new.

Yes, it looked like they had sprinkled a fine layer of baby powder over the floor to make it look like the floor was in disrepair.

Another example would be print ads for diet pills. I’ve sure you’ve seen the ads for these pills. It shows the before and after shots. In some cases (not all) the ‘after” person really doesn’t look like the ‘before’ person. We also found out that many of those people are athletes that have been injured. They gained some weight while injured and then got back into shape. Since they already had the self-discipline and the previous body, they simply went back to their old workout and eating routines.

Sometimes the more unscrupulous people will Photoshop the pictures or stretch them so that it looks like the “before” person lost the weight and got into shape. You can’t always trust people to be honest.

Sometimes you can’t even trust your own eyes. Take a look at this photo: http://bit.ly/KqABL It’s a still shot from a pretty convincing video.

However, here’s the reality: http://bit.ly/1Coy3F

It’s not our fault though. Psychologists have released studies stating that we as a species have evolved with a mechanism that causes us to instinctively look for patterns. This is how we recognize and distinguish facial features. That’s just one of many uses. Unfortunately our interpretation of the data can be flawed. For instance have you ever spotted someone in a crowd that you could have SWORN was an old friend from high school or college only to have it turn out to be a stranger? Sometimes pattern recognition is faulty or our interpretation of what we see is simply in error. It’s going to happen because we make mistakes. The important thing to remember is to be critical in interpreting what you see.

How can you apply critical thought to yourself? You can start by analyzing your own beliefs. As a minor ‘for instance’ let’s talk about my car. I love my car. I drive a bright red 1993 Honda del Sol. It’s a sweet little two door targa top coupe.

When I was a kid we used to name our cars. Most of the time I’ve followed that tradition. Since I lost my first del Sol in a three way crash (the car was totaled by the insurance company and everyone was just fine) about 7 years back I was thrilled to find this one. I just KNEW it was a “he” the minute I got behind the wheel. He loves going fast, so I named him Maz (short for Maserati) because he thinks he IS one. Whenever he performs well I pat him on the steering wheel and tell him he’s a good boy.

Now, let’s analyze this. Do cars have a gender? No. Even when you dangle those steel testicles on a truck, that doesn’t make them a boy truck. Do I really believe my car is inhabited by some sort of make spirit or energy? No. It’s just a fun fantasy. It’s rather like playing pretend.

Does “he” love going fast? Nooo. That’s all me. Again, it’s a machine. It has moving parts but no “soul” or “spirit”. Does he even think? Nope. Again refer to the ‘machine” comment.

Finally, does patting the steering wheel do anything to stroke the ego of the car or praise it? No.

Sure, it’s fun to pretend. Just recognize the humanization of objects for what it is. A fantasy.

Tomorrow I’ll be killing fairies and dragons so stay tuned.

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