The Critical Thinker’s Dictionary by Robert Todd Carroll
Finished reading on December 7th, 2017
I couldn’t fall asleep after finishing this book. I wonder whether it’s because of the book itself, because it keeps me thinking and so unable to go to sleep, or possibly the more likely culprit was the coffee I drank a few hours back to make sure that I would get to the end of this book.
The Critical Thinker’s Dictionary presents – as the subtitle claims – biases, fallacies and illusions that you most likely encounter every day. They’re most easily noticed when someone else uses one of them to make an argument for or against something, but one might also come to realize that it’s not just other people who use them.
In addition to explaining the nature of the fallacies, the possible reasons why we end up against them, Carroll also gives examples of them in case of politics, pseudoscience, medical research, etc.
I found it all quite interesting. And the different biases and fallacies made me think of times when I’ve tried to use one or another and gotten away with it 🙂 in addition to those times when I’ve heard the same used by someone else.
Carroll brings out the most common failures in critical thinking, even though you might not want to hear them. I feel like critical thinking and these fallacies should be taught to everyone, so they’d know when someone is not really making a good argument for something, or when someone’s just trying to voice their opinion that’s not really based on critical thinking or logic.
Actually my first idea, when reading this book, was about how kids on Vulcan probably would all know this by the time they’re done with kindergarten 🙂
So some of my “favourite” concepts from this book, that resonated with me for some reason more than others:
The halo effect – when you believe something to be good based on your previous experience, such as believing that all products of one company are good, after having tried just one of them. Ever come up against it with reading a book by one author, really liking it and starting to read something else by the same author assuming it would be good as well? And then realizing that it’s not necessarily true. Same goes for people in general – if your first impression of them is good, you’d be more likely to associate positive traits or characteristics with them even though you have no reason to believe such things about them.
The Illusion of control – believing you’re somehow in control of a situation although you’re clearly not. Isn’t that pretty much every time that you’re given many options to choose from or “control” in a situation that you can’t get out of. I wonder whether that might be the reason so many people would take public transportation and listen to music on their headphones? It’s better if you can at least choose what you’re listening rather than having to just hear everything that’s going on around you. Compensating for loss of control of when and where and with whom you’re going… Maybe that’s why I prefer to ride a bicycle to work, because there’s real control over the situation..?
There were of-course many more important concepts in the book. At first my impression of this book was though, that instead of just a helpful guide to fallacies in critical thinking, it could actually be used to the exact opposite effect – you find out what are the most usual fallacies and biases that people fall for and don’t notice and use them in your argument. Sure, it might be just as easy to make good arguments, but if not everyone can tell the difference, then it’s only morally wrong. 🙂
Now the problem is how do I stop myself from pointing out these fallacies and biases when I encounter them?