Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fifteen Questions that will Improve Your Thinking Skills

     A major part of thinking more reasonably—of judging our own best interests and the best interests of others—is knowing which questions to ask.  You've  heard some of these questions before.  Others, such as the first, are so basic that you may have never considered them.

  1. What are we really discussing?  (That is, what is the core issue?  Suppose, out of concern for the safety of a deaf child, neighbors wanted the local government to put up a sign reading, “Slow.  Deaf child playing,” but there’s no such sign that can legally be placed there.  That the child is deaf may tug at our heartstrings, but it has nothing to do with the issue that even hearing children can thoughtlessly run in front of cars.  A sign reading, “Caution: Children Playing” would serve the same purpose without labeling the deaf child as “different” from her peers.)
  2. Is this an objective reality or a social reality?  This is similar to #1, though it’s more specific.  It’s absolutely true that “the government wouldn’t lie to you” because government is a social reality; it exists only as an agreed-upon concept.  When most people use the word government, they’re really referring to politicians and bureaucrats; those people will lie like bed wetters.  Many social realities are based on false assumptions.  As an example, corporate logos are just marks; yet millions of dollars in advertising can convince gullible people that corporate logos are talismans that magically transform the wearer into worthy people.
  3. What difference does it make?  (Sometimes it doesn’t make any difference.  When it does, it’s vital to know just why it makes a difference—otherwise, you can be distracted by things that are interesting but not vital.)
  4. Is it true?  (Rule of thumb: If “everyone knows” that such-and-such is true, but no one seems to know how he “knows,” you’re probably being manipulated and the assertion is probably false.  Here's a familiar example of an is-it-true question: "How hot would office fires have to get before they can liquefy steel, and do office fires actually get that hot?"  Here's one I've never heard anyone ask before: "How is it possible for accidental fires to heat steel in perfect symmetry so as to cause every core column and supporting column to liquefy at precisely the same instant?")
  5. What are the underlying assumptions, and are they true?  (For example, the popular model of environmental responsibility is that we should do the same things in the same way, only do less of it.  This assumption leads to the belief that environmental responsibility must come at the cost of lowering our standards of living.  I have learned that, by shifting our focus from “what brand we should buy” to “what benefits do we want,” we can raise our standards of living, spend less money, make healthier choices, and become more environmentally responsible all at the same time.)  For further information, click here.  
  6. If it’s true (or false), what can we reasonably expect to see?  Do we in fact see it?  If not, what do we really see, and what’s the most reasonable explanation for it?
  7. Are there other explanations or options?
  8. How do people elsewhere—especially in other countries or cultures—handle similar situations, and how well does their method work?  (It’s amazing how this question automatically broadens our options.  I did a study of 31 “default” selections for our culture as compared to “alternative” selections.  To my surprise, even when I wasn’t consciously looking for better alternatives, Depending on what I was measuring and comparing, I found better alternatives 28.57% to 96.88% of the time—overall average, 75% of the time.  In every case, the alternative selection was as good as or better than the default selection.)
  9. Who benefits?
  10. Who had the motive, the means, and the opportunity?
  11. In deciding between A and B, what are the costs versus rewards of being right or wrong?  (Uncertainty in the abortion debate is an opportunity to use this model.  The issue hinges entirely on whether the human fetus is a person; and, though we may never know the answer for sure, the person facing this decision has consequences regardless of our beliefs.  If the fetus is not a person, and an abortion is performed, no harm is done; if the abortion is not performed, a pregnant woman may be inconvenienced without good cause.  If the human fetus is a person, and an abortion is committed, an innocent human being has been killed for the sake of convenience; if no abortion is committed, the life of an innocent human being is spared, perhaps at the cost of someone else’s convenience.)
  12. Does this rationale or explanation fit the facts?  If not, what does?  (For example, when a politician has ulterior motives—which they often do—he’ll offer a rationale that doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.  Most people will react to the discrepancy by thinking, “Oh, this issue is too complicated for me to understand,” which is exactly what the politician is hoping you’ll do.)
  13. What am I expected to do as a result of believing what I’m being asked to believe; and, if this belief were not an issue, would it be in my best interest to do it?  (For example, would you think it was in your best interest to allow someone to monitor your telephone calls if you weren’t convinced that the person monitoring your calls was protecting you from being murdered?  Chances are, the problem and the solution were concocted in the same laboratory and they’re both bogus.  As Edmund Burke said, “Men are seldom disposed to give up their liberties except under some pretext of necessity.”)
  14. In making this decision, what facts are essential?  (To avoid decision paralysis or confusion, leave out everything else.  Some years ago, a coronary care physician discovered that doctors could make right decisions in the emergency room twice as often if they reduced the number of factors considered from twenty to four.  His decision model is now standard procedure.  See question #3.)
  15. Does this version of events pass the reenactment test?  (That is, mentally reenact the received version of events in detail and see if it makes sense.  It’s amazing how easily a lie comes unraveled when the liar’s story is reenacted.)

     These questions have been quite valuable to me.  I hope you’ll also find them useful.

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