Thursday, 16 May 2013

Critical Thinking

Hand on my heart, I confess, I am prejudiced against stupid people. And by stupid, I mean, of average intelligence, with a reasonable education (e.g. literate) but unable to look at what's staring them right in the face and recognize it. We all have blond moments. I think it's just part of being human. To err and all that. Then there are those who just thrive on being idiots.

They must be getting something out of it. I wish I knew what. It sure as hell isn't the respect of their peers.

People collect information. They aren't always too careful where they collect it from and in fairness, it can sometimes be tricky to sort the wheat from the chaff. But that's no excuse. If you aren't sure of your facts, you say so, and allow for that. The problem is that opinions are formed based on dodgy information, and quite often from the opinions of others. Who formed their opinions on the opinions of others, and so on. It's a house of cards. 

Yesterday I ran into one of those people who reacts badly to having their opinions oppressed by facts. She didn't actually come right out and say "Well that's that I think, anyway" (*pout*) but came very close to it. She did state that we are all entitled to our opinions, which is the next best thing.

We weren't actually discussing opinions, but that never stops them. 

Since when did opinions count for anything? 

It is my considered opinion that pizza is the best food in the world. This means nothing. It doesn't mean pizza is good or bad, it does not mean that pizza haters are wrong, or that pizza lovers are right. It doesn't mean that more pizza should be eaten. It just means that I like it. A lot. Beyond that it is meaningless. Even the fact that lots of other people love pizza is irrelevant. That's simply a measure of taste. It is no proof of anything.

Data? Yeah, I can give you data. I can count pizza restaurants, worldwide. I can show you their profits, and their distribution. Still meaningless. Let's say for argument's sake 70% of humans like pizza, what does that mean? Not a lot. If you were thinking of investing in a franchise, it might be useful to know, but it still tells us nothing more than...most people like pizza. 

That is all an opinion ever is. A meaningless piece of data, which can sometimes be used to make money, etc, but otherwise of no significance at all. It is not, never has been, and never will be, a fact that pizza is good, even if 70% of people think it is. Opinions and facts are not the same thing.

Stupidity tends to revolve around not understanding this.

You see it's not enough to get facts wrong. That's just called a mistake. Anyone can make a mistake. Then, when presented with a correction, the wise person says "Oh, new evidence! That contradicts my previous position. I shall adjust it."

Ah, but I hear you say, it is a fact that 70% of people like pizza. How many do you have to have liking it before it becomes a fact that pizza is good? 80%, 90%, what about 100%?

I think you're unlikely to find anything, food or otherwise, with a consensus of preference. 100% agreement on the value of anything is probably never going to happen. Not even 100% of people think LIFE is a good thing. But even if you did, it's still only an agreement of taste, not a fact. Words like good and bad are value judgements, and nothing to do with facts.

I've never heard a serious argument about pizza in this way, but I have heard many, many situations where individual tastes become ammunition for extremely heated arguments, and where percentage is included as "evidence". It isn't.

I've heard silly arguments on which team is better, which vehicle is better, which phone is better, which singer is better, which country is better, which political group is better and which religion is better. Silly arguments on which taste and opinion are presented as facts. In the case of some of those, these silly arguments are called "wars". Hundreds of thousands of people die, in fact, because of silly arguments.

So when somebody gets opinions and facts muddled up, does it really matter?



  1. Tricky field but it has to be said. Yes, facts matter. Sometimes it is downright impossible to establish a fact. Not worth arguing at that point. Does agreement make a preference or a conjecture a fact? honestly, NO.

    1. We could argue, that facts are really very difficult things to establish. That, in some areas, opinions are all we do have. Which is OK, so long as we all understand that, and don't treat opinions as sacred cows.

  2. "and don't treat opinions as sacred cows." ahhh, like religion?

    "We all have blond moments." An opinion? Or a fact? Where's your data?

    Just need a couple of chuckles, that Wal-Mart/GAP thing really busted my buttons.