[I found this on my laptop from 2015. Squinting back… somehow I don’t seem to have posted it in here? I was concerned with, or petrified by, the high intellectual tang that our impressions have even when we don’t remember how we got them or picked them up - because we did get those impressions and We Are Good Thinkers who demonstrated our acumen really well these special few times. Eliezer Yudkowski did a post about how known biases become our totally biased weapons without a blink. One made a springboard for the other.]
I think the greatest problem with the specific forms of critical thinking and its categorized errors, and the greatest problem with knowing lists of problems with it, is that we use its surface forms to bolster and safeguard our idea that we are and have been good critical thinkers - that that’s where we are with ourselves and with whatever we’re saying or doing.
But I think really there tends not to be any such thing.
I might be X level of logical as I am building a logical argument, and it is in what I build right then; I may be perhaps X degree of carefully rational at the moment when I am choosing between alternatives,, and it’s in exactly how I make that choice…
But it is not going on at any other time.
My record of having (perhaps) done that in the past with X amount of quality - with focused, careful attention - does not mean that I am a person like that, whose stream of consciousness has X amount of quality imbued or running in the background and all of whose assessments can be assumed to have it just as I go along.
One’s self-image wants to generalize this activity that is very much “verb,” that is doing, into a general floating quality one has that doesn’t even necessarily need to be explicitly happening in any particular details. “That’s where I am, that’s my thinking level.” It’s like a person who may have designed and built a church once - who now goes along believing that everything s/he does makes a long row of completed cathedrals appear behind hi/r.
One’s bloating sense of proportion, priority, and plausibility bobs along with this, happily accepting the “trained mind” rationality tiara.
There is no mastery of this kind. (Even the memories retained from having carefully thought something out in the past are nowhere near as rational or rationally held as when one went through it and made the choices and knew what they were and what brought them on.) No matter WHAT I may “know about” critical thinking, or what I may perhaps (PERHAPS) be capable of sometimes doing. I can be fairly sure that, as I go along, I am a mass of everything else - of present associations and motivated thinking and tilts and mistakes. But good thinking? I’m only doing it when I’m doing it if I’m doing it, and it’s a set of certain very specific activities. It’s not a compliment about me; it’s something I may sometimes be doing. I have to do it.
Good intellectual self-esteem in this sense is hallucination, a hallucination that is actually the downright reverse of good thinking. And defending one’s good self-esteem about critical thinking… danger. :-(
While keeping the idea that one is not automatically on the beam is the very soul of the business.
Eliezer Yudkowski - Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People
Last updated September 04, 2018