Tuesday, March 27, 2018
A main professorial goal of mine is to inspire critical thought. This is why I appreciated Jeffrey Mathis’ March 24 letter. Mr. Mathis stated, with regard to the truth of information, “If your first reaction to a statement is: “I didn’t know that!” then your next reaction should be: “Let me check that out.” The letter appears to have evolved from his concern that the new norm is, “Read it and believe it.”
This overlaps with less commonly understood research I learned about by reading Annie Duke’s new book, “Thinking in Bets” and Daniel Gilbert’s 1991 and 1993 research about how we form beliefs. Rene Descartes promoted the traditional understanding that beliefs come about after we assess information learned. In contrast, Baruch Spinoza suggested we automatically believe new information after we hear and understand it until we find or are made aware of contradictory information.
Gilbert’s research suggests Spinoza’s work, rather than that of Descartes, is more accurate about how beliefs are formed. It also appears that evolution supports Spinoza’s assertion of Descartes that beliefs are formed automatically. Before speech, our beliefs were created by seeing something and believing it. Failing to automatically believe what we saw until it was assessed would have been deadly. With the development of speech for communication, evolution as is typically done, used its existing procedure of automatically believing information obtained before it was assessed for accuracy.
Our innate self-serving bias means we all want our belief’s to be accurate. More accurate beliefs enable us to have and live a better life, something we all desire. This information suggests we should follow Mr. Mathis’s critical thinking advice to “…check that (new information) out!” Before we believe it.
Craig M. Becker