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Critical thinking for kids
March 11, 2012 12:28 PM   Subscribe

A series of short animations explaining critical thinking. Created for children and pretty good for adults too.
posted by latkes (27 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
They should require these videos be shown before every political ad aired on TV.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:49 PM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


These are great! Sending them to some old profs of mine who teach Critical Thinking.
posted by strixus at 12:58 PM on March 11, 2012


Seems like there is a gamble in producing presentations like this. Animated lessons have a certain flow that, I suspect, create in the audience a feeling of understanding and familiarity; but the audience may not be getting it at all when, with something like logic, what is really needed is a certain amount of working through the ideas on one's own.

But, on the plus side of the gamble, animations may draw in students who might not otherwise be willing to do that extra mental arithmetic. Anyway, seems like an empirical issue worth looking into.
posted by O Blitiri at 1:16 PM on March 11, 2012


This guy really has a bone to pick over global warming denial.
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 1:50 PM on March 11, 2012


But following these rules would render something like 99.9% of comments made on the internet completely useless! What a downer.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 2:00 PM on March 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


But following these rules would render something like 99.9% of comments made on the internet completely useless! What a downer.

They would remain to remind future generations of the follies of our past.
posted by clarknova at 2:25 PM on March 11, 2012


They should require these videos be shown before every political ad aired on TV.


There should be a test on them before you can successfully register an account with metafilter.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 2:42 PM on March 11, 2012


This guy really has a bone to pick over global warming denial.

This guy represents technyou.edu.au. TechNYou is a program sponsored by the Australian government. The Australian government is very concerned about how climate change will affect their ecosystems and economy. Therefore, this guy really has a bone to pick over global warming denial.
posted by rh at 2:42 PM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


These videos are very well done, but like almost all "critical thinking" textbooks, they make serious errors having to do with synthetic inference.

Here are three examples:

1. (from "Broken Logic") Formal (analytic) fallacies are typically not fallacies with respect to synthetic arguments. Deranging a singular syllogism in the way proposed in the video gives us back a hypothetic argument. The conclusion does not follow deductively but that is not the same as saying that it does not follow at all. In fact, the hypothesis, "This is iron," is confirmed or supported by the evidence, "This is attracted by a magnet." That is, the conclusion is made more likely given the premisses.

2. (from "Getting Personal") Ad hominem arguments are unfairly abused in critical thinking courses; they are often good arguments after all. The video suggests that it is "too easy" to be suspicious of people who have motivation for or history of lying. But if you know the motivations of a person or the history of a person, it is often correct to take that information into account in evaluating the person's claims. The example that the video presents as fallacious ad hominem reasoning is actually good reasoning!

A perfectly sound deductive argument may be given to illustrate this point.
Everything Ron says is false.
Ron says that aliens built the pyramids.
Therefore, aliens did not build the pyramids.
It is only a short step from this to more realistic, probabilistic arguments to the same effect.
80% of public-relations claims made by oil companies are false.
That this oil-produced energy is clean is a public-relations claim made by an oil company.
Therefore, this oil-produced energy is not clean.
As with all synthetic arguments, the conclusion is made probable -- not guaranteed -- by the premisses. But that doesn't make the argument fallacious.

3. (from "The Gambler's Fallacy") If you know beforehand that a coin is fair, then using the observed outcomes to guess the next outcome is an instance of the Gambler's fallacy. But in the given example, what reason do we have to think the coin is fair? If we have no antecedent reason to think the coin is fair, then after seeing a run of nine flips with seven tails and two heads, we should think it is more likely that the coin will turn up tails on the next flip, since that run suggests the coin is biased.

I would love to see a critical thinking presentation or textbook that does real justice to the vast majority of arguments that really matter to people -- i.e., the synthetic ones.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 2:44 PM on March 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


This guy really has a bone to pick over global warming denial.
Probably because he's Australian and lives under an enormous ozone hole.*

@Jonathan Livengood - those all strike me as ways that the videos were reductions, not errors. Obviously no 2 1/2 minute animation can supplant a deep understanding of logic, but as an introduction to the core ideas, I think they were quite accurate. I'm not sure it's valuable to stress "of course, the coin might be weighted" in an intro, and I think they made the point that ad hominem arguments are insufficient, not that they are useless.

*technically not related to global warming, but a similar global problem caused by emissions and suppressed by people who make money off emissions.
posted by Peevish at 3:20 PM on March 11, 2012


I liked the animations, but I felt that the politics was excessive. Examples could easily be generated that would explain the concepts without using topics that are heavily debated in some areas. They all felt like propaganda disguised as education and I don't like that, even when it's propaganda that I agree with.
posted by YAMWAK at 3:58 PM on March 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Greetings from the intellectual backwater known as the United States! More of this kind of thing, please.
posted by odinsdream at 4:18 PM on March 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Peevish,

I disagree with your assessment of their claims about appeals to persons. They are not giving a reduction here, they are making a mistake. The personal version of the ad hominem argument is really not a fallacy. (The abusive version is a fallacy, but that's not the version they are discussing.) And it is not true -- as they say -- that such arguments, on their own, never warrant their conclusions. Sometimes, they do. What they could have said that would be true is that evidence screens off the person giving the evidence -- at least to some degree. But that is not the same thing as saying that a person's history is relevant to evaluating the person's claims. An ad hominem (personal) argument might or might not be a strong argument, depending on the history that you have for the person at stake. But calling such an argument a fallacy, with all the freight that that term carries, is misleading. This is sort of a pet peeve of mine.

They could have headed off my complaint about the coin by simply saying up front that the coin was fair and had no memory. The problem here, I think, is that when people see an authoritative remark about the Gambler's fallacy like this, they make hasty generalizations that actually lead them wrong more often than not. For example, someone notices that it has rained for two days straight and wonders whether it is more or less likely than normal that it will rain tomorrow. If you think of weather as like coin flips, you will get the wrong answer here. The weather does not have a no-memory property. I would go further and say (in answer to a question raised by the videos) that casinos make lots of money in part because they design games that have no memory -- and those kinds of situations are extremely non-natural.

But I'm probably being too unforgiving here. I really do want people to have good resources for learning how to think well!
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 5:15 PM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really liked these - I don't think they're meant to be definitive; they're nowhere near in-depth enough. But as starting-off points to lead into a discussion (and that includes a discussion on global warming, should the instructor wish) (I'm looking at you, Colorado), I think they work really well.
posted by Mchelly at 5:55 PM on March 11, 2012


These are great (and I think it's unfair to weigh charges of "too political" by U.S. standards on something made in a country that isn't laboring under ignorance-based debate of those issues) but they are obviously far from comprehensive. Not a fault (they are made for kids, after all.)

But these exist in a Sentential Logic universe, whereas most of actual argument exists in the Predicate Logic sphere, which is far messier and less conclusive.

I would give almost anything for a good series exploring common logical fallacies, though.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:00 PM on March 11, 2012


And having asked for it, here's a good place to start, though also far from comprehensive.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:16 PM on March 11, 2012


I would love to see a critical thinking presentation or textbook that does real justice to the vast majority of arguments that really matter to people -- i.e., the synthetic ones.

Yeah. It has always bugged me that we have made great advances in logic, but when it comes to critical thinking, textbooks teach lists of fallacies that have been handed down from the ancient Greeks. The Greeks were interested in rules for fair debate but they confused implication and inference all over the place, they did not have a good science of probabilistic reasoning, etc. The mishmash list of fallacies we have inherited really shows the confusion. Most textbooks are based on ancient theories of pedagogy and ignore research on how people actually reason, how they learn to reason, what sort of inference is good according to pragmatic standards, etc. There's a hole in the market here waiting to be filled by some enterprising philosopher/psychologist pair.

Teaching economics and probability has a measurable effect on reasoning. Economics students are less likely to be swayed by sunk costs, for instance: they're more likely to leave a movie they're not enjoying. But do we have any reason to think that teaching people that it's a fallacy to affirm the consequent has any effect on their ability to reason in everyday life? Not really. If anything, the fetishization of formalism could be outright damaging and lead students to ignore good abductions.

Slight aside: I haven't seen the formal/informal argument distinction recharacterized in terms of an analytic/synthetic argument distinction before. I don't think it's quite right. There are formal arguments that are not analytic---mathematical ones, for instance---and claiming that logical entailments are true in virtue of meaning of the logical operators is contentious at least. I don't know whether a decision theoretic argument that would have you update probabilities is something you'd count as analytic: you suggest that probabilistic reasoning is synthetic, but decision theory is formal. I prefer to think of the distinction in Harman's terms: the study of formalism of any sort is the study of implication and the study of informal reasoning is the study of inference, and implication and inference are only tangentially related.
posted by painquale at 9:45 PM on March 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


My use of analytic/synthetic here follows Peirce's categorization in his 1878 paper "Deduction, Induction, and Hypothesis." (Other pairs that I think express the same basic idea include deductive/non-deductive, non-ampliative/ampliative, explicative/non-explicative, truth-preserving/not-truth-preserving.) I probably used analytic/synthetic just because I've been reading a lot of Peirce this semester!

Usually when I say that an argument is formally good, I mean to be flagging something like "truth-preserving in virtue of form alone." (Of course, I also realize that some arguments that preserve truth formally do not look like very good arguments. Often this is because ordinary language comes apart from the formal apparatus. For example, give the premiss that I will teach tomorrow, I may infer that if I die today, then I will teach tomorrow, where the if ..., then --- is the material conditional. Depending on how you think about logical goodness, you might also give examples of arguments that are good but not in virtue of form alone. For example, if two intensions pick out the same extension, arguing from one to the other will be perfectly good in this world, but the argument will not be good in virtue of its form.) An argument could also be formal or formalized in a more general sense. Here the idea might just be that some mathematical rigor is brought to describing the arguments. In this more general sense, all sorts of non-deductive (synthetic) arguments may be quite formal.

I am prepared to defend the idea that all properly mathematical arguments are analytic in the good old Kantian sense. (And so, I am prepared to say that Kant was wrong to think that geometry is synthetical.) I'm not quite sure I want to follow Frege in thinking that analytic sentences are ones that are true in virtue of their meaning, partly because I'm not sure that good analytic arguments need to be meaningful at all.

Setting aside these interesting issues, I really just wanted to distinguish arguments that guarantee their conclusions from arguments that do not guarantee their conclusions. The former I have been calling "analytic," and the latter "synthetic," but if those labels are distracting, then feel free to replace them. My point, then, is just that most critical thinking texts do a poor job with arguments that do not guarantee their conclusions. And here I include decision theoretic arguments where the decisions are made under uncertainty. If anyone here knows of counter-examples to my claim, I would be happy to know what they are!
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 12:02 AM on March 12, 2012


The Doom Guy grunt in the first video was a nice touch.
posted by Kevtaro at 8:09 AM on March 12, 2012


@Jonathan Livengood
Just doublechecking the video on ad hominem arguments, and, no, they never say "that such arguments, on their own, never warrant their conclusions." Their phrasing was: "After all, you don't like them - they could be lying to make money. The company's history may imply that its actions may warrant closer attention and further discussion, but you can't logically claim that they're wrong based on that argument alone."

Yes, it would be inaccurate to say that ad hominem thinking is always worthless, but that's not what they're saying. So, coincidentally, and I'm assuming unintentionally, you're you've exemplified a straw man argument.

As for the coin, I think it's fair to assume that a hypothetical coin brought into an argument solely to represent fair odds would, in fact, be fair. When we start doubting the fairness of our own examples, we've entered a dark cloud.
posted by Peevish at 11:03 AM on March 12, 2012


I would also like to know about a textbook like that, JL! There's got to be a good introduction to Bayesian reasoning out there somewhere.

I think my criticism of critical thinking texts is slightly different than yours though. I object to critical thinking texts that force a particular formal apparatus on informal arguments in natural language, and that do so without questioning when the apparatus is appropriate. By 'formal apparatus', I include logics that you'd consider synthetic, like Bayesianism.

(One last poke at the analytic/synthetic characterization: I admit I don't know how you and Peirce use the word 'analytic' if not to mean true in virtue of meaning. But presumably you'll think that two sentences that can be swapped salva veritate in hyperintensional contexts are analytically equivalent? 'Sally sweats' is an analytic consequence of 'Sally perspires', but it's not a consequence in virtue of form.)
posted by painquale at 12:43 PM on March 12, 2012


Peevish,

I'm not sure how to understand the claim that "you can't logically claim that they're wrong based on that argument alone" other than my paraphrase that "such arguments, on their own, never warrant their conclusions." I am not intentionally strawmanning here, so if you can explain what I'm doing wrong, please do. (In my paraphrase, "such arguments" include arguments that conclude that this or that person with dubious history is wrong. Again, I am saying that one definitely can logically claim that someone is wrong on the basis of their past record alone.)


painquale,

Yes, that is also a very bad feature of many (most?) introductory logic texts.

On the technical issue, your example is fine. From the premiss that Sally sweats, conclude that Sally perspires. My point is that an argument may also be analytic when all of its sentences are strictly meaningless. Example: All gorbs are fleebs; all fleebs respaculate; therefore, all gorbs respaculate. Almost pure gibberish. None of these sentences is meaningful. But the argument is nonetheless analytic. By contrast, the argument -- some gorbs are fleebs; some fleebs are boozles; therefore, some gorbs are boozles -- is not analytic, despite the fact that its sentences are equally meaningless. The analytic sentence corresponding to the first argument is not true in virtue of its meaning, since it has none, but in virtue of its form. Does that make sense or do you think I am making a straightforward error here? (I could be making a simple error ... I am very tired right now.)
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 1:53 PM on March 12, 2012


@JL That line was a quote from the video.
posted by Peevish at 2:17 PM on March 12, 2012


Peevish:
JL knows it's a quote from the video. He's understanding the video's claim "you can't logically claim that they're wrong based on that argument alone" as meaning something like "the conclusion that they are wrong is not warranted based on that argument alone" or your own claim that "ad hominem arguments are insufficient, not [...] useless." He thinks these are false. I agree with him. Sometimes ad hominem arguments are sufficiently strong all own their own to justify the conclusion that a liar is lying.

Now, these might not be fair paraphrases: the video might mean something like "you cannot arrive at the conclusion that they are wrong through deductive logic alone (but the same premises might justifiedly lead to the conclusion when using abduction)." But this seems overly charitable.

JL: "All gorbs are fleebs; all fleebs respaculate; therefore, all gorbs respaculate. Almost pure gibberish. None of these sentences is meaningful. But the argument is nonetheless analytic. [...] The analytic sentence corresponding to the first argument is not true in virtue of its meaning, since it has none, but in virtue of its form."

Well, maybe. It's only valid if the words `all' and `are' retain their normal English meanings. If these sentences were in some bizarre language where the series of letters `all' means some, then it's not a valid inference. I don't really know what to say about the meaningfulness of sentences that include made-up noun phrases intended to be meaningless, but it looks like the only way to explain the validity of the inference you just gave is to appeal to the meanings of `all' and `are': they can't be meaningless. I don't want to necessarily come down on whether logical validities are analytic validites, but if this is an analytic validity, it looks like it's analytic because it's valid in virtue of the meanings of its terms (though not all).

Anyway, all of this is a pretty minor issue of terminology. I just thought that explaining the formal/informal reasoning distinction in terms of analytic/synthetic arguments was not the most accurate characterization: the pairs of concepts that you said express the same basic idea all seem slightly different to me. The sweaty Sally example was supposed to show how at least two of them (analytical inference and validity in virtue of form) could come apart.
posted by painquale at 5:16 PM on March 12, 2012


Yes, I understand that line was from the video. I'm saying that the line from the video seems (to me) to say exactly what I was saying it said.

Their line: "You can't logically claim that they're wrong based on that argument alone."

My paraphrase: "Such arguments [ad hominems], on their own, never warrant their conclusions [that the target is wrong]."

What do you think they're saying that is different from what I am saying that they are saying? Again -- you say that I am strawmanning the video. Okay. In what way am I distorting or misrepresenting what the video says?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 6:06 PM on March 12, 2012


painquale,

Ah. I'm not sure that the meaningfulness of some parts of a sentence make the whole sentence meaningful. I don't have any idea how to assign truth values to the sentences, for example. But maybe some kind of partial meaning is enough for these kinds of cases? I do agree with you that there seems to be something like meaning in these cases, since the quantifiers and connectives are supposed to work the same way they do in other cases.

More importantly, I think we have different distinctions in mind. The formal/informal distinction isn't the one I'm after. At least, if I understand that distinction, it has more to do with arguments in versus out of natural language. (Is that right?) Whereas, I'm after the distinction between arguments that have conclusions guaranteed by form or meaning or whatever and arguments that involve some risk. In the first class are arguments like modus ponens and disjunctive syllogisms. In the second class are statistical syllogisms and enumerative inductions.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 6:23 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Economics students are less likely to be swayed by sunk costs, for instance: they're more likely to leave a movie they're not enjoying.

Really? I mean, is this a thing?
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:08 AM on March 14, 2012


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