Posts Tagged ‘Critical thinking’

SHARPBRAINS June 25, 2020

July 18, 2020

The lead article from this newsletter:

UPDATE: Repetitive thinking may increase (or perhaps be caused by) Alzheimer’s Pathology.
Readers of the Healthy Memory blog should read this as an out of date, not an update. The article begins, “We found that people who exhibited higher repetitive negative thinking patterns experienced more cognitive decline over a four-year period. They also had specific declines in memory (which is an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease), and had more amyloid and tau deposits in the brain.”

Readers of the Healthy Memory Blog should know that it is the depositIon of amyloid and tau deposits that are defining features of Alzheimer’s. They should also remember that autopsies have been done on people who had sufficient amounts of amyloid and tau to be diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s, but who never evidenced any behavioral or cognitive symptoms of the disease. The reason given for this outcome is that these people had used their brains sufficiently during their lifetimes that they had developed a cognitive reserve that precluded the expression of the cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

The repetitive thinking is what Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman would classify as System 1 processing. System 1 is effortless and fast and serves as a default mode of processing. Normal conversation and the performance of skilled tasks are primarily System 1 processes and can be identified in brain scans as default mode processing.

But thinking requires the invocation of a higher level of processing called, not surprisingly, System 2 processing. A driving thesis of this blog is that System 2 processing, which is needed for learning and critical thinking, builds a cognitive reserve that forestalls, if not precludes, the behavioral and cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Other healthy memory blog posts have warned of the dangers of negative thinking, but not critical thinking. Negative thinking, and ruminating negative thinking in particular does do not build cognitive reserves and produces the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimers. Moreover, a good technique for defeating negative thinking is to critically think about, to criticize, the negativity.


February 28, 2020

Memory is the title of a chapter in a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity.

This is one of the quotes at the beginning the chapter:
“I’m more than my brain but my memories are what makes me, so if I don’t remember then who am I?…I don’t know when to say goodbye
-Nicola Wilson, Plaques and Tangles (2015)

This poor man is suffering from Alzheimer’s. One can infer this from the title, Plaques and Tangles, as amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles are the defining features of Alzheimer’s. Even though these are the defining features, many have died who have had autopsies showing this defining evidence of the disease, but who never experienced andy of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms of the disease. The explanation is that these individuals had developed a cognitive reserve to protect them. The Healthymemory blog is dedicated to providing advice and content to help people develop cognitive reserve. Staying cognitively active throughout one’s life is important. Engaging in Kahneman’s System 2 processing, more commonly referred to as critical thinking is important. There are many posts on this topic including growth mindsets. This is a matter of growing your memory learning skills and topics throughout one’s lifetime. Meditation and mindfulness are helpful. And using mnemonic techniques to be discussed next provide for healthy memories. There is an entire category of posts for mnemonic techniques.

Memory champions are able to accomplish astounding features. There are annual World Memory Championships. The 2016 world champion was the first person to memorize in under 20 seconds the order of a deck of shuffled playing cards, and the first to memorize more than 3,000 single-digit numbers in one hour.

Joshua Foer won the 2006 World Memory Championships. Enter “Moonwalking with Einstein: the Bottom Line” in the search block at
to read about these memory contest and what true mnemonists are able to accomplish. There is also an entire category of posts on this topic under the category Mnemonic Techniques

Martin Dressler of the Donders Institute of Brain, Cognition and Behavior at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands has shown that anyone can use the techniques of memory athletes through a function magnetic resonance image (fMRI) scanner.

When Dressler put volunteers who were new to memory training through six weeks of instruction on the memory palace technique he found that they typically doubled their ability to remember words from a random list. Plus the activity patterns of their brains had started to converge with that seen in the champion memorizers.

People with Highly Successful Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) are also discussed in the chapter. There have been many previous HM blog posts on this topic. These are people who seem to be able to recall what they did and what happened when given da date such as 14 July 1996. The actress Marilu Henner has this ability, and she has found this ability to be helpful in her acting career. She is the only example that HM knows of that has used this exceptional capability in their careers.

The chapter covers the important category of eyewitness testimony. Unfortunately, the courts have put a high level of credibility on eyewitness testimony, but eyewitness testimony is extremely unreliable. Some have the misconception that this unreliability is restricted to people of different races. This is wrong. Eyewitness testimony is poor across the board.

HM is fascinated when watching crime shows and the police try to get information from witnesses. Even when these eyewitnesses are trying to help, their memories are more likely than not to be wrong. HM marvels that the police are able to solve crimes.

Felipe De Brigard says that memory isn’t just for remembering. He argues that misremembering is so common it shouldn’t be seen all the time as a malfunction. In his view, many cases can help us construct scenarios of past events that might have happened, so as to better simulate possible events in the future, An unreliable memory may also destabilize your personality. Although you may think that your personality is something unchangeably intrinsic to you, a study in 2016 that measure personality traits over a sixty-year period showed they can profoundly alter over a lifetime.

Felipe De Brigard’s view of memory is similar to that expressed in the healthy memory blog. Memory is for time travel so that we can travel back in time to what we’ve learned an experienced, to travel into the future to assess what types of action are required to deal with these new situations.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Closing of the Newseum

January 6, 2020

Most people reading this post will wonder what was the Newseum and why is its closing significant. The Newseum opened 22 years ago in Rosslyn, Va. HM’s office was in the same building as the Newseum. It is convenient to have a museum in your building for two reasons. One reason should be obvious. And it was also convenient when you had give people directions to your office, all one had to do was to tell visitors to follow the signs to the Newseum.

The information in the newseum was priceless. And there were many interesting objects:

the twisted antenna from the World Trade Center North Tower

the door that was jimmied during the Watergate burglary

hunks of the Berlin Wall from when it was torn down

a copy of the Washington Post front page from 9 Aug 1974 with the headline “Nixon Resigns” this sat in a display case near a political bumper sticker reading, “Support Nixon, Impeach the Nation

Miscues in the form of poorly worded headlines decorated the walls of the restrooms such as

“Genetically Modified Crops Talk of Meeting” & “Panda lectures this week at National Zoo.”

There was a gallery of Pulitzer Prizewinning photographs

There was a memorial for journalists who had been killed working on their articles.

These artifacts, and they are just some of the artifacts, are nice, but the real importance of the Newseum was to have all our First Amendment’s rights displayed in one place. One of the people said about the Newseum, “Anybody can see one exhibit, but you don’t get the big picture of how important that is.” Indeed the Newseum provided that big picture.

After eleven years in Rosslyn, the Newseum was moved to an impressive building in DC on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Although the Newseum was not part of the museums owned by the Smithsonian Institution, it certainly held its own with these other museums, and exceeded several of them.

It was the lack of financing that caused its closing. Unfortunately, it needed an entrance fee to survive, and that fee kept increasing.

The real tragedy is that its closing reflects the general decline in newspapers, which have played a critical role in the development and survival of our democracy. It is not only the technical revolution that is the problem here. The larger problem is the decline in critical thinking that has been replaced by alternative facts and believing in alternative realities. Critical thinking is being replace by magical thinking according to Kurt Andersen.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


January 4, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Kurt Andersen. The title encompasses the nature of the book. It offers an explanation of how the United States ended up in this current crisis. The first English colony established in the United States was at Jamestown in what was to be Virginia (Virginia for the Virgin Queen of England). These settlers were bent on finding gold and becoming rich. But Andersen would explain the making the perilous passage to an unknown country to become rich was an example of magical thinking.

However, the colonists settling in New England were idealistic, not mercenary. They were in quest of religious freedom, but the freedom they sought was for their religion. They had low tolerance, if any, for other religions. Now all of these religions were Christian religions, dedicated to following the teachings of Christ. Religious differences were not due to differences in the teachings of Christ, but rather how men interpreted these teachings. Previous healthy memory blog posts have emphasized the difference between a belief in God, and a belief in a particular religion. Individual humans believed in God or some godlike sprit long before the creation of religions by religious leaders emerging who professed to be providing teaching and guidance from God. This conundrum exists today. The Constitution guarantees religious freedom as one of its freedoms. It does not specify any given religion even though there are Christian churches saying that the religion is Christianity, when it is definitely not. So here we have religious people violating one of the ten commandments.

It is both ironic and a conundrum. Apparently some evangelicals, rather than following the obvious teachings of Christ, are trying to impose their religious beliefs and laws that stem from their religious beliefs, via government. So most of their effort has been in the political arena, promoting politicians who advocate their beliefs, which obviously impose on the freedoms of others. These people would deny any resemblance between what they are doing and the religious police found in Saudi Arabia.

The new religion of Mormonism, founded by Joseph Smith, emerged in the 1800s. A new testament of the bible was promoted that described the religious activities in a much earlier time period. Religions and religious practices have emerged and are still emerging, but they differ primarily in religious dogma. Medical quacks became prominent and another Gold Rush in California occurred and quickly exhausted itself.

In the era between 1900 and 1960 , Andersen writes that there was Brand-New Old-Time religion. He also writes that the business of America became show business.

In the 1960s and ‘70s there were the hippies, the intellectuals, the Christians, politics and conspiracies, and Living in a Land of Entertainment.

Here are the chapter headings from the section ”1980s through the turn of the century”

Making Make-believe More Realistic and Real Life More Make-Believe

Foreover Young: Kids “R” Us Syndrome

The Reagan Era and the Start of the Digital Age

American Religion from the Turn of the Millennium

Our Wilder Christianities: Belief and Practice

America Versus the Godless Civilized World: Why Are We so Exceptional?

Magical but Not Necessarily Christian, Spiritual but Not Religious

Blue-Chip Witch Doctors: The Reenchantment of Medicine

How the Mainstream Enabled Fantasyland: Squishes, Cynics, and Believers

Anything Goes—Unless It Picks My Pocket or Breaks My Leg

The final section is titled : “The Problem with Fantasyland: From the 1980s to the Present and Beyond”
Here are the chapter headings:

The Inmates Running the Asylum Decide Monsters are Everywhere

Reality is a Conspiracy: The X-Filing of America

Mad as Hell, the New Voice of the People

When the GOP Went Off the Rails

Liberals Denying Science

Gun Crazy

Final Fantasy-Industrial Complex

Our Inner Children? They’re Going to Disney World!

The Economic Dreamtime

As Fantasyland Goes, So Goes the Nation

HM’s view, one that, in fairness, oversimplifies Anderson, is that he argues that our problems are due to magical thinking, and he implies that our situation in the U.S. is unique.

HM is skeptical about his claim that our problem is unique to us. And rather than use the term magical thinking, HM prefers to use psychological processes, such as lack of Kahneman’s System Two Processing, and the failure to think critically. These, in turn, can be explained in terms of serious shortcomings in mental effort or mental laziness.

An Extremely Important New Year’s Resolution

December 31, 2019

One being to build a healthy memory through healthy practices, but most importantly growth mindsets. Growth mindsets require new learning and the development of critical thinking. Both of these involve Kahneman’s System 2 processing, more commonly known as thinking. However, it has become apparent this year that the development of healthy memories is essential to the maintenance of a healthy country.

Consider the following message from Karl Rove, senior advisor to George W. Bush in 2004:
“[You] in what we call the reality-based community…believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We create our own reality.”

and the following message from Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump in 2017:
“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving…our press secretary gave alternative facts.”

So, what is a good path to a healthy memory? Perhaps the best place to start is the Constitution of the United States. It appears that too few citizens are familiar with the Constitution. But what is more frightening is that many people in the Congress either do not know or disbelieve the Constitution and are behaving in a manner contrary to the Constitution that puts our democracy at risk. The name of our species is Homo sapiens, which means wise man. Too many humans are not living up to the name of their species.

Even for those who have read the Constitution, we should remember that people make it their life’s work to study the Constitution. Still, even being expert in the Constitution is insufficient. Critical thinking is also needed.

The following aphorism is attributable to, at least Daniel Moynihan and Thomas Jefferson: You’re entitled to your own opinions and your own fantasies but not your own facts—especially if your fantastical facts hurt people.

Understand that Kellyanne Conway was not offering alternative facts. There was no evidence underlying her facts. This is a further way that the water has been poisoned. Facts are being offered as facts for which there is no evidence. And all too often what is offered as evidence is in truth a fabrication.

Very often it is difficult determining what to believe. This is certainly true in scientific investigations where research may go on for decades or even centuries, before a consensus is achieved. Even after a consensus is accepted, scientists still should be open to a new theory if more evidence or a more comprehensive theory is offered.

Critical thinking is hard. Believing is much, much easier. The advance of mankind was very slow until the scientific method was developed that challenged beliefs and offered empirical evidence as an alternative. Technology is the result of this science. Perhaps it is a tad ironic that a product of the scientific method, the internet, is a tool for promoting disinformation and false beliefs.

There are a few keys that one can employ to facilitate critical thinking. Certain behaviors indicate which sources, be it individuals or publications, should be completely ignored. One is the claiming that information is false without offering alternative explanations supported by facts. Claiming conspiracies or witch hunts is another tool used by totalitarian dictators. Similarly, failing to allow access to individuals or documents indicates underlying guilt. Personal insults do not disguise the fact that a legitimate factual response is impossible.

The following passage comes from Hannah Arendt’s book, The Origins of Totalitarianism:
“A mixture of gullibility and cynicism have been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true…Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable evidence of their falsehood, they would take refuge in their cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”
Arendt published Origins of Totalitarianism when Stalin was in power and Hitler only six years gone.

The following is taken from FANTASYLAND: HOW AMERICAN WENT HAYWIRE: A 500-YEAR A 500-YEAR HISTORY by Kurt Andersen:
“The seven centuries of Greek civilization are divided into three eras—the Archaic, then the Classical, then the Hellenistic. During the first, the one depicted by Homer, Greeks’ understanding of existence defaulted to supernaturalism and the irrational. Then suddenly science and literature and all the superstar geniuses emerged—Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle—in the period we canonize as “ancient Greece.” But that astonishing era lasted less than two centuries, after which Athens returned to astrology and magical cures and alchemy, the end. Why? According to The Greeks and the Irrational, by the Oxford classicist Eric Dodd, it was because they finally found freedom too scary, frightened by the new idea that their lives and fates weren’t predestined or managed by gods and they really were on their own. Maybe America’s Classical period also lasted two centuries, 1800 to 2000, give or take a few decades on each end.”

So, for all who care about the United States, please engage your critical thought processes and build a growth mindset. This will benefit not only your memory, but also the survival of democracy in the United States.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Default Network, System 1 Processing, and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

May 8, 2019

An earlier healthy memory blog post promised more about the default mode network. That post identified similarities between the default mode network and Kahneman’s System 1 Processing. Kahneman’s System 1 processing is important in that HM thinks that too heavy a use of System 1 processing at the expense of System 2 processing, which is active thinking, increases the risk for AD.

The simplest distinction between the two terms is that Kahneman is a cognitive psychologist and his two process view of of cognitive processes comes from cognitive psychology. The default mode network comes from cognitive neuroscience. Default mode activity is identified via brain imaging. Although they might not be identical, that distinction awaits further research, it is clear that there is considerable overlap between the two.

In addition to brain atrophy, AD patients have abnormal high levels of proteins in different brain regions. In the medial temporal lobe, the accumulation of tau protein leads to neurofibrillary tangles. In cortical regions, such as the parietal cortex in early AD, the accumulation of amyloid-B protein leads to amyloid plaques. The neurofibrillary tangles in the medial temporal lobe and amyloid plaques in cortical regions can be assumed to disrupt neural processing in these regions.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “There is an influential hypothesis that were is a causal relationship between default network activity that leads to deposition of amyloid that results in atrophy and disrupted metabolic activity, which impairs long-term memory in AD patients. The regions in the default network are active when participants are not engaged in a task and include the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, the inferior prefrontal cortex and the medial parietal cortex. In AD patients, amyloid deposition occurs in the same regions, which suggests the default network activity may lead to amyloid deposition. Dr. Slotnick suggests that perhaps higher level of amyloid deposition, which occurs in late AD patients, is necessary to produce atrophy in the frontal cortex.

Dr. Slotnick continues, “If high amyloid deposition is a causal factor in developing AD, older adults with low levels of amyloid should be at decreased risk for developing this disease. There is some evidence that cognitive engagement and exercise engagement throughout life may reduce the amyloid level in the brains of healthy older adults as a function of cognitive engagement, and this was compared to the cortical amyloid levels . Participants rated the frequency which they engaged in cognitively demanding tasks such as reading, writing, going to the library, or playing games at five different ages (6, 12, 18, 40, and their current age). Healthy older adults with greater cognitive engagement throughout their lifetime, as measured by the average cognitive activity at the five ages, had lower levels of amyloid in default network regions. Moreover, the healthy older adults in the lowest one-third of lifetime engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to AD patients, and the healthy older adults in the highest one-third of lifetime cognitive engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to young adults.

So maintaining a growth mindset, thinking critically, and learning new information provide double protection against AD. First, the reduction of troublesome amyloid levels. Second is the building of a cognitive reserve so that even if you develop amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles you may not have the cognitive and behavior symptoms of AD.

Dr. Slotnick’s work is reported in an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” The report on which Dr. Slotnick’s statements are based comes from
Buckner, R.L., Snyder, A.Z., Shannon, B.J., LaRossa, G. Sachs, R. Fotenos, A.F., Sheline, Y.I., Klunk, W.E., Mathis, C.A., Morris, J.C. & Mintun, M.A. (2005). Molecular, structural, and functional characterization of Alzheimer’s disease: Evidence for a relationship between default activity, amyloid, and memory. The Journal of Neuroscience, 25, 7709-7717.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How to Improve Your Mind: Twenty Keys to Unlock the Modern World

August 14, 2016

The title of this post is the title of a book by Prof. James R. Flynn.  There have been three posts that have been motivated by this book, “A Major Reason for the Ridiculously Increasing Costs of a College Education,”How Healthy Memory Differs from the Post Modernists or Radical Constructivists,” and “Intelligent Design.”  Perhaps you have already been able to infer from these posts that this is not you typical mind improvement book.   The title is a tad overstated.  Reading and understanding this book should definitely improve your mind and provide insights on the complexities of the modern world.  However, it is left to you should you read the book to decide how much your understanding of the modern world has been unlocked.

The essence of this work is critical thinking, a skill that is woefully absent from our present world.  Critical thinking needs to be considered in terms of Stanovich’s Three Process View of cognition (See the healthy memory blog post, “The Tri-Pricess Model of Cognition and Critical Thinking).  System 1 is called the autonomous mind by Stanovich and intuition by Kahneman.  This our default mode of cognitive processing and is very fast and efficient.  System 2 is called the algorithmic mind by Stanovtich and Reasoning by Kahneman . System 2 is what is commonly thought of as thinking.  One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 2.  Stanovich has also added the reflective mind, System3, as his work on the development of a Rational Quotient has led him to believe that the reflective mind needed to be added. The reflective mind, when invoked, ponders the output of System 2.  If you are to benefit from this outstanding work, you need to put your beliefs and principles where the sun does not shine and read with an open mind.  Then you can decide what to accept, what to reject, and what requires a great deal more pondering and reflection.

“How to Improve Your Mind”  is divided into five Parts.
Part 1 is titled Arguing About Right and Wrong divided into the following sections
Logic and Moral Debate
Getting Rid of Tautologies
The Naturalistic Fallacy and Its Consequences —be Judgmental
But that is Unnatural—Words Best Never Said

Part 2 is titled The Truth About People divided into the following sections
Random Sample—Quality Not Size
Intelligence Quotient—Hanging the Intellectually Disabled
Intelligence Quotient
Control Group—How Studying People Changes Them
The Sociologist’s Fallacy—Ignoring the Real World

Part 3 is titled The Market and its Church divided into the following sections
Creating a Market—Not a Frankenstein
Market Forces—How they Take Their Revenge
Market Worship—No Ritual Sacrifices
The Economic Collapse of 2008
What is to be Done?

Part 4 is titled Enemies of Science
Reality—What Scientists Really Say About Science
History, Science, and Evolution—Only One Kind of Each

Part 5 is titled Nations and their Goals divided into the following sections
Understanding Nations—Understanding Anyone
Four Cases—Making Sense Out of Nonsense

It should be obvious from the preceding text that this is written at college level, and not an the dumbed down college level that HM has found some current texts to be.
In case you do not read the book, here are two take aways from Dr. Flynn worth considering:
The world is still vulnerable to another possible financial crisis.
How long before American finds that economic interdependence with China will force her to coordinate her policies with China as an equal?

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Stanovich and the Rational Quotient

June 28, 2016

This post is based on a paper, “The Comprehensive Assessment of Rational Thinking” in the January-March 2016 issue of the “Educational Psychologist.”  This paper constitutes the 2013 Thorndike Award Address by Stanovich.  The award was for Stonovich’s work in the areas of reasoning and reading.  Stanovich is the primary author of the Tri-Process Model of Cognition, which is an elaboration of Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition.

Stanovich has long been of the strong opinion that the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) does not adequately capture intelligence.  He and his colleagues have been working for more than twenty years to compensate for the shortcomings of this quotient.  This work has been most fruitful and Stanovich and his colleagues now have developed a Rational Quotient (RQ).  They have developed a rational thinking assessment instrument called the Comprehensive Assessment of Rational Thinking (CART).  This research is highly technical, but the goal of this post is to provide some flavor for the RQ and to what it captures that is missed by the IQ.

Rationality is a central concept in cognitive science.  Two types of rationality are recognized:  instrumental and epistemic.  The simplest definition of instrumental rationality involves behaving in the world so that you get exactly what you most want, given the resources (physical and mental) available to you.  More technically, instrumental rationality is the optimization of the individual’s goal fulfillment.   Economists and cognitive scientist have refined the notion of optimization goal fulfillment into the technical notion of expected utility.

Epistemic rationality concerns how well beliefs map on to the actual structure of the world. In other words, how much do you really know, how accurate are your beliefs.  Mahketelow has emphasized the practicality of both types of rationality by noting that they concern two critical things:  what is true and what to do.  “For our beliefs to be rational they must correspond to the way the world is—they must be true.  Healthy Memory (HM) feels compelled to note here that our knowledge of the world should always be tentative and that this knowledge should consist of different probabilities of belief.  We only have our internal models of the world to work with, and we should be continuing to update these models based on our experiences and what we learn.  For our actions to be rational, they must be the best means to our goals—they must be the best things to do based on what we know

To be instrumentally rational, one must choose among options based on which option has the highest expected utility.  Decision situations can be broken down into three components:  possible actions, possible states of the world, and evaluations of the consequences of possible actions in each state of the world.  HM must once again make the point that in many, if not most, of the cases, this can be computationally demanding and difficult to do.  Perhaps in the near future there will be apps to help us do this.  But in the meantime, the best we can do is to satisfice.

Rational thinking subsumes critical thinking.  Critical thinking is important, but it is a type of thinking rather than a domain of knowledge.  The best way to assess critical thinking is to assess how well it fosters rationality.  “We value certain thinking dispositions because we think that they will at least aid in bringing belief  in line with the world (epistemic rationality) and in achieving our goals (instrumental rationality).  Critical thinking is important.  Assessing critical thinking along the lines of epistemic rationality and instrumental rationality seem to be good routes for both assessing and developing critical thinking.

HM hopes this post has been helpful.  Perhaps future posts will make it clearer.  The key take away is that CART and the RQ has begun.  It will mature in the future, with the hope that measures of mental ability will improve.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What to Teach Our Children

January 11, 2015

The penultimate chapter in Levitin’s The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload is titled “What to Teach Our Children.” He considers the world into which today’s children are born in contrast to the world in which we older adults were born. In that world information was both hard and slow to come by. In contrast, today’s world information is much easier to come by. But although vast amounts of information are easily and quickly accessible, this can make finding the exact information needed difficult. And there is the question of assessing the veracity of the information. I would wager that today the most commonly used encyclopedia is the Wikipedia, but anyone can make an entry to the Wikipedia. The vetting process is that the entry can be corrected or elaborated, but the vetting process can produce errors and the original author can change reintroduce the original error. Nevertheless, the Wikipedia works pretty well and I am a frequent user, although I always try to keep these caveats in mind.

Levitin recommends comprehensive instruction in critical thinking for our children, and I would add also for ourselves for the process of critical learning should not end, but should continue as long as we live. So children should be taught how to think critically about an article. They should also consider sources of possible bias. Some journals and websites do make an effort to identify political sources as being conservative or liberal and might even go on to assess the extremity of the political belief. Of course political leanings are not the only source of bias, there are also religious biases, academic biases, and even strongly held biases within different fields of endeavor. For healthymemory blog posts on critical thinking, enter “critical thinking” into the healthymemory blog search box.

Levitin also recommends understanding orders of magnitude to aid understanding how large or how small an object or quantity is. Being able to understand orders of magnitude estimates is important. Basically these are estimates of how many zeroes are in the answer. So if you were asked how many tablespoons of water are in a cup of water. Here are some “power of ten” estimates: 1,10, 100, 1000,etc etc. There are also fractional powers of ten such as 1/10, 1/100, 1/1000, etc. Basically these estimates help us understand the magnitude of size under consideration.

Enrico Fermi was a famous physicist who was famous for making estimates with little or no actual data. This involves sophisticated approximating sometimes called guesstimating. Regardless of its name, it is an important creative thinking skill. Examples of Fermi problems are “How many basketballs will fit into a bus?” “How many Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups would it take to encircle the globe at the equator?” and “How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?” Here is a four step solution to the last problem.

  1. How often are pianos tuned (How many times per year is a given piano tuned?)

  2. How long does it take to tune a piano?

  3. How many average hours a year does an average piano tuner work?

  4. How many pianos are in Chicago?

One can find the answers to these questions and come up with an approximate answer. Then one can criticize this analysis and propose a different solution. This is a good exercise for developing both creative and critical thinking.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Happy Thanksgiving 2014!

November 25, 2014

We, homo sapiens,have much for which to be thankful. I often question whether we are worthy of our name. Nevertheless, we have much cognitive potential for which to be thankful. I believe that the best way of giving thanks is to foster and grow this potential throughout our lifetimes.

Consider our memories, which are de facto time travel machines. We travel into the past and into the future. Actually we travel into the past, to retrieve what we have learned, to cope with the future. We have both experienced and remembered pasts (see the Healthymemory blog post, “Photos, Experiencing Selves and Remembering Selves”). We can go back in time before we were born via our imaginations and transactive memory. Similarly we can go forward into time via both our imaginations and transactive memory (transactive memory are those held by fellow humans and by technological artifacts such as books and computers).

When human minds are put to best use via creativity and critical thinking, tremendous artistic, scientific, engineering, and cultural feats are achieved. And we each have individual potential that we should do our best to foster and grow throughout our lifetimes by continuing to take on cognitive challenges and to interact with transactive memory (our fellow humans and technology). We should not retire from or give up on cognitive growth. And we should assist our fellow humans who are in need to grow their individual potential. This is the best means of giving thanks!

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Tri-Process Model of Cognition and Critical Thinking

November 10, 2013

The Tri-Process Model of Cognition has been developed to elaborate on how rational thought, and, hence, critical thinking is accomplished. Critical thinking should be a goal for all of us. One of the first steps is making a commitment to fair-mindedness. A primary obstacle to fair-mindedness is our egocenticity. What follows is a set of questions we need to ask to ascertain the role our egocentricity is playing on our “fair-mindedness.”
“It’s true because I believe it.” (Paul & Elder, 2002)
“It’s true because we believe it.” (Paul & Elder, 2002)
“It’s true because I want to believe it.”(Paul & Elder, 2002)
“It’s true because I have always believed it.”(Paul & Elder, 2002)
“It’s true because it is in my selfish interest to believe it.”(Paul & Elder, 2002)

The key word in this last item is “selfish.” It is not meant to imply that you never do anything or believe anything in your self interest. But when your self interest breaks legal or moral grounds, then it needs to be questioned.
These are all examples of what is called my sidedness or we sidedness.Another term that has been used is “hardening of the categories.”

Most likely these processes occur during System 1 (Kahneman) or the Autonomous Mind (Stanovich). In other words, these processes typically occur below our level of conscious awareness. Consequently we must invoke System 2 (Kaheman) or the Reflective Mind (Stanovich). We need to examine our thought process and ask why. What is the evidence and logic that leads us to these beliefs and how sound is the evidence and the logic.
This is one of the reasons that politics and religion are often topics to avoid in social situations. They can lead to arguments, and these arguments rarely yield insight into the others’ position, and almost never result in changing the others’ position. Many beliefs appear to be hard wired. They should be inspected to see if they should be tweaked or changed.
One of the problems in examining these beliefs is that it requires attention and extensive thought. In other words, cognitive effort. There is a reluctance to expend this cognitive effort that leads to what is called cognitive miserliness.


Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.39.

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.40.

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.40.

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.40.

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.40.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.