Reflecting on rational thinking ‘2020’ style

8 Dec

As the strangest term I’ve ever experienced comes to an end I thought it might be good to resurrect my teaching rational thinking blog, and to consider how the last nine months have changed my views.

My interest in teaching rational thinking began back in 2004, which might not seem that long ago, but it’s worth remembering that iPhone wasn’t launched until 2007. So, I think it’s reasonable to say that in those 16 years the world has changed much more than most of us recognise. One example from academia rather nicely illustrates this change.

Back in 2004 if I wanted a copy of a journal article the easiest way to get it was to walk over to the university library, climb a ladder to find the volume of the journal that I wanted and take it down photocopy the relevant pages. This process relied on two key things in order to be successful, first that my university library subscribed to the journal I was looking for, and second that the last user had put the journal volume back in the right place !! In the event of either of these two things not working you had to fall back on an even older technology, the British Library request form. Fast forward sixteen years, and I ‘m now pretty surprised if there is anything that I can’t access direct from the mobile phone in my pocket. If you’d have told the me of 2004 how easy access to information would be in 2020 I’d have seen it as a huge boon to teaching rational thinking.

The flip side of this growth in freely available information is a collapse in the quality of public discourse over the same period. Whilst politicians have never been paragons of virtue, the average 2004 politician would go out of their way to avoid being caught in an obvious lie, whereas today being in possession of ‘alternative facts’ seems to be the standard operating procedure for almost all politicians. This growth in politicians willing to be ‘economical with the truth’ has been paralleled by the enormous growth of on-line news outlets willing to turn a blind-eye what in 2004 would have been seen as resignation-worthy behaviour.

We thus find ourselves in the paradoxical situation that the growth in freely available information (that in 2004 I would have guessed would have boosted rational thinking), has had little impact and I now believe that the teaching of rational thinking is even more important than it was in 2020.

I’m going to aim to post something every week, from now on, illustrating how I think we can best go about boosting rational thinking skills, but in the interim you might want to have a look back at my older posts. FOr my new posts I shall try to take a leaf out of my younger colleagues books and post more video, rather than my usual ‘text-heavy’ posts.

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