Eclectic sceptic

This post is a motivation for watching Brian Dunning’s ‘Here Be Dragons’ movie. If you’d prefer not to read my myopic meandering you can just skip to the bottom and hit play.

I was recently in a debate with a dear uncle of mine who loves a robust argument just as much as I do. Given that we were both somewhat intoxicated on fine scotch at the time the argument was fairly heated. The topic – homeopathy. My uncle buys into the pseudo-science. I do not.

I often have these arguments with family members given to the likes of homeopathy and whenever I do, inevitably botch up the act of staying cool and articulating my inherent scepticism. I try to explain that I apply critical thinking to anything and everything presented to me, whether it’s a question of religion, the perceived dangers of fast food or whether or not to cancel a business trip due to a swine flu “pandemic”.

My own critical thinking received a boost in high school, in part as a reaction to a poor presentation of Newtonian physics administered by a science teacher, and as a reaction to my English teacher who would passionately argue his case against theism whenever his class raised the topic in a ploy to escape the content of our currciculum.

I owe both these teachers a debt of gratitude. One for sucking at physics and the other for challenging my convictions of the time.

Whenever arguments on the topics of religion, pop phenomenon or pseudo-science enter the lunch or dinner tables I share with my family it becomes impossible for me to remain calm, present a composed argument and justify my reliance on critical thinking. This is because I passionately want the people I love to accept and adopt my way of thinking and their resistance to what I am saying causes me to mess up the explanation of why I say it. My articulation fails which turns me to expletives and… well… you get the idea.

I see critical thinking as the single most important thing which should be taught at schools. Next would be history, open to the scrutiny of critical thought which has been instilled as a fundamental.

Scepticism has unlocked the world for me. It is a more beautiful place because I see it for what it is. This may sound arrogant, but is simply my experience. Richard Dawkins often refers to ‘raising your consciousness’. I honestly think that is the best description of the change critical thinking can bring. The phenomenon can also be summed up in Douglas Adams’ famous quote, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too.”

There are no fairies. Or ghosts. Homeopathy is a pseudo-science that does not stand up to the scrutiny of modern science which, unlike practices based on “ancient wisdom” has given us breakthroughs such as flu vaccines and television satellites as opposed to a belief in a flat-earth on the back of a giant turtle.

Your parents might have told you otherwise. You might feel scared or even guilty because your perception of the world is rooted in something that was taught to you as the only truth and that if you didn’t believe it you would be in some sort of trouble. In the extreme you may even believe that you have seen a ghost or that a homeopath has cured you – a common error where correlation is confused with causation or where you have succumb to a placebo effect. Or are just lying. I know – I’ve been there.

But you can set yourself free of all this nonsense if you are willing to explore the bigger picture. To think beyond what you have been taught. To arm yourself with critical thinking and apply it to anything and everything you hear, or thought you knew.

Brian Dunning is an activist for critical thinking. Through his website Skeptoid, his podcast by the same name, books and videos he is doing a great job of spreading critical thought and challenging people to question the things that they are presented with as fact. He actively combats myths that are progressed through pop culture and tours around speaking at schools and universities. All he he asks for in return is that people help him to spread the message. And so I am.

Instead of trying to further explain critical thinking and my take on it I would instead advocate watching Brian’s video Here Be Dragons as he does a much better job of it than I could. In fact you can consider this entire post as a justification for watching this video. It will cost you nothing and potentially change your life. Unlike some miracle cure or new fad in spirituality, critical thinking stands up to that claim.

Brian’s video is not advocating some weird movement or pyramid scheme. It will not use faulty logic or irresponsible argument to try and trick you into believing something. It merely presents critical thinking and how to apply it.

You can either watch the video here, on Youtube or on Brian Dunning’s Here Be Dragons website. The production quality isn’t great but the content is. It’s simple, informative and honest. From now on I will end arguments with family by directing them to it.

I'm a writer and broadcaster who also designs apps and strategies for disruptive startups in the financial world. Find out more on my about page.