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Archive for January 25th, 2009

This idea of government intervention has capitalists divided over the soundness of government bailout. Those against the bailouts argue that it has been government intervention of free markets that has caused the crisis and the problems won’t be solved by more of the same. Those arguing for the bailouts contend that in the absence of government intervention, economies will grind themselves into oblivion.

These two sides of the heated debate are well represented by Peter Schiff and Steven Leeb, both presidents of capital management companies and authors who have predicted the coming crisis long before but are prescribing very different solutions.

Schiff and Leeb have been pit against each other since last year at critical junctures during the crisis. The three videos below show the two debating right after (in order): (a) the bank bailout proposed by Paulson in September 2008, (b) the bailout of the automakers in December 2008, and most recently (c) the unveiling of the Obama stimulus package in January 2009.

The two make passionate arguments for their side, and it isn’t an easy question to say who of the two is correct. Recently since the bailouts have begun, stock markets and the US dollar have recovered slightly but that recovery seems to be waning. Checkout the debate and see who you agree with.

After The Bank Bailout ( September 2008 )

After The Auto Bailout ( December 2008 )

After The Obama Stimulus Package ( January 2009 )

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Educator Sir Ken Robinson delivers an entertaining talk about how the school system undermines creative thought inherent in the human mind. Schools discourage children from commiting mistakes, prioritizes static knowledge (i.e. stock knowledge, memorization) and de-prioritizes dynamic knowledge (i.e. experiential, artistic).

Robinson cites the history of the public education system as partly to blame for this situation. An offshoot of the industrial revolution, public schools were created to mass-produce students with basic knowledge to become workers in an industrial society, which have arguably powered the economic growth of the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, but at the cost of destroying people’s capacity for creativity and original thought.

For us, creativity is an important component of critical thinking–to be able to entertain original and alternative points to conventional thinking, and we join Ken Robinson’s call to promote a school system that nurtures creativity.

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Those who need a good grasp of what we mean by Critical Thinking are strongly encouraged to checkout our special Critical Thinking Resources page  (click the link or the one of the tabs above). Two characteristics associated with Critical Thinking mentioned on our page are:

Self-awareness

We are thinking critically when we weigh the influences of motives and bias, and recognize our own assumptions, prejudices, biases, or point of view.

Judgment

We are thinking critically when we recognize the relevance and/or merit of alternative assumptions and perspectives recognize the extent and weight of evidence

People have asked me if critical thinking means being impartial to all points of view. If by “self-awareness” above, we recognize that all opinions are influenced by motives and bias, then we have to consider that all statements are relative and are acceptable, and that we can’t judge anyone. I’ve been in a number of social situations where I’ve heard these phrases all too often:

  • “Everyone is entitled to their own truth.”
  • “There’s no such thing as good and evil.”
  • “Judge not lest you be judged.”

These statements are not the product of critical thinking. Arguably these statements result from a LACK of critical thought. While part of being critical is to thoroughly examine all aspects of any statement, fact, or opinion, the essence of being critical is NOT to withhold judgement, but to render it.

Ayn Rand wrote a powerful essay on how to be rational (which we have included in our Resources page) where she condemns what she refers to as moral agnosticism:

Nothing can corrupt and disintegrate a culture or a man’s character as thoroughly as does the precept of moral agnosticism, the idea that one must never pass moral judgment on others, that one must be morally tolerant of anything, that the good consists of never distinguishing good from evil.

At this point, people might be tempted to think that critical thinking will lead to judgmental and discriminating behaviour. My answer to this is yes, but never in a negative sense. From Rand’s essay:

But to pronounce a moral judgment is an enormous responsibility. To be a judge, one must possess an unimpeachable character; one need not be omniscient or infallible, and it is not an issue of errors of knowledge; one needs an un-breached integrity, that is, the absence of any indulgence in conscious, wilful evil. Just as a judge in a court of law may err, when the evidence is inconclusive, but may not evade the evidence available, nor accept bribes, nor allow any personal feeling, emotion, desire or fear to obstruct his mind’s judgment of the facts of reality—so every rational person must maintain an equally strict and solemn integrity in the courtroom within his own mind, where the responsibility is more awesome than in a public tribunal, because he, the judge, is the only one to know when he has been impeached.

Don’t you find it strange that people associate judgment or the act of judging with a negative connotation? This is a product of society and a natural tendency for many people to be neutral fence-sitters, and abdicate responsibility by not rendering any judgment whatsoever.

Our goal by exercising critical thought is not to strive for absolute neutrality–which doesn’t benefit anyone. We don’t become critical thinkers just for the sake of criticism. Our goal is to strive for the truth, and to reject untruth. Our goal is to strive for the good and to reject the evil. Definitely we understand that this is a very difficult goal to attain, but it is the motivation that should inspire us to continue to question ourselves, our world, our existence. It will always be an ongoing process, and one fraught with mistakes–but that should not scare us into becoming fence-sitters who sanction anything.

Rand again:

To judge means: to evaluate a given concrete by reference to an abstract principle or standard. It is not an easy task; it is not a task that can be performed automatically by one’s feelings, “instincts” or hunches. It is a task that requires the most precise, the most exacting, the most ruthlessly objective and rational process of thought. It is fairly easy to grasp abstract moral principles; it can be very difficult to apply them to a given situation, particularly when it involves the moral character of another person. When one pronounces moral judgment whether in praise or in blame, one must be prepared to answer “Why?” and to prove one’s case—to oneself and to any rational inquirer.

Arguably the moment you sanction anything is the moment you stop thinking. To sanction anything is to lose your value as a person, as part of society, as a living being. So to the statements above, this is how critical thinkers would rephrase them

  • “Everyone has a right to seek the truth.”
  • “We should seek the good and reject the evil.”
  • “Judge, and be prepared to be judged.”

That is the motto of critical thinkers.

See more of Rand’s essay here.

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Ray Kurzweil is an inventor, futurist, and entrepreneur who talks about the startling progress of technology. He tracks technology across human history and points to a trend of acceleration evident in the development of technology.

Kurzweil likens the development of technology to an evolutionary process, which it shares with biology. Arguably evolution was initially purely biological, taking millions of years, then tens of thousands of years. Once homo sapiens evolved then technological evolution began, and is happening at an even faster rate than biological evolution.

The surprise is that despite the chaotic processes that lead to the development of technology, the trend of growth follows a very smooth trend. He presents a theoretical exponential curve along which technology develops, and using this curve what kind of technologies we can expect to have in the very near future.

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What kind of design, what kind of creative process produced the universe? How hard would it be to assemble the universe?

Using observations taken from the orbiting space instruments like the Hubble telescope, astrophysicist George Smoot speculates on the design and structure of the universe. Essentially, peering into the universe is peering into the past because of the limits of the speed of light.

From the observations, Smoot shows a model of the universe that integrates all current knowledge of matter, dark matter, galaxies, and stars, into a fascinating framework of what kind of structure the universe might have considering the big bang expansion hypothesis.

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