Archive for April, 2009

What kinds of belief are there? How can critical thinking define your beliefs?

Jeffrey Ellis writes a great article that differentiates beliefs based on faith, delusion, bias, and that based on critical thinking (hence the diagram above).

From his post:

The first thing that should immediately jump out at you is that CT-based belief does not overlap any of the other types of belief. Critical thinking has nothing to do with faith or delusion, and seeks aggressively to avoid all biases and fallacies.

Check out the rest of Jeff’s article here.

Jeffrey Ellis is the author of “The Thinker” blog–which I’ve added to our blogroll here and featured in our sidebar below because of its wonderful content. Jeff’s site is a great source for critical thinking ideas and concepts and we’re proud to feature him here.

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Is it possible to believe in supernatural explanations and still be close-minded? As per this video, absolutely. It’s called rehearsing your own prejudices.

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The recent death of Trinidad Etong, wife of prominent Filipino broadcaster Ted Failon (Mario Etong in real-life) has spurred a lot of speculation about the circumstances of the case especially amongst bloggers and internet forums, particularly the question of suicide (which is the currently positioned angle of the Failon household) and the possibility of parricide, homicide, or murder which is being investigated by Philippine authorities on the case.

Obfuscating the case findings are the instances of tampering with evidence on the part of Failon’s househelp, which are placing them under accusation of obstruction of justice, as well as instances abuse and brutality on the part of the Philippine National Police in the conduct of the investigation. Furthermore, the recent finding that no one in Failon’s household tested positive for gunpowder burns, including the now-deceased Mrs. Etong, raises more doubts and speculations about her death.

As for me, I won’t dwell on questions of speculated guilt (whether Mrs. Etong’s, Ted Failon’s or others) here–as there are already a growing number of commentaries on this subject. Browsing through the numerous facts, theories, and speculations on the case thus far has brought my curiosity onto one undisputed piece of evidence in the Etong case: the suicide note of Mrs. Etong.

There’s already a sizeable amount of research done on the nature and context of suicide notes. Not all cases of suicides are accompanied by notes, but many studies have partly established the suicides normally accompanied by notes.

On age trends:[1]

  • Suicide notes written by young people were longer, rich in emotions, and often begging for forgiveness.
  • Suicide notes written by the elderly were shorter, contained specific instructions, and were less emotional.
  • Most note leavers mention their difficulties.

Among the elderly:[2]

  • Most were unknown to psychiatric services, and used a non-violent method of suicide.
  • Those that left suicide notes used less violent methods of suicide such as suffocation by plastic bags, electrocution, or car exhaust.
  • Those that died by more violent means such as hanging, drowning, jumping, immolation, or wounding, were less likely to leave a suicide note.

Other trends:

  • Those written by those using violent methods contained less joy, less love for others, less humor/irony, less thanks, suggesting a greater amount of alienation from significant others.[3]
  • Those written by women were found to show less intrapersonal hostility, gave fewer instructions concerning final affairs, accepted less personal responsibility, and used fewer absolute terms than those written by men.[3]
  • Higher proportion of letter writers in female populations, and suicides by more lethal methods such as carbon monoxide, hanging, or sharp instruments.[4]
  • Non-letter-writers had tendencies to commit suicide for reasons of psychiatric disorders.[4]

Most common reasons that people contemplating suicide choose to write a note include:[5]

  • To ease the pain of those known to the victim by attempting to dissipate guilt.
  • To increase the pain of survivors by attempting to create guilt.
  • To set out the reason(s) for suicide.
  • To give instructions as to disposal of remains.
  • Occasionally, those who have committed murder or some other offense will confess their acts in a note.

Those occasions where people fail to write a note are:

  • They are so focused on the practicalities of what they are about to do (e.g. loading a pistol or tying a noose, etc.) that the idea of leaving a note does not occur to them
  • Their choice to commit suicide was impulsive, or at least hasty enough that there was no time to compose a suicide note.
  • They have nothing to say and/or nobody to say it to — common for those without surviving loved ones or other social relationships, such as the elderly.
  • They feel that they cannot express what they wish to say.
  • They simply do not wish to write about their choice, or cannot see any point in doing so.
  • They are functionally or completely illiterate, or uncomfortable with written language.
  • They hope the suicide will be considered to be an accident or homicide. This is common in those who wish to be buried in consecrated ground or hope their families will be able to collect on insurance.

Which brings us back to Mrs. Etong’s suicide note, which I requote here.

Papa, I’m so sorry. Gustong gusto ko pong magsabi sa iyo ng totoo. Pero hindi ko po alam kung papaano ko uumpisahan. Sobrang takot na takot po ako. Aaalis po muna ako. Kasi hindi ko po kaya at nahihiya po ako sa iyo. Sana po mapatawad mo ako. Sorry, sorry – Mama.

Papa, I’m so sorry. I really want to tell you the truth. But I don’t know how to start. I’m really so afraid. I will take my leave for now. Because I can’t handle it and I am ashamed to face you. I hope you forgive me. Sorry, sorry – Mama.

Just analyzing the note’s characteristics, against the research above:

  1. It appears haphazardly done, and ambigious — suggesting that it was done either in haste, or in an unfocused state of mind. This is consistent with the method of suicide–as violent methods of suicide (e.g. stabbing, hanging, gunshot, drowning) are more consistent with impulsiveness and lack of preparation, however these are also usually cases of suicides which do not normally leave a note.
  2. It appears to dwell on the emotional disposition of the writer, rather than the reasons prompting the suicide, and with no apparent instructions to those the victim is leaving behind. The note emphasizes on apologizing for a wrongdoing. This kind of composition is consistent with suicides among younger age groups, rather than suicides among the elderly.
  3. It contains some curious syntax, like the word “po”–which is usually an honorific reserved for addressing elders, and uncommon between married couples (e.g. it’s a word normally used by children addressing their parents/grandparents). Also as of this writing, it has yet to be made public whether the note is consistent with other samples of handwriting from the deceased.

Generally speaking, the suicide note either contradicts the usual profile of violent suicides or the age and profile of Mrs. Etong herself. However, I’m not drawing any conclusions on this matter here.

Just saying if Mrs. Etong’s suicide note is genuine, it simply begs the further question of why her case should fit the exception, rather than the rule.


[1] Suicide notes: what do they tell us?
[2] The significance of suicide notes in the elderly.
[4] Differences in characteristics between suicide victims who left notes or not
[5] Suicide Note – Wikipedia

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The Abbot’s Gift

The following anecdote is quoted from John Vorhaus and Tony Guerrera’s book on poker strategies (Killer Poker Short-handed, 2007). It illustrates the buddhist approach to value judgements. It also makes for interesting poker table banter.


The Abbot’s Gift

A Zen monk, early in his training, is preparing to leave the monastery and switch locations, for that is common in the Zen practice. Before he leaves he goes to the abbot of the monastery to say goodbye. He does so, but the abbot says he has a gift for him. Now, it is part of the Japanese way to accept gifts and be appreciative; to do otherwise is rude and, therefore, wrong. The abbot takes a pair of tongs and picks up a red-hot coal from the adjacent fire pit on which he has a teakettle.

The young monk starts to contemplate what he should do, and after a few moments, runs out of the hall distressed, for he cannot figure out how to act. He can take the coal and be burned, or he can refuse the gift of the abbot and be rude. Both in his mind, are things he cannot do.

He meditates on the problem for the next week, and comes back to say goodbye. However, the same scene is played again, and the same frustration blooms when he tries to figure out what the abbot wants him to do.

He meditates further on the subject and feels he has discovered how to respond to the abbot’s gift. He returns, for the third time, to say goodbye to the abbot, and as before the abbot picks up a red-hot coal and presents it as a gift to the young monk. The young monk simply replies, “Thank you.”

The abbot breaks into a grin, nods his head, and returns the coal to the fire pit. “You may go now,” he says.


Further reflection on this anecdote by Vorhaus and Guerrero:

Accept what is offered you, say the Buddhists. A thing is not a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just a thing that is. If someone successfully bluffs you off a pot, even if he gloats and taunts, simply accept the outcome, make appropriate adjustments, and move on. In the swirling dogfight of shorthanded poker, the minute you let your ego get engaged, you’re toast.

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Success Stories

Found this in Chuvaness.com, aptly titled PPS: Proud Parent Syndrome.

Four friends, who hadn’t seen each other in 30 years, reunited at a party. After several drinks one of the men had to use the rest room. Those who remained talked about their kids.

The first guy said, “My son is my pride and joy. He started working at a successful company at the bottom of the barrel. He studied Economics and Business Administration and soon began to climb the corporate ladder and now he’s the president of the company. He became so rich that he gave his best friend a top of the line Mercedes for his birthday.”

The second guy said, “Darn, that’s terrific! My son is also my pride and joy. He started working for a big airline, then went to flight school to become a pilot. Eventually he became a partner in the company, where he owns the majority of assets. He’s so rich that he gave his best friend a brand new jet for his birthday.”

The third man said: “Well, that’s terrific! My son studied in the best universities and became an engineer. Then he started his own construction company and is now a multimillionaire. He also gave away something very nice and expensive to his best friend for his birthday: A 30,000 square-foot mansion.”

The three friends congratulated each other just as the fourth returned from the restroom and asked: “What are all the congratulations for?” One of the three said: ‘We were talking about the pride we feel for the successes of our sons…What about your son?”

The fourth man replied:  “My son is gay and makes a living dancing as a stripper at a nightclub.”

The three friends said: “What a shame… what a disappointment.”

The fourth man replied: “No, I’m not ashamed. He’s my son and I love him. And he hasn’t done too bad either. His birthday was two weeks ago, and he received a beautiful 30,000 square foot mansion, a brand new jet and a top of the line Mercedes from his three boyfriends.”


Success, like many things, is a matter of perspective.


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Jewish philosopher, lawyer and legal scholar, Morris Raphael Cohen, and his thoughts on:

Critical Thinking:

The method of exposition which philosophers have adopted leads many to suppose that they are simply inquiries, that they have no interest in the conclusions at which they arrive, and that their primary concern is to follow their premises to their logical conclusions.


Liberalism is an attitude rather than a set of dogmas – an attitude that insists upon questioning all plausible and self-evident propositions, seeking not to reject them but to find out what evidence there is to support them rather than their possible alternatives.

Conservatism clings to what has been established, fearing that, once we begin to question the beliefs that we have inherited, all the values of life will be destroyed.

Liberalism, on the other hand, regards life as an adventure in which we must take risks in new situations, in which there is no guarantee that the new will always be the good or the true, in which progress is a precarious achievement rather than inevitability.

Being Scientific

To be sure, the vast majority of people who are untrained can accept the results of science only on authority.


If religion cannot restrain evil, it cannot claim effective power for good.

Cruel persecutions and intolerance are not accidents, but grow out of the very essence of religion, namely, its absolute claims.

Philosophy, Literature and Science

Literature and philosophy both allow past idols to be resurrected with a frequency which would be truly distressing to a sober scientist.

In thus pointing out certain respects in which philosophy resembles literature more than science, I do not mean, of course, to imply that it would be well for philosophy if it ceased to aim at scientific rigor.

Again, both literature and philosophy work by appealing to certain reigning idols.

Let philosophy resolutely aim to be as scientific as possible, but let her not forget her strong kinship with literature.  

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