The Edge Question 2011- Suggested by Steven Pinker- WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY'S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT?
"The term 'scientific"is to be understood in a broad sense as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, whether it be the human spirit, the role of great people in history, or the structure of DNA. A "scientific concept" may come from philosophy, logic, economics, jurisprudence, or other analytic enterprises, as long as it is a rigorous conceptual tool that may be summed up succinctly (or "in a phrase") but has broad application to understanding the world." Read Full entries
One hundred and sixty four individuals commented on the question. A few of my favorites:
From Richard Dawkins:
"If all schools taught their pupils how to do a double-blind control experiment, our cognitive toolkits would be improved in the following ways:
1. We would learn not to generalise from anecdotes.
2. We would learn how to assess the likelihood that an apparently important effect might have happened by chance alone.
3. We would learn how extremely difficult it is to eliminate subjective bias, and that subjective bias does not imply dishonesty or venality of any kind. This lesson goes deeper. It has the salutary effect of undermining respect for authority, and respect for personal opinion.
4. We would learn not to be seduced by homeopaths and other quacks and charlatans, who would consequently be put out of business.
5. We would learn critical and sceptical habits of thought more generally, which not only would improve our cognitive toolkit but might save the world." more
From Paul Bloom:
We are powerfully influenced by irrational processes such as unconscious priming, conformity, groupthink, and self-serving biases. These affect the most trivial aspects of our lives, such as how quickly we walk down a city street, and the most important, such as who we choose to marry. The political and moral realms are particularly vulnerable to such influences. While many of us would like to think that our views on climate change or torture or foreign policy are the result of rational deliberation, we are more affected than we would like to admit by considerations that have nothing to do with reason." more
From PZ Meyers:
"I'm going to recommend the mediocrity principle. It's fundamental to science, and it's also one of the most contentious, difficult concepts for many people to grasp — and opposition to the mediocrity principle is one of the major linchpins of religion and creationism and jingoism and failed social policies. There are a lot of cognitive ills that would be neatly wrapped up and easily disposed of if only everyone understood this one simple idea.
The mediocrity principle simply states that you aren't special. The universe does not revolve around you, this planet isn't privileged in any unique way, your country is not the perfect product of divine destiny, your existence isn't the product of directed, intentional fate, and that tuna sandwich you had for lunch was not plotting to give you indigestion. Most of what happens in the world is just a consequence of natural, universal laws — laws that apply everywhere and to everything, with no special exemptions or amplifications for your benefit — given variety by the input of chance." more
From Sue Blackmore:
"Correlation is not a cause
The phrase "correlation is not a cause" (CINAC) may be familiar to every scientist but has not found its way into everyday language, even though critical thinking and scientific understanding would improve if more people had this simple reminder in their mental toolkit.
One reason for this lack is that CINAC can be surprisingly difficult to grasp. I learned just how difficult when teaching experimental design to nurses, physiotherapists and other assorted groups. They usually understood my favourite example: imagine you are watching at a railway station. More and more people arrive until the platform is crowded, and then — hey presto — along comes a train. Did the people cause the train to arrive (A causes B)? Did the train cause the people to arrive (B causes A)? No, they both depended on a railway timetable (C caused both A and B)." more
My answer to this question is- accepting the idea that all beliefs, claims, doctrines, and ideas should be subject to critical analysis. Why should some ideas be put under the analytical microscope while others shouldn't? Why should we espouse scientific inquiry in so many important areas of life, yet turn away when scientific evidence refutes our cherished beliefs? Faith based beliefs, dogma, they-say, over-reliance on experts, and other non-evidence based claims are dangerous, as they promote the dissemination of contaminated mindware. I recently wrote an article-Identifying and Avoiding Contaminated Mindware - that sheds light on contaminated mindware, and how it is spread and how it contributes to irrationality. Lose the idea that some beliefs have a special privilege- are immune to critical analysis- and you will radically improve your cognitive toolbox.