Last month, in the process of exploring the awkward fact that most people in today’s industrial world have never learned how to think, I talked at some length about thoughtstoppers: those crisp little words or phrases that combine absurdity and powerful emotions to short-circuit the thinking process. Thoughtstoppers, as I noted then, very often keep the people around us (and ourselves, let’s be honest) from getting past blind emotion and dealing with the rising spiral of problems that confront us today. They’re everywhere these days; the media is awash with them, and every politician and pundit spews them into our mental ecosystems the way computer factories spew toxic waste into the environment. Learning to detect and dismantle them is a crucial skill for navigating past the rocks and whirlpools that beset voyages of the mind just now.
I’m sorry to say, though, that learning about thoughtstoppers—useful and indeed necessary as that is—will not keep you out of all the mental traps set for the unwary in today’s world. There are other things that lead people into mental dysfunctions of various kinds, and as we proceed with the current sequence of posts on learning how to think, it’s going to be necessary to do as Lewis Carroll recommended in The Hunting of the Snark:
…It next will be right
To describe each particular batch;
Distinguishing those that have feathers, and bite,
From those that have whiskers, and scratch.
Some of the traps in question are logical fallacies so old they have names in Latin. We’ll be getting to those in due time, not least because it’s good sport to point out, to people who insist that their notions are exciting cutting-edge insights nobody ever thought before, that any ordinarily bright twelve-year-old in ancient Rome could have explained to them exactly why the notions in question are so full of holes they make Swiss cheese jealous.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…