Thinking Skills and Creativity

Reflection, Assignment #2 (10 pts.)

Read assigned article “Thinking Skills and Creativity.” “Critical thinking perspectives across contexts and curricula: Dominant, neglected, and complementing dimensions” by Luis Fernando Santos Meneses


To relate the material in Chapter 3, “Thinking Critically” and Chapter 4, “Solving Problems” to the thesis of a research article. Your paper will consist of three sections as follows.

Introduction Paragraph (2 pts.)

Briefly summarize the abstract in five sentences or less.

Thinking (6 pts.)

From the Introduction paragraph 1. of the article, and Table One, explain the three historical waves of thinking and research on critical thinking.

From the Skills Based CT Perspective paragraph 2. of the article, explain the “critical thinking skills-based approach” and its shortcomings.

From the Dispositions and Ethical Dimension of CT paragraph 3. of the article, discuss how Paul and Elder describe “fairmindedness.”

From the Civic Dimension of CT, paragraph 4. of the article, how is CT involved with “the public good.”

From the Cultural implications of CT, paragraph 5. of the article, what does it mean to say that CT should be “culturally embedded.”

How is CT in the curriculum related to ethical behavior in communities, societies, cultures, countries, nations.

Conclusion Paragraph (2 pts.)

Briefly explain why it is important to teach critical thinking.

Follow MLA format in writing your paper. Include a reference page and a cover page. Look for ‘MLA style guide’ on the Internet for rules and examples.

Your grade will be based on clarity, specificity and how well you establish connections to the text in Chapter Three and Four.

Chapter 3 and 4 attached in word document.

Page length- 3 to 4 Pages.

What’s my next move? Our success in life—and sometimes our survival—depends on developing the ability to solve challenging problems in organized and creative ways. How can we learn to be effective problem solvers?

3-1Thinking Critically About Problems

Throughout your life, you are continually solving problems, including the many minor problems that you solve each day: negotiating a delay caused by road construction, working through an unexpected difficulty at your job, helping an upset child deal with a disappointment. As a student, you are faced with a steady stream of academic assignments, quizzes, exams, and papers. Relatively simple problems like these do not require a systematic or complex analysis. For example, to do well on an exam, you need to define the problem (what areas will the exam cover, and what will be the format?), identify and evaluate various alternatives (what are possible study approaches?), and then put all these factors together to reach a solution (what will be your study plan and schedule?). But the difficult and complicated problems in life require more attention.

Problems are the crucibles that forge the strength of our characters. When you are tested by life—forced to overcome adversity and think your way through the most challenging situations—you will emerge a more intelligent, resourceful, and resilient person. However, if you lead a sheltered existence that insulates you from life’s trials, or if you flee from situations at the first sign of trouble, then you are likely to be weak and unable to cope with the eruptions and explosions that are bound to occur. Adversity reveals the person you have become, the character you have created. As the Roman philosopher and poet Lucretius explained, “So it is more useful to watch a man in times of peril, and in adversity to discern what kind of man he is; for then, at last, words of truth are drawn from the depths of his heart, and the mask is torn off, reality remains.”

The quality of your life can be traced in large measure to your competency as a problem solver. The fact that some people are consistently superior problem solvers is largely due to their ability to approach problems in an informed and organized way. Less competent problem solvers just muddle through when it comes to confronting adversity, using hit-or-miss strategies that rarely provide the best results. How would you rate yourself as a problem solver? Do you generally approach difficulties confidently, analyze them clearly, and reach productive solutions? Or do you find that you often get “lost” and confused in such situations, unable to understand the problem clearly and to break out of mental ruts? Of course, you may find that you are very adept at solving problems in one area of your life—such as your job—and miserable at solving problems in other areas, such as your love life or your relationships with your children.

Becoming an expert problem solver is, for the most part, a learned skill that you can develop by practicing and applying the principles described in this chapter. You can learn to view problems as challenges, opportunities for growth instead of obstacles or burdens. You can become a person who attacks adversity with confidence and enthusiasm.

3-2Introduction to Solving Problems
Consider the following problem:

· My best friend is addicted to drugs, but he won’t admit it. Jack always liked to drink, but I never thought too much about it. After all, a lot of people like to drink socially, relax, and have a good time. But over the past few years he’s started using other drugs as well as alcohol, and it’s ruining his life. He’s stopped taking classes at the college and will soon lose his job if he doesn’t change. Last week I told him that I was really worried about him, but he told me that he has no drug problem and that in any case it really isn’t any of my business. I just don’t know what to do. I’ve known Jack since we were in grammar school together and he’s a wonderful person. It’s as if he’s in the grip of some terrible force and I’m powerless to help him.

In working through this problem, the student who wrote this will have to think carefully and systematically in order to reach a solution. To think effectively in situations like this, we usually ask ourselves a series of questions:

1. What is the problem?

2. What are the alternatives?

3. What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of each alternative?

4. What is the solution?

5. How well is the solution working?

Let’s explore these questions further—and the thinking process that they represent—by applying them to the problem described here.

What Is the Problem?
The problem facing this student can be defined in a variety of ways. Describe as specifically as possible what you think the problem is.

What Are the Alternatives?
In dealing with this problem, you have a wide variety of possible actions to consider before selecting the best choices. Identify some of the alternatives you might consider. One possibility is listed already.

1. Speak to my friend in a candid and forceful way to convince him that he has a serious problem.

2. and so on.

What Are the Advantages and/or Disadvantages of Each Alternative?
Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each of the possibilities you identified so you can weigh your choices and decide on the best course of action.

1. Speak to my friend in a candid and forceful way to convince him that he has a serious problem.

Advantage: He may respond to my direct emotional appeal, acknowledge that he has a problem, and seek help.

Disadvantage: He may react angrily, further alienating me from him and making it more difficult for me to have any influence on him.

2. Advantage:


and so on.

What Is the Solution?
After evaluating the various alternatives, select what you think is the most effective alternative for solving the problem and describe the sequence of steps you would take to act on it.

How Well Is the Solution Working?
The final step in the process is to review the solution and decide whether it is working. If it is not, you must be able to modify your solution. Describe what results would inform you that the alternative you had selected to pursue was working well or poorly. If you concluded that your alternative was working poorly, describe what your next action would be.

In this situation, trying to figure out the best way to help your friend recognize his problem and seek treatment requires making a series of decisions. If we understand the way our minds operate when we are thinking effectively, we can apply this understanding to improve our thinking in new, challenging situations. In the remainder of this chapter, we will explore a more sophisticated version of this problem-solving approach and apply it to a variety of complex problems.

3-3Solving Complex Problems
Imagine yourself in the following situations. What would your next move be, and what are your reasons for it?


I am a procrastinator. Whenever I have something important to do, especially if it’s difficult or unpleasant, I tend to put it off. Though this chronic delaying bothers me, I try to suppress my concern and instead work on more trivial things. It doesn’t matter how much time I allow for certain responsibilities, I always end up waiting until the last minute to really focus and get things done, or I schedule too many things for the time available. I usually meet my deadlines, but not always, and I don’t enjoy working under this kind of pressure. In many cases, I know that I’m not producing my best work. To make matters worse, the feeling that I’m always behind causes me to feel really stressed out and undermines my confidence. I’ve tried every kind of schedule and technique, but my best intentions simply don’t last, and I end up slipping into my old habits. I must learn to get my priorities in order and act on them in an organized way so that I can lead a well-balanced and happier life.

Losing Weight

My problem is the unwelcome weight that has attached itself to me. I was always in pretty good physical shape when I was younger, and if I gained a few extra pounds, they were easy to lose if I adjusted my diet slightly or exercised a little more. As I’ve gotten older, however, it seems easier to add the weight and more difficult to take it off. I’m eating healthier than I ever have before and getting just as much exercise, but the pounds just keep on coming. My clothes are tight, I’m feeling slow and heavy, and my self-esteem is suffering. How can I lose this excess poundage?


One problem in my life that has remained unsolved for about twelve years is my inability to stop smoking. I know it is dangerous for my health, and I tell my children that they should not smoke. They then tell me that I should stop, and I explain to them that it is very hard to do. I have tried to stop many times without success. The only times I previously was able to stop were during my two pregnancies because I didn’t want to endanger my children’s health. But after their births, I went back to smoking, although I realize that secondhand smoke can also pose a health hazard. I want to stop smoking because it’s dangerous, but I also enjoy it. Why do I continue, knowing it can only damage me and my children?

Loss of Financial Aid

I’m just about to begin my second year of college, following a very successful first year. To this point, I have financed my education through a combination of savings, financial aid, and a part-time job (sixteen hours per week) at a local store. However, I just received a letter from my college stating that it was reducing my financial aid package by half due to budgetary problems. The letter concludes, “We hope this aid reduction will not prove to be too great an inconvenience.” From my perspective, this reduction in aid isn’t an inconvenience—it’s a disaster! My budget last year was already tight, and with my job, I had barely enough time to study, participate in a few college activities, and have a modest (but essential) social life. To make matters worse, my mother has been ill, a condition that has reduced her income and created financial problems at home. I’m feeling panicked! What in the world am I going to do?

Thinking Critically About Visuals

“Eureka! I have created something never seen before!”
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

This photograph of Steve Jobs introducing the iPad to the world for the first time is a stunning image. In what ways was the iPad a completely unique creation? Studying the photograph, how do you think Steve Jobs feels at this moment? Why do people usually settle for conventional alternatives when trying to solve problems, rather than pushing for truly innovative ideas? Describe a time when you were able to solve a difficult problem by using a genuinely creative solution. How did this experience make you feel?

When we first approach a difficult problem, it often seems a confused tangle of information, feelings, alternatives, opinions, considerations, and risks. The problem of the college student just described is a complicated situation that does not seem to offer a single simple solution. Without the benefit of a systematic approach, our thoughts might wander through the tangle of issues like this:

I want to stay in school … but I’m not going to have enough money … I could work more hours at my job … but I might not have enough time to study and get top grades … and if all I’m doing is working and studying, what about my social life? … and what about Mom and the kids? … They might need my help … I could drop out of school for a while … but if I don’t stay in school, what kind of future do I have? …

Very often when we are faced with difficult problems like this, we simply do not know where to begin trying to solve them. Frustrated by not knowing where to take the first step, we often give up trying to understand the problem. Instead, we may

1. Act impulsively without thought or consideration (e.g., “I’ll just quit school”).

2. Do what someone else suggests without seriously evaluating the suggestion (e.g., “Tell me what I should do—I’m tired of thinking about this”).

3. Do nothing as we wait for events to make the decision for us (e.g., “I’ll just wait and see what happens before doing anything”).

None of these approaches is likely to succeed in the long run, and they can gradually reduce our confidence in dealing with complex problems. An alternative to these reactions is to think critically about the problem, analyzing it with an organized approach based on the five-step method described earlier.

Although we will be using an organized method for working through difficult problems and arriving at thoughtful conclusions, the fact is that our minds do not always work in such a logical, step-by-step fashion. Effective problem solvers typically pass through all the steps we will be examining, but they don’t always do so in the sequence we will be describing. Instead, the best problem solvers have an integrated and flexible approach to the process in which they deploy a repertoire of problem-solving strategies as needed. Sometimes exploring the various alternatives helps them go back and redefine the original problem; similarly, seeking to implement the solution can often suggest new alternatives.

The key point is that although the problem-solving steps are presented in a logical sequence here, you are not locked into following these steps in a mechanical and unimaginative way. At the same time, in learning a problem-solving method like this, it is generally not wise to skip steps because each step deals with an important aspect of the problem. As you become more proficient in using the method, you will find that you can apply its concepts and strategies to problem solving in an increasingly flexible and natural fashion, just as learning the basics of an activity like driving a car gradually gives way to a more organic and integrated performance of the skills involved.

Before applying to your problem a method like the one just outlined above, however, you first need to prepare yourself by accepting the problem.

3-3aAccepting the Problem
To solve a problem, you must first be willing to accept the problem by acknowledging that the problem exists, identifying it, and committing yourself to trying to solve it.

Successful problem solvers are highly motivated and willing to persevere through the many challenges and frustrations of the problem-solving process. How do you find the motivation and commitment that prepare you to begin the problem-solving process? No simple answers exist, but a number of strategies may be useful to you:

1. List the benefits. Make a detailed list of the benefits you will derive from successfully dealing with the problem. Such a process helps you clarify why you might want to tackle the problem, motivates you to get started, and serves as a source of encouragement when you encounter difficulties or lose momentum.

2. Formalize your acceptance. When you formalize your acceptance of a problem, you are “going on record,” either by preparing a signed declaration or by signing a “contract” with someone else. This formal commitment serves as an explicit statement of your original intentions that you can refer to if your resolve weakens.

Problem-Solving Method (Advanced)
1. Step 1

What is the problem?

1. What do I know about the situation?

2. What results am I aiming for in this situation?

3. How can I define the problem?

2. Step 2

What are the alternatives?

1. What are the boundaries of the problem situation?

2. What alternatives are possible within these boundaries?

3. Step 3

What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of each alternative?

1. What are the advantages of each alternative?

2. What are the disadvantages of each alternative?

3. What additional information do I need to evaluate each alternative?

4. Step 4

What is the solution?

1. Which alternative(s) will I pursue?

2. What steps can I take to act on the alternative(s) chosen?

5. Step 5

How well is the solution working?

1. What is my evaluation?

2. What adjustments are necessary?

3. Accept responsibility for your life. Each of us has the potential to control the direction of our lives, but to do so we must accept our freedom to choose and the responsibility that goes with it. As you saw in the last chapter, critical thinkers actively work to take charge of their lives rather than letting themselves be passively controlled by external forces.

4. Create a “worst-case” scenario. Some problems persist because you are able to ignore their possible implications. When you use this strategy, you remind yourself, as graphically as possible, of the potentially disastrous consequences of your actions. For example, using vivid color photographs and research conclusions, you can remind yourself that excessive smoking, drinking, or eating can lead to myriad health problems and social and psychological difficulties as well as an early demise.

5. Identify what’s holding you back. If you are having difficulty accepting a problem, it is usually because something is holding you back. Whatever the constraints, using this strategy involves identifying and describing all of the factors that are preventing you from attacking the problem and then addressing these factors one at a time.

3-3bStep 1: What Is the Problem?
Once you have accepted the problem, the first step in solving it is to determine exactly what the central issues of the problem are. If you do not clearly understand what the problem really is, then your chances of solving it are considerably reduced. For example, consider the different formulations of the following problems.

“School is boring.”


“I feel bored in school.”

“I’m a failure.”


“I just failed an exam.”

In each of these cases, a very general conclusion (left column) has been replaced by a more specific characterization of the problem (right column). The general conclusions (e.g., “I’m a failure”) do not suggest productive ways of resolving the difficulties. On the other hand, the more specific descriptions of the problem situation (e.g., “I just failed an exam”) do permit us to attack the problem with useful strategies. Correct identification of a problem is essential if you are going to perform a successful analysis and reach an appropriate conclusion.

Let us return to the college finances problem we encountered in Solving Complex Problems and analyze it using our problem-solving method. (Note: As you work through this problem-solving approach, apply the steps and strategies to an unsolved problem in your own life. You will have an opportunity to write your analysis when you complete Thinking Activity 3.2.) To complete the first major step of this problem-solving approach—“What is the problem?”—address these three questions:

1. What do I know about the situation?

2. What results am I aiming for in this situation?

3. How can I define the problem?

Step 1A: What Do I Know About the Situation?
Solving a problem begins with determining what information you know to be the case and what information you think might be the case. You need to have a clear idea of the details of your initial circumstances in order to explore the problem successfully.

You can identify and organize what you know about the problem situation by using key questions. In Chapter 2, we examined six types of questions that can be used to explore situations and issues: fact, interpretation, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and application. By asking—and trying to answer—questions of fact, you are establishing a sound foundation for the exploration of your problem. Answer the following questions of fact—who, what, where, when, how, why—about the problem described at the beginning of the chapter in Introduction to Solving Problems.

1. Who are the people involved in this situation?

Who will benefit from solving this problem?

Who can help me solve this problem?

2. What are the various parts or dimensions of the problem?

What are my strengths and resources for solving this problem?

What additional information do I need to solve this problem?

3. Where can I find people or additional information to help me solve the problem?

4. When did the problem begin?

When should the problem be resolved?

5. How did the problem develop or come into being?

6. Why is solving this problem important to me?

Why is this problem difficult to solve?

7. Additional questions:

Step 1B: What Results Am I Aiming for in This Situation?
The second part of answering the question “What is the problem?” consists of identifying the specific results or goals you are trying to achieve, encouraging you to look ahead to the future. The results are those goals whose achievement will eliminate the problem. In this respect, it is similar to the process of establishing and working toward your goals that you examined in Chapter 1. To identify your results, ask yourself, “What are the objectives that, once achieved, will solve this problem?” For instance, one of the results or objectives in the sample problem is having enough money to pay for college. Describe additional results you might be trying to achieve in this situation.

Step 1C: How Can I Define the Problem?
Conclude step 1 by defining the problem as clearly and specifically as possible. Defining the problem is a crucial task in the entire problem-solving process because this definition determines the direction of the analysis. To define the problem, you need to identify its central issue(s). Sometimes defining the problem is relatively straightforward, such as “Trying to find enough time to exercise.” Often, however, identifying the central issue of a problem is a complex process. In fact, you may only begin to develop a clear idea of the problem as you engage in the process of trying to solve it. For example, you might begin by believing that your problem is, say, not having the ability to succeed, and end by concluding that the problem is really a fear of success.

Although no simple formulas exist for defining challenging problems, you can pursue several strategies in order to identify the central issue most effectively:

1. View the problem from different perspectives. As you saw in Chapter 2, taking a perspective is a key ingredient of thinking critically, and it can help you zero in on many problems as well. In the college finances problem, how would you describe the following perspectives?

· Your perspective:

· The college’s perspective:

· Your parents’ perspective:

2. Identify component problems. Larger problems are often composed of component problems. To define the larger problem, it is often necessary to identify and describe the subproblems that comprise it. For example, poor performance at school might be the result of a number of factors, such as ineffective study habits, inefficient time management, and preoccupation with a personal problem. Defining, and dealing effectively with, the larger problem means defining and dealing with the subproblems first. Identify possible subproblems in the sample problem:

· Subproblem a:

· Subproblem b:

3. State the problem clearly and specifically. A third defining strategy is to state the problem as clearly and specifically as possible, based on an examination of the results that need to be achieved in order to solve the problem. If you state the problem in very general terms, you won’t have a clear idea of how best to proceed in dealing with it. But if you can describe your problem in more specific terms, then your description will begin to suggest actions you can take to solve the problem. Examine the differences between the statements of the following problem:


“My problem is money.”

More specific:

“My problem is budgeting my money so that I won’t always run out near the end of the month.”

Most specific:

“My problem is developing the habit and the discipline to budget my money so that I won’t always run out near the end of the month.”

Review your analysis of the sample problem and then define the problem as clearly and specifically as possible.

3-3cStep 2: What Are the Alternatives?
Once you have identified your problem clearly and specifically, your next move is to examine the possible actions that might help you solve the problem. Before you list the alternatives, determine first which actions are possible and which are impossible. You can do this by exploring the boundaries of the problem situation.

Step 2A: What Are the Boundaries of the Problem Situation?
Boundaries are the limits in the problem situation that you cannot change. They are part of the problem, and they must be accepted and dealt with. At the same time, you must be careful not to identify as boundaries circumstances that can actually be changed. For instance, in the sample problem, you might assume that your problem must be solved in your current location without realizing that relocating to another, less expensive college is one of your options. Identify additional boundaries that might be part of the sample situation and some of the questions you would want to answer regarding these boundaries.

Step 2B: What Alternatives Are Possible Within These Boundaries?
After you have established a general idea of the boundaries of the problem situation, identify the courses of action possible within these boundaries. Of course, identifying all the possible alternatives is not always easy; in fact, it may be part of your problem. Often we do not see a way out of a problem because our thinking is fixed in certain perspectives. This is an opportunity for you to make use of your creative thinking abilities. When people approach problems, they generally focus on the two or three obvious possibilities and then keep churning these around. Instead, a much more productive approach is to try to come up with ten, fifteen, or twenty alternatives, encouraging yourself to go beyond the obvious. In truth, the most inventive and insightful alternative is much more likely to be alternative number 17 or number 26 than it is number 2 or number 4. You can use several strategies to help you break out of conventional patterns of thought and encourage you to generate a full range of innovative possibilities:

1. Discuss the problem with other people. Discussing possible alternatives with others uses a number of the aspects of critical thinking you explored in Chapter 2, such as being open to seeing situations from different viewpoints and discussing your ideas with others in an organized way. As critical thinkers, we live—and solve problems—in a community. Other people can often suggest possible alternatives that we haven’t thought of, in part because they are outside the situation and thus have a more objective perspective, and in part because they view the world differently than we do, based on their past experiences and their personalities. In addition, discussions are often creative experiences that generate ideas. The dynamics of these interactions often lead to ideas and solutions that are greater than the individual “sum” of those involved.

2. Brainstorm ideas. Brainstorming builds on the strengths of working with other people to generate ideas and solve problems. In a typical brainstorming session, a group of people work together to generate as many ideas as possible in a specific period of time. Ideas are not judged or evaluated because this tends to inhibit the free flow of ideas and discourages people from making suggestions. Evaluation is deferred until a later stage. A useful visual adjunct to brainstorming is creating mind maps, a process described in Chapter 7, “Forming and Applying Concepts.”

3. Change your location. Your perspective of a problem is often tied to its location. Sometimes you need a fresh perspective; getting away from the location of the problem situation lets you view it with more clarity.

Using these strategies, identify alternatives to help solve the sample problem.

Thinking Critically About Visuals

“Necessity Is the Mother of Invention”
This photo is of a windmill designed and built by William Kamkwamba in 2003 in Masitala, a village in Malawi, Africa, for the purpose of generating power for his parents’ home. At the time, Kamkwamba was just a teenager, and he researched and taught himself how to build the windmill all on his own using local scrap materials that he could find. This vividly illustrates the point that creative problem solving is both innovative and useful in a practical way, and that it often makes use of available materials—whatever they are—thus underscoring the wisdom of the statement “Necessity is the mother of invention.” What other examples of creative innovation have you run into in the course of everyday life?

3-3dStep 3: What Are the Advantages and/or Disadvantages of Each Alternative?
Once you have identified the various alternatives, your next step is to evaluate them using the evaluation questions described in Chapter 2. Each possible course of action has certain advantages, in the sense that if you select that alternative, some positive results will occur. At the same time, each of the possible courses of action likely has disadvantages, because selecting that alternative may involve a cost or a risk of negative results. Examine the potential advantages and/or disadvantages in order to determine how helpful each course of action would be.

Thinking Critically About Visuals

“I Have a Creative Idea!”
Most problems have more than one possible solution, and to discover the most creative ideas, we need to go beyond the obvious. Imagine that you are faced with the challenge of designing an enclosure that would protect an egg from breaking when dropped from a three-story building; then describe your own creative solution for this challenge. Where did your creative idea come from? How does it compare with the solutions of other students in your class?

AP Images/The Murray Ledger & Times, Greg Travis

Step 3A: What Are the Advantages of Each Alternative?
One alternative you may have listed in step 2 for the sample problem might include the following advantages:



Attend college part-time

This would remove some of the immediate time and money pressures I am experiencing while still allowing me to prepare for the future. I would have more time to focus on the courses that I am taking and to work additional hours.

Identify the advantages of each of the alternatives that you listed in step 2. Be sure that your responses are thoughtful and specific.

Step 3B: What Are the Disadvantages of Each Alternative?
You also need to consider the disadvantages of each alternative. The alternative you listed for the sample problem might include the following disadvantages:



Attend college part-time

It would take me much longer to complete my schooling, thus delaying my progress toward my goals. Also, I might lose motivation and drop out before completing school because the process would be taking so long. Being a part-time student might even threaten my eligibility for financial aid.

Now identify the disadvantages of each of the alternatives that you listed. Be sure that your responses are thoughtful and specific.

Step 3C: What Additional Information Do I Need to Evaluate Each Alternative?
Determine what you must know (information needed) to evaluate and compare the alternatives. In addition, you need to figure out the best places to get this information (sources).

To identify the information you need, ask yourself the question, “What if I select this alternative?” For instance, one alternative in the sample problem was “Attend college part-time.” When you ask yourself the question, “What if I attend college part-time?” you are trying to predict what will occur if you select this course of action. To make these predictions, you must find the information necessary to answer certain questions:

· How long will it take me to complete my schooling?

· How long can I continue in school without losing interest and dropping out?

· Will I threaten my eligibility for financial aid if I become a part-time student?

Possible sources for this information include the following: myself, other part-time students, school counselors, the financial aid office.

Identify the information needed and the sources of this information for each of the alternatives that you identified. Be sure that your responses are thoughtful and specific.

3-3eStep 4: What Is the Solution?
The purpose of steps 1, 2, 3 is to analyze your problem in a systematic and detailed fashion—to work through the problem in order to become thoroughly familiar with it and the possible solutions to it. Once the problem is broken down in this way, the final step should be to try to put the pieces back together—that is, to decide on a thoughtful course of action based on your increased understanding. Even though this sort of problem analysis does not guarantee finding a specific solution to the problem, it should deepen your understanding of exactly what the problem is about. And in locating and evaluating your alternatives, it should give you some very good ideas about the general direction you should move in and the immediate steps you should take.

Step 4A: Which Alternative(s) Will I Pursue?
No simple formula or recipe can tell you which alternatives to select. As you work through the different courses of action that are possible, you may find that you can immediately rule some out. For example, in the sample problem, you may know with certainty that you do not want to attend college part-time (alternative 1) because you will forfeit your remaining financial aid. However, it may not be so simple to select which of the other alternatives you wish to pursue. How do you decide?

The decisions we make usually depend on what we believe to be most important to us. These beliefs known as values. Our values are the starting points of our actions and strongly influence our decisions. They help us set priorities in life. We might decide that, for the present, going to school is more important than having an active social life. In this case, going to school is a higher priority than having an active social life. Unfortunately, our values are not always consistent with each other—we may have to choose either to go to school or to have an active social life. Both activities may be important to us; they are simply not compatible with each other. Very often the conflicts between our values constitute the problem. Let’s examine some strategies for selecting alternatives that might help us solve the problem.

1. Evaluate and compare alternatives. Although each alternative may have certain advantages and disadvantages, not all advantages are equally desirable or potentially effective. Thus it makes sense to evaluate and rank the various alternatives based on how effective they are likely to be and how they match up with your value system. A good place to begin is the “Results” stage, step 1B. Examine each of the alternatives and evaluate how well it will contribute to achieving the results you are aiming for. Rank the alternatives or develop your own rating system to assess their relative effectiveness.

After evaluating the alternatives in terms of their anticipated effectiveness, the next step is to evaluate them in terms of their desirability, based on your needs, interests, and value system. After completing these two separate evaluations, select the alternative(s) that seem most appropriate. Review the alternatives you identified in the sample problem and then rank or rate them according to their potential effectiveness and desirability.

2. Combine alternatives. After reviewing and evaluating the alternatives, you may develop a new alternative that combines the best qualities of several options while avoiding their disadvantages. In the sample problem, you might combine attending college part-time during the academic year with attending school during the summer session so that progress toward your degree won’t be impeded. Examine the alternatives you identified and develop a new option that combines their best elements.

3. Try out each alternative in your imagination. Focus on each alternative and try to imagine, as concretely as possible, what it would be like if you actually selected it. Visualize what impact your choice would have on your problem and what the implications would be for your life as a whole. By trying out the alternative in your imagination, you can sometimes avoid unpleasant results or unexpected consequences. As a variation of this strategy, you can sometimes test alternatives on a very limited basis in a practice situation. For example, if you are trying to overcome your fear of speaking in groups, you can practice various speaking techniques with your friends or family until you find an approach you are comfortable with.

After trying out these strategies on the sample problem, select the alternative(s) you think would be most effective and desirable.

Thinking Critically About Visuals

“Why Didn’t I Think of That?”
Many creative ideas—like Post-it Notes—seem obvious after they have been invented. The essence of creativity is thinking of innovative ideas before others do. Recall a time in your life when you were able to use your thinking abilities to come up with a creative solution to a problem, and share your creative solution with your classmates. Where do you think your creative idea came from?

Big Cheese Photo/Jupiter Images

Step 4B: What Steps Can I Take to Act on the Alternative(s) Chosen?
Once you have decided on the correct alternative(s) to pursue, your next move is to take action by planning specific steps. In the sample problem, for example, imagine that one of the alternatives you have selected is “Find additional sources of income that will enable me to work part time and go to school full time.” The specific steps you could take might include the following:

1. Contact the financial aid office at the school to see what other forms of financial aid are available and what you have to do to apply for them.

2. Contact some of the local banks to see what sorts of student loans are available.

3. Look for a higher-paying job so that you can earn more money without working additional hours.

4. Discuss the problem with students in similar circumstances in order to generate new ideas.

Identify the steps you would have to take in pursuing the alternative(s) you identified in Step 4: What Is the Solution.

Once you know what actions you have to take, you need to commit yourself to taking the necessary steps. This is where many people stumble in the problem-solving process, paralyzed by inertia or fear. Sometimes, to overcome these blocks and inhibitions, you need to reexamine your original acceptance of the problem, perhaps making use of some of the strategies you explored in Accepting the Problem. Once you get started, the rewards of actively attacking your problem are often enough incentive to keep you focused and motivated.

3-3fStep 5: How Well Is the Solution Working?
Any analysis of a problem situation, no matter how careful and systematic, is ultimately limited. You simply cannot anticipate or predict everything that is going to happen in the future. As a result, every decision you make is provisional, in the sense that your ongoing experience will inform you whether your decisions are working out or whether they need to be changed and modified. As you saw in Chapter 2, this is precisely the attitude of the critical thinker—someone who is receptive to new ideas and experiences and flexible enough to change or modify beliefs based on new information. Critical thinking is not a compulsion to find the “right” answer or make the “correct” decision; it is an ongoing process of exploration and discovery.

Step 5A: What Is My Evaluation?
In many cases, the relative effectiveness of your efforts will be apparent. In other cases it will be helpful to pursue a more systematic evaluation.

1. Compare the results with the goals. Compare the anticipated results of the alternative(s) you selected. To what extent will your choice(s) meet your goals? Are there goals that are not likely to be met by your alternative(s)? Which ones? Could they be addressed by other alternatives? Asking these and other questions will help you clarify the success of your efforts and provide a foundation for future decisions.

2. Get other perspectives. As you have seen throughout the problem-solving process, getting the opinions of others is a productive strategy at almost every stage, and this is certainly true for evaluation. It is not always easy to receive the evaluations of others, but maintaining open-mindedness toward outside opinions will stimulate and guide you to produce your best efforts.

To receive specific, practical feedback from others, ask specific, practical questions that will elicit this information. General questions (“What do you think of this?”) typically result in overly general, unhelpful responses (“It sounds okay to me”). Be focused in soliciting feedback, and remember: You do have the right to ask people to be constructive in their comments, providing suggestions for improvement rather than flatly expressing what they think is wrong.

Step 5B: What Adjustments Are Necessary?
As a result of your review, you may discover that the alternative you selected is not feasible or is not leading to satisfactory results. At other times, you may find that the alternative you selected is working out fairly well but still requires some adjustments as you continue to work toward your desired outcomes. In fact, this is a typical situation. Even when things initially seem to be working reasonably well, an active thinker continues to ask questions such as “What might I have overlooked?” and “How could I have done this differently?” Of course, asking—and trying to answer—questions like these is even more essential if solutions are hard to come by (as they usually are in real-world problems) and if you are to retain the flexibility and optimism you will need to tackle a new option.

Thinking Activity 3.2

Analyzing an Unsolved Problem
Select a problem from your own life. It should be one that you are currently grappling with and have not yet been able to solve. After selecting the problem you want to work on, strengthen your acceptance of the problem by using one or more of the strategies explained in Accepting the Problem and describing your efforts. Then analyze your problem using the problem-solving method described in this chapter. Discuss your problem with other class members to generate fresh perspectives and unusual alternatives that might not have occurred to you. Write your analysis in outline style, giving specific responses to the questions in each step of the problem-solving method. Although you might not reach a “guaranteed” solution to your problem, you should deepen your understanding of it and develop a concrete plan of action that will help you move in the right direction. Implement your plan of action and then monitor the results.

Thinking Activity 3.3

Analyzing College Problems
Analyze the following problems using the problem-solving approach presented in this chapter.

Problem 1: Declaring a Major
The most important unsolved problem that exists for me is my inability to make that crucial decision of what to major in. I want to be secure with respect to both money and happiness when I make a career for myself, and I don’t want to make a mistake in choosing a field of study. I want to make this decision before beginning the next semester so that I can start immediately in my career. I’ve been thinking about managerial studies. However, I often wonder whether I have the capacity to make executive decisions when I can’t even decide on what I want to do with my life.

Problem 2: Taking Tests
One of my problems is my difficulty in taking tests. It’s not that I don’t study. But when I get the test, I become nervous and my mind goes blank. For example, in my art history class, the teacher told the class a week in advance about an upcoming test. That afternoon I went home and began studying. By the day of the test, I thought I knew all of the material, but when the teacher began the test by showing slides of art pieces we were to identify, I became nervous and my mind went blank. I ended up failing it.

Problem 3: Learning English
One of the serious problems in my life is learning English as a second language. It is not so easy to learn a second language, especially when you live in an environment where only your native language is spoken. When I came to this country three years ago, I could speak almost no English. I have learned a lot, but my lack of fluency is getting in the way of my studies and my ability to do as well as I am capable of doing.

3-4Solving Nonpersonal Problems
The problems we have analyzed up to this point have been “personal” problems in the sense that they represent individual challenges we encounter as we live our lives. We also face problems as members of a community, a society, and the world. As with personal problems, we need to approach these kinds of problems in an organized and thoughtful way in order to explore the issues, develop a clear understanding, and decide on an informed plan of action.

Making sense of a complex, challenging situation is not a simple process. Although the problem-solving method we have been using in this chapter is a powerful approach, its successful application depends on having sufficient information about the situation we are trying to solve. As a result, it is often necessary to research articles and other sources of information in order to develop informed opinions.

The famous newspaper journalist H. L. Mencken once said, “To every complex question there is a simple answer—and it’s clever, neat, and wrong!” Complex problems do not admit simple solutions, whether they concern personal problems in our lives or larger social problems like racial prejudice or world hunger. However, we should have the confidence that by working through these complex problems thoughtfully and systematically, we can achieve a deeper understanding of their many interacting elements and develop strategies for solving them.

Becoming an effective problem solver does not merely involve applying a problem-solving method in a mechanical fashion any more than becoming a mature critical thinker involves mastering a set of thinking skills. Rather, solving problems, like thinking critically, reflects a total approach to making sense of experience. When we think like problem solvers, we have the courage to meet difficult problems head-on and the determination to work through them. Instead of acting impulsively or relying exclusively on the advice of others, we are able to make sense of complex problems in an organized way and develop practical solutions and initiatives.

A sophisticated problem solver uses all of the critical-thinking abilities that we have examined so far and those we will explore in the chapters ahead. And while we might agree with H. L. Mencken’s evaluation of simple answers to complex questions, we might endorse a rephrased version: “To many complex questions there are complex answers—and these are worth pursuing!”

Thinking Activity 3.4

Analyzing Social Problems
Identify an important local, national, or international problem that needs to be solved. Locate two or more articles that provide background information and analysis of the problem. Using these articles as a resource, analyze the problem using the problem-solving method developed in this chapter.

Thinking Critically About Visuals

Advertising to Change Behavior
These ads are part of a campaign to eradicate the increasingly serious problem of people texting while they drive, a practice that often leads to accidents and sometimes fatalities. What is your reaction to each of these ads? Do you think they would be effective in discouraging people to text while driving? The first ad makes the arresting claim that texting is equivalent to murder and is accompanied by a graphic photo. Do you agree with this claim? Why or why not? What is the flaw in people’s thinking that enables them to engage in dangerous or self-destructive behaviors while ignoring the potential consequences of these actions?

Ian Shewan/Alamy Stock Photo

Examine the second ad carefully. In what ways is the approach it takes different than that of the first ad? Do you find it to be more or less effective? Why? The approach of this ad is to replicate the often random and unfocused thinking process that often precedes an accident. Do you think this is an accurate portrayal of what actually takes place in people’s minds when they are texting and driving?

We can analyze texting and driving as a problem to be solved. Go back to the five steps (Introduction to Solving Problems) for thinking effectively about a problem. At which step would ads like these be helpful, and why? Conversely, would these ads perhaps not be effective in solving this problem? Why not? Imagine that you are a member of an advertising company hired to create an ad to attack this problem. What kind of ad would you create? Why? If time permits, your teacher may give you and your classmates an opportunity to work in small groups to actually create such an ad.

Bausmith KRT/Newscom

Thinking Critically About New Media

Surfing Dangers and Addictions
Using the power and opportunities afforded by new media is intoxicating—but it is also potentially problematic. In the last chapter we explored the difficulties we can encounter when dealing with others on the Internet. But you may encounter threats and challenges just by virtue of spending a lot of time online. These threats and challenges can be dealt with effectively if we take an informed, problem-solving approach, but we first have to be aware of what the dangers are.

To begin with, using the various aspects of new media can be addictive in the same way that watching television can be addictive. For example, have you ever found yourself “hypnotized” by the television, watching shows that you’re not even that interested in? A variety of visual and psychological reasons explain why it’s so difficult to stop watching television, many of which apply to all forms of screen time. Unlike real life, where we take in a tiny part of the visual panorama around us with the fovea (the sharp-focusing part of the eye), when we watch television we take in the entire frame of the image with our sharp foveal vision, making the experience more visually fascinating. Moreover, the images on the screen are dynamic and almost always moving, creating an attention-grabbing bond that is difficult to tear ourselves away from. This continual eye movement as we watch activity on screens also causes the eye to defocus slightly, a physiological activity that typically accompanies various fantasy, daydreaming, and drug-induced states. As Marie Winn, in her seminal work The Plug-In Drug, observes: “This may very well be a reason for the trancelike nature of so many viewers’ television experience, and may help to explain why the television image has so strong and hypnotic a fascination.”

These same factors are at work whether the screen we are watching is a television screen or a smartphone screen. The American Psychological Association has even suggested a new term to help diagnose smartphone addiction: nomophobia. The difference between older television addiction and newer forms of nomophobia is that new media like smartphones are interactive: We can roam around the Internet at will, follow an infinite succession of hyperlinks and websites, and communicate with as many people as we wish to, all without breaking from our daily movements, jobs, and commutes. It’s no wonder that once we start our fingertips moving on our electronic devices, it’s very difficult to get those fingers to stop. Although a certain amount of the time we spend engaged with new media is productive, much of it is not particularly useful, and it prevents us from engaging in other activities that would be more enriching and productive.

As with any addiction, seeking a solution involves recognizing that there is a problem and then using a problem-solving methodology like the one introduced in this chapter. Certainly a good place to begin is by strictly scheduling and limiting the time we spend online or engaged with our devices. Apps such as Forest, which shows plants growing and flourishing on the smartphone’s lock screen as long as the device remains unused, and Moment, which sets daily limits on smartphone usage and “forces” users off by flooding their screens with alerts, are two helpful possibilities to try. Limiting time online and engaged with electronic devices is particularly important when it comes to email and text messaging. And if we’re engaged in a real-world activity, it’s useful to discipline ourselves by checking for messages every hour or so rather than reading and responding to them as they come in. Research has shown that leaving and then returning to the activity in which you were engaged is a tremendous time-waster.

A more subtle threat to our well-being is described in the article in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in which the author, Nicholas Carr, explores whether our immersion in new media is restructuring the way we think and process information, making it more difficult to concentrate on activities like reading for a lengthy period of time, spending time in quiet contemplation of important issues, or thinking in deep and complex ways. As Carr, a writer, explains: “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

3-4aThinking Passage: The Influence of New Media
In the following provocative article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” the writer Nicholas Carr wonders whether the culture’s pervasive use of Web-based new media is restructuring the way we think, making it more difficult for us to concentrate, contemplate, and read lengthy, complex books and articles. Carr’s concern is that using the Web encourages us to jump quickly from link to link, spending little time at any one particular place to think deeply and analytically about the ideas we are considering. Is this a problem about which we ought to be concerned? After carefully reading and thinking about the article, answer the questions that follow.

Is Google Making Us Stupid?
by Nicholas Carr

“Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?” So the supercomputer HAL pleads with the implacable astronaut Dave Bowman in a famous and weirdly poignant scene toward the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep-space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial “brain.” “Dave, my mind is going,” HAL says, forlornly. “I can feel it. I can feel it.”

I can feel it, too. Over the past few years, I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets[,] reading and writing emails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link. (Unlike footnotes, to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they propel you toward them.)

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e., I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”

. . .

Anecdotes alone don’t prove much. And we still await the long-term neurological and psychological experiments that will provide a definitive picture of how Internet use affects cognition. But a recently published study of online research habits, conducted by scholars from University College London, suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. . . . They found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site. Sometimes they’d save a long article, but there’s no evidence that they ever went back and actually read it. The authors of the study report:

It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.

Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self. “We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.

Reading, explains Wolf, is not an instinctive skill for human beings. It’s not etched into our genes the way speech is. We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains. Experiments demonstrate that readers of ideograms, such as the Chinese, develop a mental circuitry for reading that is very different from the circuitry found in those of us whose written language employs an alphabet. The variations extend across many regions of the brain, including those that govern such essential cognitive functions as memory and the interpretation of visual and auditory stimuli. We can expect as well that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other printed works.

Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter—a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise. His vision was failing, and keeping his eyes focused on a page had become exhausting and painful, often bringing on crushing headaches. He had been forced to curtail his writing, and he feared that he would soon have to give it up. The typewriter rescued him, at least for a time. Once he had mastered touch-typing, he was able to write with his eyes closed, using only the tips of his fingers. Words could once again flow from his mind to the page.

But the machine had a subtle effect on his work. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. “Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper.”

“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler, Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.”

The human brain is almost infinitely malleable. People used to think that our mental meshwork, the dense connections formed among the 100 billion or so neurons inside our skulls, was largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. But brain researchers have discovered that that’s not the case. James Olds, a professor of neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, says that even the adult mind “is very plastic.” Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. “The brain,” according to Olds, “has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.”

As we use what the sociologist Daniel Bell has called our “intellectual technologies”—the tools that extend our mental rather than our physical capacities—we inevitably begin to take on the qualities of those technologies. The mechanical clock, which came into common use in the 14th century, provides a compelling example. In Technics and Civilization, the historian and cultural critic Lewis Mumford described how the clock “disassociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences.” The “abstract framework of divided time” became “the point of reference for both action and thought.”

The clock’s methodical ticking helped bring into being the scientific mind and the scientific man. But it also took something away. As the late MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum observed in his 1976 book, Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation, the conception of the world that emerged from the widespread use of timekeeping instruments “remains an impoverished version of the older one, for it rests on a rejection of those direct experiences that formed the basis for, and indeed constituted, the old reality.” In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock.

The process of adapting to new intellectual technologies is reflected in the changing metaphors we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. When the mechanical clock arrived, people began thinking of their brains as operating “like clockwork.” Today, in the age of software, we have come to think of them as operating “like computers.” But the changes, neuroscience tells us, go much deeper than metaphor. Thanks to our brain’s plasticity, the adaptation occurs also at a biological level.

The Internet promises to have particularly far-reaching effects on cognition. In a paper published in 1936, the British mathematician Alan Turing proved that a digital computer, which at the time existed only as a theoretical machine, could be programmed to perform the function of any other information-processing device. And that’s what we’re seeing today. The Internet, an immeasurably powerful computing system, is subsuming most of our other intellectual technologies. It’s becoming our map and our clock, our printing press and our typewriter, our calculator and our telephone, and our radio and TV.

When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed. A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration.

The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen. . . . As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets. When, in March of this year, The New York Times decided to devote the second and third pages of every edition to article abstracts, its design director, Tom Bodkin, explained that the “shortcuts” would give harried readers a quick “taste” of the day’s news, sparing them the “less efficient” method of actually turning the pages and reading the articles. Old media have little choice but to play by the new-media rules.

Never has a communications system played so many roles in our lives—or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts—as the Internet does today. Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us. The Net’s intellectual ethic remains obscure.

About the same time that Nietzsche started using his typewriter, an earnest young man named Frederick Winslow Taylor carried a stopwatch into the Midvale Steel plant in Philadelphia and began a historic series of experiments aimed at improving the efficiency of the plant’s machinists.

. . .

Once his system was applied to all acts of manual labor, Taylor assured his followers, it would bring about a restructuring not only of industry but of society, creating a utopia of perfect efficiency. “In the past the man has been first,” he declared; “in the future the system must be first.”

Taylor’s system is still very much with us; it remains the ethic of industrial manufacturing. And now, thanks to the growing power that computer engineers and software coders wield over our intellectual lives, Taylor’s ethic is beginning to govern the realm of the mind as well. The Internet is a machine designed for the efficient and automated collection, transmission, and manipulation of information, and its legions of programmers are intent on finding the “one best method”—the perfect algorithm—to carry out every mental movement of what we’ve come to describe as “knowledge work.”

. . .

Google has declared that its mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It seeks to develop “the perfect search engine,” which it defines as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” In Google’s view, information is a kind of commodity, a utilitarian resource that can be mined and processed with industrial efficiency. The more pieces of information we can “access” and the faster we can extract their gist, the more productive we become as thinkers.

Where does it end? Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the gifted young men who founded Google while pursuing doctoral degrees in computer science at Stanford, speak frequently of their desire to turn their search engine into an artificial intelligence, a HAL-like machine that might be connected directly to our brains. “The ultimate search engine is something as smart as people—or smarter,” Page said in a speech a few years back. “For us, working on search is a way to work on artificial intelligence.” In a 2004 interview with Newsweek, Brin said, “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” Last year, Page told a convention of scientists that Google is “really trying to build artificial intelligence and to do it on a large scale.”

Such an ambition is a natural one, even an admirable one, for a pair of math whizzes with vast quantities of cash at their disposal and a small army of computer scientists in their employ. A fundamentally scientific enterprise, Google is motivated by a desire to use technology, in Eric Schmidt’s words, “to solve problems that have never been solved before,” and artificial intelligence is the hardest problem out there. Why wouldn’t Brin and Page want to be the ones to crack it?

Still, their easy assumption that we’d all “be better off” if our brains were supplemented, or even replaced, by an artificial intelligence is unsettling. It suggests a belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.

The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.

Roz Chast/The New Yorker Collection/

Maybe I’m just a worrywart. Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

The arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press, in the 15th century, set off another round of teeth gnashing. The Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their minds. Others argued that cheaply printed books and broadsheets would undermine religious authority, demean the work of scholars and scribes, and spread sedition and debauchery. As New York University professor Clay Shirky notes, “Most of the arguments made against the printing press were correct, even prescient.” But, again, the doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings that the printed word would deliver.

So, yes, you should be skeptical of my skepticism. Perhaps those who dismiss critics of the Internet as Luddites or nostalgists will be proved correct, and from our hyperactive, data-stoked minds will spring a golden age of intellectual discovery and universal wisdom. Then again, the Net isn’t the alphabet, and although it may replace the printing press, it produces something altogether different. The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.

If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with “content,” we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture. In a recent essay, the playwright Richard Foreman eloquently described what’s at stake:

I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense, and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.”

As we are drained of our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance,” Foreman concluded, we risk turning into “‘pancake people’—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.”

I’m haunted by that scene in 2001. What makes it so poignant, and so weird, is the computer’s emotional response to the disassembly of its mind: its despair as one circuit after another goes dark, its childlike pleading with the astronaut—“I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m afraid”—and its final reversion to what can only be called a state of innocence. HAL’s outpouring of feeling contrasts with the emotionlessness that characterizes the human figures in the film, who go about their business with an almost robotic efficiency. Their thoughts and actions feel scripted, as if they’re following the steps of an algorithm. In the world of 2001, people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.

Chapter 3 Reviewing and Viewing
We can become more effective problem solvers by approaching complex problems in an organized way:

· Have I accepted the problem and committed myself to solving it?

· Step 1: What is the problem?

· Step 2: What are the alternatives?

· Step 3: What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of each alternative?

· Step 4: What is the solution?

· Step 5: How well is the solution working?

This approach to solving problems is effective not only for problems we experience personally but also for problems we face as citizens of a community, a society, and the world.

Chapter 3 Reviewing and Viewing
3-5cSuggested Films
Gandhi (1982)
In the face of unjust laws, how can one protest effectively? Is it possible to achieve justice without the use of force? This film portrays the life of Mahatma Gandhi, who successfully addressed the problem of gaining human rights without violence when he used peaceful means to free India from British colonial rule in the first half of the twentieth century.

Hotel Rwanda (2004)
What happens when a government fails to protect its people? What responsibility do individuals have to involve themselves in issues of social justice, and what is the appropriate way to do so? In this historical film, a single man uses his social position, charisma, and intelligence to save thousands of people from the Rwandan genocide. He displays the far-reaching effects an individual can have when thinking critically to solve complex social problems.

Selma (2014)
What does true equality look like and how can it be achieved? These questions are at the heart of this powerful account of the African American movement—led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—for equal voting rights. The march to Selma documented in this film represented a turning point in American culture and led to President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Is it possible to obtain freedom in spite of economic, social, and physical constraints? Jamal Malik, a teenager growing up in the slums of Mumbai, is one question away from winning India’s equivalent of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? when he is accused of cheating. Jamal recounts his life story to his interrogators in an attempt to prove that he has, in fact, acquired the knowledge necessary to be successful in spite of a challenging background, limited education, and limited resources. The story Jamal tells is one of tremendous hardship in which his ability to innovatively problem solve enables him to not only survive but, ultimately, triumph.

Suffragette (2015)
What must we be willing to risk in order to achieve social justice? This film explores the British women’s movement for the right to vote and the significant challenges these suffragettes faced in their attempts for equality. Through the character of Maud Watts, we experience the passion and urgency of these women and the bonds they formed through their activism.

Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)
Does a country ever have an ethical right and/or responsibility to intercede in the affairs of another country? A British journalist travels to Sarajevo at the beginning of the Bosnian War, where he encounters firsthand the suffering of the people there. He also discovers an orphanage near the front line and attempts to rescue one of the children by taking her back to England with him.

Chapter 4

hapter Introduction

Things aren’t always what they seem! This “Mae West Room” in the Salvador Dali museum illustrates the complex and surprising nature of the process of perceiving and making sense of our world. How do we develop clear and accurate perceptions of the world that are not biased or slanted toward one perspective?

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david pearson/Alamy Stock Photo

Perceiving is the act of actively selecting, organizing, and interpreting sensations: selecting sensations to pay attention to, organizing sensations into a design or pattern, interpreting what this pattern or event means. Experiences shape our perceptions. We view the world through our own unique, lenses, which shape and influence our perceptions. We construct beliefs based on our perceptions. We construct knowledge based on our beliefs. Thinking critically involves understanding how, lenses, influence perceptions, beliefs, and knowledge.

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© 2019 Cengage

Thinking is how you make sense of the world. By thinking in an active, purposeful, and organized way, you are able to solve problems, work toward your goals, analyze issues, and make decisions. Your experience of the world comes to you by means of your senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. These senses are your bridges to the world, making you aware of what occurs outside you; the process of becoming aware of your world through your senses is known as perceiving.

In this chapter, you will explore the way your perceiving process operates, how your perceptions lead to the construction of your beliefs about the world, and how both your perceptions and your beliefs relate to your ability to think effectively. In particular, you will discover the way you shape your personal experience by actively selecting, organizing, and interpreting the sensations provided by the senses. In a way, each of us views the world through a pair of individual “eyeglasses” or “lenses” that reflect our past experiences and unique personalities. As a critical thinker, you want to become aware of the nature of your own lenses to help eliminate any bias or distortion they may be causing. You also want to become aware of the lenses of others so that you can better understand why they view things the way they do.

At almost every waking moment of your life, your senses are being bombarded by a tremendous number of stimuli: images to see, noises to hear, odors to smell, textures to feel, and flavors to taste. The experience of all these sensations at once creates what the nineteenth-century American philosopher William James called “a bloomin’ buzzin’ confusion.” Yet to us, the world usually seems much more orderly and understandable. Why is this so?

In the first place, your sense equipment can receive sensations only within certain limited ranges. For example, animals can detect many sounds and smells that you cannot because their sense organs have broader ranges than yours do.

A second reason you can handle this sensory bombardment is that from the stimulation available, you select only a small amount on which to focus your attention. To demonstrate this, try the following exercise. Concentrate on what you can see, ignoring your other senses for the moment. Focus on sensations that you were not previously aware of and then answer the first question. Concentrate on each of your other senses in turn, following the same procedure.

1. What can you see? (e.g., the shape of the letters on the page, the design of the clothing on your arm)

2. What can you hear? (e.g., the hum of the air conditioner, the rustling of a page)

3. What can you feel? (e.g., the pressure of the clothes against your skin, the texture of the page, the keyboard against your fingers)

4. What can you smell? (e.g., the perfume or cologne someone is wearing, the odor of stale cigarette smoke)

5. What can you taste? (e.g., the aftereffects of your last meal)

Compare your responses with those of the other students in the class. Do your classmates perceive sensations that differ from the ones you perceived? If so, how do you explain these differences?

As you perform this simple exercise, it should become clear that for every sensation you focus your attention on, countless other sensations are simply ignored. If you were aware of everything that is happening at every moment, you would be completely overwhelmed. By selecting certain sensations, you are able to make sense of your world in a relatively orderly way. The activity of using your senses to experience and make sense of your world is known as perceiving .

4-1Actively Selecting, Organizing, and Interpreting Sensations
It is tempting to think that your senses simply record what is happening out in the world, as if you were a human camera or tape recorder. You are not, however, a passive receiver of information, a “container” into which sense experience is poured. Instead, you are an active participant who is always trying to understand the sensations you are encountering. As you perceive your world, your experience is the result of combining the sensations you are having with the way you understand these sensations. For example, examine the following collection of markings. What do you see?

FIG 04.02

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© 2019 Cengage

If all you see is a collection of black spots, try looking at the group sideways. After a while, you will probably perceive a familiar animal.

From this example, you can see that when you perceive the world, you do more than simply record what your senses experience. You are also actively making sense of these sensations. That is why this collection of black spots suddenly became the figure of an animal—you were able to actively organize these spots into a pattern you recognized.

When you actively perceive the sensations you are experiencing, you are engaged in three distinct activities:

1. Selecting certain sensations to pay attention to

2. Organizing these sensations into a design or pattern

3. Interpreting what this design or pattern means to you

In the case of the figure , you were able to perceive an animal because you selected certain of the markings to concentrate on, organized these markings into a pattern, and interpreted this pattern as representing a familiar animal.

Of course, when you perceive, these three operations of selecting, organizing, and interpreting are usually performed quickly, automatically, and often simultaneously. Also, you are normally unaware that you are performing these operations because they are so rapid and automatic. This chapter is designed to help you slow down this normally automatic process of perceiving so that you can understand how the process works.

Let’s explore more examples that illustrate how you actively select, organize, and interpret your perceptions of the world. Carefully examine the following figure.

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Mary Evans Picture Library

Do you see both the young woman and the old woman? If you do, try switching back and forth between the two images. As you switch back and forth, notice how, for each image, you

· Select certain lines, shapes, and shadings on which to focus your attention

· Organize these lines, shapes, and shadings into different patterns

· Interpret these patterns as representing things that you are able to recognize—a hat, a nose, a chin

Another way to become aware of your active participation in perceiving your world is to consider how you see objects. Examine the illustration that follows. Do you perceive different-sized people or the same-sized people at different distances?

The same man seems to get smaller the further he stands.

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© 2019 Cengage

When you see someone who is far away, you usually do not perceive a tiny person. Instead, you perceive a normal-sized person who is far away from you. Your experience in the world has enabled you to discover that the farther the things are from you, the smaller they look. The moon in the night sky appears about the size of a quarter, yet you perceive it as being considerably larger. As you look down a long stretch of railroad tracks or gaze up at a tall building, the boundary lines seem to come together. Even though these images are what your eyes “see,” however, you do not usually perceive the tracks as meeting or the building as coming to a point. Instead, your mind actively organizes and interprets a world comprising constant shapes and sizes, even though the images you actually see usually vary, depending on how far you are from them and the angle from which you are looking at them.

In short, your mind actively participates in the way you perceive the world. By combining the sensations you receive with the way your mind selects, organizes, and interprets these sensations, you perceive a world of things that is stable and familiar, a world that usually makes sense to you.

The process of perceiving takes place at a variety of different levels. At the most basic level, the concept of “perceiving” refers to the selection, organization, and interpretation of sensations—for example, being able to perceive the various objects in your experience, such as a basketball. However, you also perceive larger patterns of meaning at more complex levels, as when you are watching the actions of a group of people engaged in a basketball game. Although these are very different contexts, both engage you in the process of actively selecting, organizing, and interpreting what is experienced by your senses—in other words, “perceiving.”

4-1aPeople’s Perceptions Differ
Your active participation in perceiving your world is something you are not usually aware of. You normally assume that what you are perceiving is what is actually taking place. Only when your perception of an event seems to differ from others’ perceptions of the same event are you forced to examine the manner in which you are selecting, organizing, and interpreting the events in your world.

In most cases, people in a group will have a variety of perceptions about what is taking place in the picture in Thinking Activity 4.1. Some may see the couple having a serious conversation, perhaps relating to the baby behind them. Others may view them as being in the middle of an angry argument. Still others may see them as dealing with some very bad news they have just received. In each case, the perception depends on how the person is actively using his or her mind to organize and interpret what is taking place. Because the situation pictured is by its nature somewhat puzzling, different people perceive it in different ways.





Viewing the World through “Lenses”
To understand how various people can be exposed to the same stimuli or events and yet have different perceptions, it helps to imagine that each of us views the world through our own pair of “lenses.” Of course, we are not usually aware of the lenses we are wearing. Instead, our lenses act as filters that select and shape what we perceive without our realizing it.

Thinking Critically About Visuals

The Investigation
Explain why each witness describes the suspect differently. Have you ever been involved in a situation in which people described an individual or event in contrasting or conflicting ways? What is the artist saying about people’s perceptions?

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John Jonik/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

To understand the way people perceive the world, you have to understand their individual lenses, which influence how they actively select, organize, and interpret the events in their experience. A diagram of the process might look like this:

Persons Ay and person B participate in an event. They select, organize and interpret the information. Person Ay has perception Ay, and person B has perception B of the same event.

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© 2019 Cengage

Consider the following pairs of statements. In each of these cases, both people are being exposed to the same basic stimulus or event, yet each has a totally different perception of the experience. Explain how you think the various perceptions might have developed.


1. That chili was much too spicy to eat.


2. That chili needed more hot peppers and chili powder to spice it up a little.



1. People who wear lots of makeup and jewelry are very sophisticated.


2. People who wear lots of makeup and jewelry are overdressed.



1. The music that young people enjoy listening to is a very creative cultural expression.


2. The music that young people enjoy listening to is obnoxious noise.


To become an effective critical thinker, you have to become aware of the lenses that you—and others—are wearing. These lenses aid you in actively selecting, organizing, and interpreting the sensations in your experience. If you are unaware of the nature of your own lenses, you can often mistake your own perceptions for objective truth without bothering to examine either the facts or others’ perceptions on a given issue.

4-1cWhat Factors Shape Perceptions?
Your perceptions of the world are dramatically influenced by your past experiences: the way you were brought up, the relationships you have had, and your training and education. Every dimension of “who” you are is reflected in your perceiving lenses. It takes critical reflection to become aware of these powerful influences on our perceptions of the world and the beliefs we construct based on them.

Your special interests and areas of expertise also affect how you see the world. Consider the case of two people who are watching a football game. One person, who has very little understanding of football, sees merely a bunch of grown men hitting each other for no apparent reason. The other person, who loves football, sees complex play patterns, daring coaching strategies, effective blocking and tackling techniques, and zone defenses with “seams” that the receivers are trying to “split.” Both have their eyes focused on the same event, but they are perceiving two entirely different situations. Their perceptions differ because each person is actively selecting, organizing, and interpreting the available stimuli in different ways. The same is true of any situation in which you are perceiving something about which you have special knowledge or expertise. The following are examples:

· A builder examining the construction of a new house

· A music lover attending a concert

· A cook tasting a dish just prepared

· A lawyer examining a contract

· An art lover visiting a museum

Think about a special area of interest or expertise that you have and how your perceptions of that area differ from those of people who don’t share your knowledge. Ask other class members about their areas of expertise. Notice how their perceptions of that area differ from your own because of their greater knowledge and experience.

In all these cases, the perceptions of the knowledgeable person differ substantially from the perceptions of the person who lacks knowledge of that area. Of course, you do not have to be an expert to have more fully developed perceptions. It is a matter of degree.

Thinking Activity 4.2

Thinking Critically About My Perceiving Lenses
1. This is an opportunity for you to think about the unique “prescription” of your perceiving lenses. Reflect on the elements in yourself and your personal history that you believe exert the strongest influence on the way that you view the world. These factors will likely include the following categories:

· Demographics (age, gender, race/ethnicity, religion, geographical location)

· Tastes in fashion, music, leisure activities

· Special knowledge, talents, expertise

· Significant experiences in your life, either positive or negative

· Values, goals, aspirations

2. Create a visual representation of the prescription for your perceiving lenses, highlighting the unique factors that have contributed to your distinctive perspective on the world. Then, compare your prescription with those of other students in your class, and discuss the ways in which your lenses result in perceptions and beliefs that are different from those produced by other prescriptions.

Thinking Activity 4.3

Analyzing Different Accounts of the Assassination of Malcolm X
1. Let’s examine a situation in which a number of different people had somewhat different perceptions about an event they were describing—in this case, the assassination of Malcolm X as he was speaking at a meeting in Harlem. The following are five different accounts of what took place that day. As you read through the various accounts, pay particular attention to the different perceptions of this event each one presents. After you finish reading the accounts, analyze some of the differences in these perceptions by answering the questions that follow.

Five Accounts of the Assassination of Malcolm X


The New York Times, February 22, 1965
Malcolm X, the 39-year-old leader of a militant Black Nationalist movement, was shot to death yesterday afternoon at a rally of his followers in a ballroom in Washington Heights. The bearded Negro extremist had said only a few words of greeting when a fusillade rang out. The bullets knocked him over backwards.

A 22-year-old Negro, Thomas Hagan, was charged with the killing. The police rescued him from the ballroom crowd after he had been shot and beaten. Pandemonium broke out among the 400 Negroes in the Audubon Ballroom at 160th Street and Broadway. As men, women and children ducked under tables and flattened themselves on the floor, more shots were fired. The police said seven bullets struck Malcolm. Three other Negroes were shot. Witnesses reported that as many as 30 shots had been fired. About two hours later the police said the shooting had apparently been a result of a feud between followers of Malcolm and members of the extremist group he broke with last year, the Black Muslims.

Life, March 5, 1965
His life oozing out through a half dozen or more gunshot wounds in his chest, Malcolm X, once the shrillest voice of black supremacy, lay dying on the stage of a Manhattan auditorium. Moments before, he had stepped up to the lectern and 400 of the faithful had settled down expectantly to hear the sort of speech for which he was famous—flaying the hated white man. Then a scuffle broke out in the hall and Malcolm’s bodyguards bolted from his side to break it up—only to discover that they had been faked out. At least two men with pistols rose from the audience and pumped bullets into the speaker, while a third cut loose at close range with both barrels of a sawed-off shotgun. In the confusion the pistol man got away. The shotgunner lunged through the crowd and out the door, but not before the guards came to their wits and shot him in the leg. Outside he was swiftly overtaken by other supporters of Malcolm and very likely would have been stomped to death if the police hadn’t saved him. Most shocking of all to the residents of Harlem was the fact that Malcolm had been killed not by “whitey” but by members of his own race.

New York Post, February 22, 1965
They came early to the Audubon Ballroom, perhaps drawn by the expectation that Malcolm X would name the men who firebombed his home last Sunday. . . . I sat at the left in the 12th row and, as we waited, the man next to me spoke of Malcolm and his followers: “Malcolm is our only hope. You can depend on him to tell it like it is and to give Whitey hell.”

. . .

There was a prolonged ovation as Malcolm walked to the rostrum. Malcolm looked up and said, “A salaam aleikum (Peace be unto you),” and the audience replied, “We aleikum salaam (And unto you, peace).”

Bespectacled and dapper in a dark suit, sandy hair glinting in the light, Malcolm said: “Brothers and sisters. . . .” He was interrupted by two men in the center of the ballroom, who rose and, arguing with each other, moved forward. Then there was a scuffle at the back of the room. I heard Malcolm X say his last words: “Now, brothers, break it up,” he said softly. “Be cool, be calm.”

Then all hell broke loose. There was a muffled sound of shots and Malcolm, blood on his face and chest, fell limply back over the chairs behind him. The two men who had approached him ran to the exit on my side of the room, shooting wildly behind them as they ran. I heard people screaming, “Don’t let them kill him.” “Kill those bastards.” At an exit I saw some of Malcolm’s men beating with all their strength on two men. I saw a half dozen of Malcolm’s followers bending over his inert body on the stage. Their clothes were stained with their leader’s blood.

Four policemen took the stretcher and carried Malcolm through the crowd and some of the women came out of their shock and one said: “I hope he doesn’t die, but I don’t think he’s going to make it.”

Associated Press, February 22, 1965
A week after being bombed out of his Queens home, Black Nationalist leader Malcolm X was shot to death shortly after 3 [p.m.] yesterday at a Washington Heights rally of 400 of his devoted followers. Early today, police brass ordered a homicide charge placed against a 22-year-old man they rescued from a savage beating by Malcolm X supporters after the shooting. The suspect, Thomas Hagan, had been shot in the left leg by one of Malcolm’s bodyguards as, police said, Hagan and another assassin fled when pandemonium erupted. Two other men were wounded in the wild burst of firing from at least three weapons. The firearms were a .38, a .45 automatic and a sawed-off shotgun. Hagan allegedly shot Malcolm X with the shotgun, a double-barreled sawed-off weapon on which the stock also had been shortened, possibly to facilitate concealment. Cops charged Reuben Frances, of 871 E. 179th St., Bronx, with felonious assault in the shooting of Hagan, and with Sullivan Law violation—possession of the .45. Police recovered the shotgun and the .45.

Amsterdam News, February 27, 1965
“We interrupt this program to bring you a special newscast . . .,” the announcer said as the Sunday afternoon movie on the TV set was halted temporarily. “Malcolm X was shot four times while addressing a crowd at the Audubon Ballroom on 166th Street.” “Oh no!” That was my first reaction to the shocking event that followed one week after the slender, articulate leader of the Afro-American Unity was routed from his East Elmhurst home by a bomb explosion. Minutes later, we alighted from a cab at the corner of Broadway and 166th St. just a short 15 blocks from where I live on Broadway. About 200 men and women, neatly dressed, were milling around, some with expressions of awe and disbelief. Others were in small clusters talking loudly and with deep emotion in their voices. Mostly they were screaming for vengeance. One woman, small, dressed in a light gray coat and her eyes flaming with indignation, argued with a cop at the St. Nicholas corner of the block. “This is not the end of it. What they were going to do to the Statue of Liberty will be small in comparison. We black people are tired of being shoved around.” Standing across the street near the memorial park one of Malcolm’s close associates commented: “It’s a shame.” Later he added that “if it’s war they want, they’ll get it.” He would not say whether Elijah Muhammad’s followers had anything to do with the assassination. About 3:30 p.m. Malcolm X’s wife, Betty, was escorted by three men and a woman from the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Tears streamed down her face. She was screaming, “They killed him!” Malcolm X had no last words. . . . The bombing and burning of the No. 7 Mosque early Tuesday morning was the first blow by those who are seeking revenge for the cold-blooded murder of a man who at 39 might have grown to the stature of respectable leadership.

Source: (1) From The New York Times, February 22, 1965. © 1965 The New York Times. All rights reserved. Used by permission and protected by the Copyright Laws of the United States. The printing, copying, redistribution, or retransmission of this Content without express written permission is prohibited. (2) “On Death and Transfiguration,” Life magazine, March 5, 1965. Copyright Time Inc. Reprinted/translated by permission. Time is a registered trademark of Time Inc. All rights reserved. (3) Excerpt from the New York Post, February 22, 1965. Reprinted by permission. (4) Associated Press. (5) The Amsterdam News, February 27, 1965. Reprinted by permission of N.Y. Amsterdam News.

Questions for Analysis
1. What details of the events has each writer selected to focus on?

2. How has each writer organized the details that have been selected? Bear in mind that most news organizations present what they consider the most important information first and the least important information last.

3. How does each writer interpret Malcolm X, his followers, the gunmen, and the significance of the assassination?

4. How has each writer used language to express his or her perspective and to influence the thinking of the reader? Which language styles do you find most effective?

Thinking Critically About Visuals

Witnessing a Martyrdom
Have you ever been a witness to an event that other people present described in contrasting or conflicting ways? Why do you think this happens? What are the responsibilities of bearing witness?

4-1dThinking Passage: Experiences Shape Your Perceptions
Your ways of viewing the world are developed over a long period of time through the experiences you have and your thinking about these experiences. As you think critically about your perceptions, you learn more from your experiences and about how you make sense of the world. Your perceptions may be strengthened by this understanding, or they may be changed by it. For example, read the following student passage and consider the way the writer’s experiences—and his reflection on these experiences—contributed to shaping his perspective on the world.

by Luis Feliz

I shuffle through a pile of photos on my desk and draw out one of my father. In this picture, he looks like Tito Rojas—thick mustachio, not one hair out of place, boyish and expectant eyes with wrinkles sprouting from the sides, gentle smile with big, square Chiclet white teeth overwhelming the brown earth of his face. He wears a yellow, black, and red striped turtleneck with long sleeves. The zipper of his black jeans has faded slightly. He is putting all his body weight on his left leg. He doesn’t look much different in this photograph than he does today.

Sun up, he sleeps. Sun down, he works. He is a taxi-driver. He fades into the shadows. He becomes shadowy, no mark left behind, itinerant. The residue that remains is his absence. I recall the award ceremony he didn’t attend because he was sleeping, the Christmas party cut short because he had to work. The fast stream of the highway allows two modes of existence: forward and backward. His foot is always pressed against the gas pedal. The taxi-cab roves. Forward. Reverse. Life rushes forward and recedes simultaneously. It’s not that the driver doesn’t pull to a curb to rest or park the car and get out to stretch or talk with friends. He claws out of the cab with a limp spine, but his mind remains belted in the seat his body occupied. He walks into relationships mentally immobilized. When I see my father, I see a man trapped behind a steering wheel.

Sleep and work triumph over family. When I was 7-years-old, I was reunited with my father after five years of separation. It was difficult to overcome the awkwardness of being separated for so long. So whenever I found him sleeping, I edged into the room and peered down at his toes. He lay wrapped up in blankets as if he were in a sack and his curled toes jutted out through a small tear.

Then, at 6 p.m., when he awoke, we sat down to eat. I never met his gaze at the dinner table. My eyes scoured the words on the magnets on the refrigerator door. I shuffled my feet. My moist hands clutched the toy in my pocket. I wanted to bolt out of there. Instead, I curled my toes into hooks and firmly latched myself to the floor. When the food was brought, I sucked my stomach in. I hated the food, and I would drop the fork to delay eating. The brown beans smelled like rotten eggs. The yellow rice filled with meat looked like gnarled flesh. I pleaded with my eyes. O, Papi por favor. Dinner was the hardest part of living with strange people. I couldn’t venture into their intimacy.

My step-mother approached. I bent down and snuck under the table. I prayed. Overhead, the conversation abruptly ended. My father yelled. I rose. I leaned over the table and looked at my father. He terrified me when he looked me in the eye. Without me realizing it, he had shamed me into eating; he began to tell of the hardships of his yola trip from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico.

In front of me I have a picture of him and Mami dancing at a family party after they got back together. He wears a white shirt with light gray stripes, top button undone, and those pointy white shoes that Mami always gives him hell about. The ring on his right hand gleams as light strikes it’s [sic] fake diamonds. He raises the Corona bottle to his lips before he gets up to dance. His hair is jet black and gelled up. He is well-groomed, unlike me. He wears blue H&M pants.

I recall how after they finish dancing he withdraws into his inner-cellar and the boyish dark almond eyes dim. A man’s eyes hold not only the mountains he has climbed, but also the ditches into which he has fallen. My father’s aspirations sag—the unfinished house in the Dominican Republic, the denied loan for a house here in New York, the incessant calls from bill collectors—his dreams wilt.

I remember his story of leaving for Puerto Rico on a yola again: “The morning before I leave I get a bill from the doctor. I owe 3,000 pesos. My son’s health doesn’t improve. I can’t afford the bills anymore. The night before I depart a gentle breeze scatters some leaves into my room. I bend down and throw them out. I kiss my wife on the forehead. She moves, but doesn’t rise. No one knows that I am leaving. In the center of town, I get into a van and then a man puts me into a boat. I lean over the wooden side of the turquoise blue boat and look up at the sky. I see so many stars. Below the water stirs. The boat sways from side to side. The men to my side are young like me. They are scared too. A woman wrinkles her forehead as the boat pulls away from the shore. She doesn’t want to cry in the company of men. Shortly after, the men fall asleep. Just the woman and me remain awake. The silence of the sea terrifies me. I am alone, and although I don’t know it yet, I will never be the same person, and I will never accept it; today I have scraped off the rust marks of security.”

My father’s words bind us to each other. He drenches me in the music of his voice. The bare language allows me a glimpse of his pain: “We had nothing to eat for weeks and weeks.” I gazed at my father as he retold his hardships, and I loved him. I wanted to reach with outstretched arms and embrace him. An onrush of guilt propelled me forward. I attempted to rise from the chair, yet I slipped back. I guess that is the intent. Immigrant parents propagate the lie that the world is ours for the taking, and sometimes, the children believe it. I am here at Amherst College because I believed that lie. Graduating from high school at nineteen didn’t stop me from pursuing my dreams. Having an accent does not prevent me from shouting my opinions in a crowded room.

I am here at Amherst College because my imperfect father taught me through his struggle to pursue my crooked path. The obstacles he braved for me to sit here and share his story and mine jolt me forward and sustain my hopes in days when I fear that I might tumble down and break a few bones.

I didn’t want to understand my father’s optimism because I saw him as a failure; someone to set up as a foil to a “successful” person. I grasped the lesson from the stories about his hardships. Through the concept of nosostros, we, I started to see my father. Like Richard Rodriguez, I see nosostros as the horizontal and the communal vantage point. My father fell, got up, and shook it off, because it was never about him. He subsumed the individual into the collective. It was always about us, his family. If the bedrock of his dreams was solely his own progress, he would have quit the struggle long ago. Then, a naive child, I overlooked the power of my father’s story, his effort to spin struggle into wisdom, his desire to share his most profound perceptions. I knew that my father had struggled, but it wasn’t until later that I realized that he was the bearer of all his family’s dreams. Once I realized this, I began to plumb the depths of his sorrow. I started to really understand the nature of his pain and struggle. Just as my father’s dreams were fueled by love for us, so too I am fueled by the love I have for the people in my community. I meet a new daybreak with the voices and stories of a multitude. I am because of we.

Source: Reprinted with permission of Luis Feliz.

Thinking Critically About Visuals

The Roots of Violence
If our experiences shape our perceptions, is it possible that our experiences can influence our actions as well? In the wake of increased numbers of mass shootings in the past decade, including the horrific massacre of nine people at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, there have been renewed efforts to understand the roots of gun violence so that we can better limit or even eradicate it from our lives. Although research studies have not yet established a definitive link between violent movies and video games on the one hand, and gun violence on the other. Many people believe that these graphically violent experiences do in fact contribute to creating a culture of violence. Examine carefully these two photographs depicting images from violent video games. Do you find any of the elements disturbing? Do you think that repeated exposure to games like these, particularly in young children, contributes to “numbing” them to violence, or helps make violence more socially acceptable? Or do you believe that these sorts of games provide harmless entertainment that in no way contributes to making people more violent? Do you still hold this opinion when it comes to fully immersive, virtual reality games? Dylann Roof, the Charleston murderer, spent untold hours playing violent video games. Does this fact influence your opinion regarding the potential threat of violent video games? Why or why not? If you were in a position to dictate public policy on video games for children, what policies would you recommend? For example, like movie ratings, do you think the ratings given to video games prevent young children from playing the most graphically violent ones? Why or why not? What experiences and beliefs do you have that led you to this conclusion?

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D. Hurst/Alamy stock photo

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4-2Perceiving and Believing
As should be clear by now, perceiving is an essential part of the thinking process and of your efforts to make sense of the world. However, your perceptions, by themselves, do not provide a reliable foundation for your understanding of the world. Your perceptions are often incomplete, distorted, and inaccurate. They are shaped and influenced by your perceiving “lenses,” which reflect your own individual personality, experiences, biases, assumptions, and perspective. To clarify and validate your perceptions, you must critically examine and evaluate them.

Thinking critically about your perceptions results in the formation of your beliefs and ultimately in the construction of your knowledge about the world. For example, consider the following statements and answer yes, no, or not sure to each.

1. Humans need to eat to stay alive.

2. Smoking marijuana is a harmless good time.

3. Every human life is valuable.

4. Developing your mind is as important as taking care of your body.

5. People should care about other people, not just about themselves.

Your responses to these statements reflect certain beliefs you have, and these beliefs help you explain why the world is the way it is and how you ought to behave. In fact, beliefs are the main tools you use to make sense of the world and guide your actions. The total collection of your beliefs represents your view of the world, your philosophy of life.

What exactly are “beliefs”? Beliefs represent interpretations, evaluations, conclusions, or predictions about the nature of the world. For example, this statement—“I believe that the whale in the book Moby Dick by Herman Melville symbolizes a primal, natural force that men are trying to destroy”—represents an interpretation of that novel. To say, “I believe that watching ‘reality shows’ is unhealthy because they focus almost exclusively on the least attractive qualities of people” is to express an evaluation of reality shows. The statement “I believe that one of the main reasons two out of three people in the world go to bed hungry each night is that industrially advanced nations have not done a satisfactory job of sharing their knowledge” expresses a conclusion about the problem of world hunger. To say, “If drastic environmental measures are not undertaken to slow the global warming trend, I believe that the polar ice caps will melt and the earth will be flooded” is to make a prediction about events that will occur in the future.

In addition to expressing an interpretation, evaluation, conclusion, or prediction about the world, beliefs also express an endorsement of the accuracy of the beliefs by the speaker or author. In the preceding statements, the speakers are not simply expressing interpretations, evaluations, conclusions, and predictions; they are also indicating that they believe these views are true. In other words, the speakers are saying that they have adopted these beliefs as their own because they are convinced that they represent accurate viewpoints based on some sort of evidence. This “endorsement” by the speaker is a necessary dimension of a belief, and we assume it to be the case even if the speaker doesn’t directly say, “I believe.” For example, the statement “Astrological predictions are meaningless because there is no persuasive reason to believe that the position of the stars and planets has any effect on human affairs” expresses a belief, even though it doesn’t specifically include the words “I believe.”

Describe beliefs you have that fall into each of these categories (interpretation, evaluation, conclusion, prediction) and then explain the reason(s) you have for endorsing the beliefs.

1. Interpretation (an explanation or analysis of the meaning or significance of something)

· My interpretation is that . . .

· Supporting reason(s):

2. Evaluation (a judgment of the value or quality of something, based on certain standards)

· My evaluation is that . . .

· Supporting reason(s):

3. Conclusion (a decision made or an opinion formed after consideration of the relevant facts or evidence)

· My conclusion is that . . .

· Supporting reason(s):

4. Prediction (a statement about what will happen in the future)

· My prediction is that . . .

· Supporting reason(s):

-3Believing and Perceiving
The relationship between the activities of believing and perceiving is complex and interactive. On the one hand, your perceptions form the foundation of many of your beliefs about the world. On the other hand, your beliefs about the world shape and influence your perceptions of it. Let’s explore this interactive relationship by examining a variety of beliefs:

1. Interpretations (“Poetry enables humans to communicate deep, complex emotions and ideas that resist simple expression.”)

2. Evaluations (“Children today spend too much time on the Internet and too little time reading books.”)

3. Conclusions (“An effective college education provides not only mastery of information and skills but also evolving insight and maturing judgment.”)

4. Predictions (“With the shrinkage and integration of the global community, in the future Americans will increasingly need to speak a second language.”)

These beliefs, for people who endorse them, are likely to be based in large measure on a variety of perceptual experiences: events that people have seen and heard. The perceptual experiences by themselves, however, do not result in beliefs—they are simply experiences. For them to become beliefs, you must think about your perceptual experiences and then organize them into a belief structure. This thinking process of constructing beliefs is known as cognition, and it forms the basis of your understanding of the world. What perceptual experiences might have led to the construction of the beliefs just described?

EXAMPLE: Many times I have seen that I can best express my feelings toward someone I care deeply about through a poem.

As we noted earlier in this chapter, your perceptual experiences not only contribute to the formation of your beliefs; the beliefs you form also have a powerful influence on the perceptions you select to focus on, how you organize these perceptions, and the manner in which you interpret them. For example, if you come across a poem in a magazine, your perception of the poem is likely to be affected by your beliefs about poetry. These beliefs may influence whether you select the poem as something to read, the manner in which you organize and relate the poem to other aspects of your experience, and your interpretation of the poem’s meaning. This interactive relationship holds true for most beliefs. Assume you endorse the four beliefs previously listed. How might holding these beliefs influence your perceptions?

EXAMPLE: When I find a poem I like, I often spend a lot of time trying to understand how the author has used language and symbols to create and communicate meaning.

The belief systems you have developed in order to understand your world help you correct inaccurate perceptions. When you watch a magician perform seemingly impossible tricks, your beliefs about the way the world operates inform you that what you are seeing is really a misperception, an illusion. In this context, you expect to be tricked, and your question is naturally, “How did he or she do that?” Potential problems arise, however, in those situations in which it is not apparent that your perceptions are providing you with inaccurate information and you use these experiences to form mistaken beliefs. For example, you may view advertisements linking youthful, attractive, fun-loving people with cigarette smoking and form the inaccurate belief that smoking cigarettes is an integral part of being youthful, attractive, and fun loving. As a critical thinker, you have a responsibility to continually monitor and evaluate both aspects of this interactive process—your beliefs and your perceptions—so that you can develop the most informed perspective on the world.



4-4Types of Beliefs: Reports, Inferences, Judgments
All beliefs are not the same. In fact, beliefs differ from one another in many ways, including their accuracy. The belief “The earth is surrounded by stars and planets” is considerably more certain than the belief “The positions of the stars and planets determine our personalities and destinies.”

Beliefs differ in other respects besides accuracy. Review the following beliefs, and then describe some of their differences.

1. I believe that I have hair on my head.

2. I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow.

3. I believe that there is some form of life after death.

4. I believe that dancing is more fun than jogging and that jogging is preferable to going to the dentist.

5. I believe that you should always act toward others in ways that you would like to have them act toward you.

In this section you will be thinking critically about three basic types of beliefs you use to make sense of the world:

· Reports

· Inferences

· Judgments

These beliefs are expressed in both your thinking and your use of language, as illustrated in the following sentences:

1. My bus was late today.

Type of belief: reporting

2. My bus will probably be late tomorrow.

Type of belief: inferring

3. The bus system is unreliable.

Type of belief: judging

Now try the activity with a different set of statements.

1. Each modern atomic warhead has more than 100 times the explosive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Type of belief:

2. With all of the billions of planets in the universe, the odds are that other forms of life exist in the cosmos.

Type of belief:

3. In the long run, the energy needs of the world will best be met by solar energy technology rather than nuclear energy or fossil fuels.

Type of belief:

As you examine these statements, you can see that they provide you with different types of information about the world. The first statement in each list reports aspects of the world that you can verify—that is, check for accuracy. By doing the appropriate sort of investigating, you can determine whether the bus was actually late today and whether modern atomic warheads really have the power attributed to them. When you describe the world in ways that can be verified through investigation, you are said to be reporting factual information about the world.

Looking at the second statement in each list, you can see immediately that each provides a different sort of information from the first one. These statements cannot be verified. There is no way to investigate and determine with certainty whether the bus will indeed be late tomorrow or whether there is in fact life on other planets. Although these conclusions may be based on factual information, they go beyond factual information to make statements about what is not currently known. When you describe the world in ways that are based on factual information yet go beyond this information to make statements regarding what is not currently known, you are said to be inferring conclusions about the world.

Finally, as you examine the third statement in both lists, these statements are clearly different from both factual reports and inferences. They describe the world in ways that express the speaker’s evaluation—of the bus service and of energy sources. These evaluations are based on certain standards (criteria) that the speaker is using to judge the bus service as unreliable and solar energy as more promising than nuclear energy or fossil fuels. When you describe the world in ways that express your evaluation based on certain criteria, you are said to be judging .

You continually use these various ways of describing and organizing your world—reporting, inferring, judging—to make sense of your experience. In most cases, you are not aware that you are actually performing these activities, nor are you usually aware of the differences among them. Yet these three activities work together to help you see the world as a complete picture.

4-5Reporting Factual Information
The statements that result from the activity of reporting express the most accurate beliefs you have about the world. Factual beliefs have earned this distinction because they are verifiable, usually with one or more of your senses. For example, consider the following factual statement:

· That young woman is wearing a brown hat in the rain.

This statement about an event in the world is considered to be factual because it can be verified by your immediate sensory experience—what you can (in principle or in theory) see, hear, touch, feel, or smell. It is important to say in principle or in theory because you often do not use all of your relevant senses to check out what you are experiencing. Look again at your example of a factual statement: You would normally be satisfied by seeing this event, without insisting on touching the hat or giving the person a physical examination. If necessary, however, you could perform these additional actions—in principle or in theory.

You use the same reasoning when you believe factual statements from other people that you are not in a position to check out immediately. For instance:

· The Great Wall of China is more than 1,500 miles long.

· Large mountains and craters exist on the moon.

· Your skin is covered with germs.

You consider these to be factual statements because, even though you cannot verify them with your senses at the moment, you could in principle or in theory verify them with your senses if you were flown to China, if you were rocketed to the moon, or if you were to examine your skin with a powerful microscope. The process of verifying factual statements involves identifying the sources of information on which they are based and evaluating the reliability of these sources, topics that we will be examining in the next chapter, “Constructing Knowledge.”

You communicate factual information to others by means of reports. A report is a description of something experienced that is communicated in as accurate and complete a way as possible. Through reports you can share your sensory experiences with other people, and they can share their experiences with you. This mutual sharing enables you to learn much more about the world than if you were confined to knowing only what you experience. The recording (making records) of factual reports also makes possible the accumulation of knowledge learned by previous generations.

Because factual reports play such an important role in our exchange and accumulation of information about the world, it is important that they be as accurate and complete as possible. This brings us to a problem. We have already seen in previous chapters that our perceptions and observations are often not accurate or complete. This means that what we think are true, factual reports are actually often inaccurate or incomplete. For instance, consider our earlier “factual statement”:

· That young woman is wearing a brown hat in the rain.

Here are some questions you could ask concerning the accuracy of the statement:

· Is the woman really young, or does she merely look young?

· Is the woman really a woman, or a man disguised as a woman?

· Is that really a hat the woman/man is wearing, or something else (e.g., a paper bag)?

Of course, you could use various methods to clear up these questions with more detailed observations. Can you describe some of these methods?

Besides difficulties with observations, the “facts” that you see in the world actually depend on more general beliefs that you have about how the world operates. Consider the question, “Why did the man’s body fall from the top of the building to the sidewalk?” Having had some general science courses, you might say something like, “The body was simply obeying the law of gravity,” and you would consider this to be a “factual statement.” But how did people account for this sort of event before Newton formulated the law of gravity? Some popular responses might have included the following:

· Things always fall down, not up.

· The spirit in the body wanted to join with the spirit of the earth.

When people made statements like these and others, such as “Humans can’t fly,” they thought that they were making “factual statements.” Increased knowledge and understanding have since shown these “factual beliefs” to be inaccurate, and so they have been replaced by “better” beliefs. These “better beliefs” are able to explain the world in a way that is more accurate and predictable. Will many of the beliefs you now consider to be factually accurate also be replaced in the future by beliefs that are more accurate and predictable? If history is any indication, this will most certainly happen. (Already Newton’s formulations have been replaced by Einstein’s, based on the latter’s theory of relativity. And Einstein’s have been refined and modified as well and may someday be replaced.)

Thinking Activity 4.7

Evaluating Factual Information
1. Locate and carefully read an article that deals with an important social issue.

2. Summarize the main theme and key points of the article.

3. Describe the factual statements used to support the major theme.

4. Evaluate the accuracy of the factual information.

5. Evaluate the reliability of the sources of the factual information


Imagine yourself in the following situations:

1. Your roommate has just learned that she passed a math exam for which she had done absolutely no studying. Humming the song “I Did It My Way,” she comes bouncing over to you with a huge grin on her face and says, “Let me buy you dinner to celebrate!” What do you conclude about how she is feeling?

2. It is midnight and the library is about to close. As you head for the door, you spy your roommate shuffling along in an awkward waddle. His coat bulges out in front like he’s pregnant. When you ask, “What’s going on?” he gives you a glare and hisses, “Shhh!” Just before he reaches the door, a pile of books slides from under his coat and crashes to the floor. What do you conclude?

In these examples, it would be reasonable to make the following conclusions:

1. Your roommate is happy.

2. Your roommate is stealing library books.

Although these conclusions are reasonable, they are not factual reports; they are inferences. You have not directly experienced your roommate’s “happiness” or “stealing.” Instead, you have inferred it based on your roommate’s behavior and the circumstances. What clues in these situations might lead to these conclusions?

One way of understanding the inferential nature of these views is to ask yourself the following questions:

1. Have you ever pretended to be happy when you weren’t? Could other people tell?

2. Have you ever been accused of stealing something when you were perfectly innocent? How did this happen?

From these examples you can see that whereas factual beliefs can in principle be verified by direct observation, inferential beliefs go beyond what can be directly observed. For instance, in the examples given, your observation of certain of your roommate’s actions led you to infer things that you were not observing directly—“She’s happy”; “He’s stealing books.” Making such simple inferences is something you do all the time. It is so automatic that usually you are not even aware that you are going beyond your immediate observations, and you may have difficulty drawing a sharp line between what you observe and what you infer. Making such inferences enables you to see the world as a complete picture, to fill in the blanks and round out the fragmentary sensations being presented to your senses. In a way, you become an artist, painting a picture of the world that is consistent, coherent, and predictable.

Your picture also includes predictions of what will be taking place in the near future. These predictions and expectations are also inferences because you attempt to determine what is currently unknown from what is already known.

Of course, your inferences may be mistaken, and in fact they frequently are. You may infer that the woman sitting next to you is wearing two earrings and then discover that she has only one. Or you may expect the class to end at noon and find that the teacher lets you go early—or late. In the last section we concluded that not even factual beliefs are ever absolutely certain. Comparatively speaking, inferential beliefs are a great deal more uncertain than factual beliefs, and it is important to distinguish between the two.

Consider the following situations, analyzing each one by asking these questions: Is the action based on a factual belief or an inference? In what ways might the inference be mistaken? What is the degree of risk involved?

· Placing your hand in a closing elevator door to reopen it

· Taking an unknown drug at a party

· Jumping out of an airplane with a parachute on

· Riding on the back of a motorcycle

· Taking a drug prescribed by your doctor

Having an accurate picture of the world depends on your being able to evaluate how certain your beliefs are. Therefore, it is crucial that you distinguish inferences from factual beliefs and then evaluate how certain or uncertain your inferences are. This is known as “calculating the risks,” and it is very important to solving problems successfully and deciding what steps to take.

The distinction between what is observed and what is inferred is given particular attention in courtroom settings, where defense lawyers usually want witnesses to describe only what they observed—not what they inferred—as part of the testimony. When a witness includes an inference such as “I saw him steal it,” the lawyer may object that the statement represents a “conclusion of the witness” and move to have the observation “stricken from the record.” For example, imagine you are a defense attorney listening to the following testimony. At what points would you make the objection “This is a conclusion of the witness”?

I saw Harvey running down the street, right after he knocked the old lady down. He had her purse in his hand and was trying to escape as fast as he could. He was really scared. I wasn’t surprised because Harvey has always taken advantage of others. It’s not the first time that he’s stolen either, I can tell you that. Just last summer he robbed the poor box at St. Anthony’s. He was bragging about it for weeks.

Finally, you should be aware that even though in theory facts and inferences can be distinguished, in practice it is almost impossible to communicate with others by sticking only to factual observations. A reasonable approach is to state your inference along with the observable evidence on which the inference is based (e.g., John seemed happy because . . .). Our language has an entire collection of terms (seems, appears, is likely, and so on) that signal when we are making an inference and not expressing an observable fact.

Many of the predictions you make are inferences based on your past experiences and on the information you presently have. Even when there seem to be sound reasons to support these inferences, they are often wrong because of incomplete information or unanticipated events. The fact that even people considered by society to be “experts” regularly make inaccurate predictions with absolute certainty should encourage you to exercise caution when making your own inferences. Following are some examples of “expert predictions”:

· “So many centuries after the Creation, it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value.”—the advisory committee to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, before Columbus’s voyage in 1492

· “What use could the company make of an electrical toy?”—Western Union’s rejection of the telephone in 1878

· “The actual building of roads devoted to motor cars is not for the near future in spite of many rumors to that effect.”—a 1902 article in Harper’s Weekly

· “The [atom] bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.”—Vannevar Bush, a presidential adviser, 1945

· “Space travel is utter bilge.”—British astronomer Dr. R. Woolsey, 1958

· “Among the really difficult problems of the world, [the Arab-Israeli conflict is] one of the simplest and most manageable.”—Walter Lippmann, a newspaper columnist, 1948

· “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.” Denny, Grand Ole Opry manager, firing Elvis Presley after one performance, 1954

Examine the following list of statements, noting which statements are factual beliefs (based on observations) and which are inferential beliefs (conclusions that go beyond observations). For each factual statement, describe how you might go about verifying the information. For each inferential statement, describe a factual observation on which the inference could be based. (Note: Some statements may contain both factual beliefs and inferential beliefs.)

· When my leg starts to ache, that means snow is on the way.

· The grass is wet—it must have rained last night.

· I think that it’s pretty clear from the length of the skid marks that the accident was caused by that person driving too fast.

· Fifty men lost their lives in the construction of the Queensboro Bridge.

· Nancy said she wasn’t feeling well yesterday—I’ll bet that she’s out sick today.

Now consider the following situations. What inferences might you be inclined to make based on what you are observing? How could you investigate the accuracy of your inference?

· A student in your class is consistently late for class.

· You see a friend of yours driving a new car.

· A teacher asks the same student to stay after class several times.

· You don’t receive any birthday cards.

So far we have been exploring relatively simple inferences. Many of the inferences people make, however, are much more complicated. In fact, much of our knowledge about the world rests on our ability to make complicated inferences in a systematic and logical way. However, just because an inference is more complicated does not mean that it is more accurate; in fact, the opposite is often the case. One of the masters of inference is the legendary Sherlock Holmes. In the following passage, Holmes makes an astonishing number of inferences upon meeting Dr. Watson. Study carefully the conclusions he comes to. Are they reasonable? Can you explain how he reaches these conclusions?

“You appeared to be surprised when I told you, on our first meeting, that you had come from Afghanistan.”

“You were told, no doubt.”

“Nothing of the sort. I knew you came from Afghanistan. From long habit the train of thoughts ran so swiftly through my mind that I arrived at the conclusion without being conscious of intermediate steps. There were such steps, however. The train of reasoning ran, ‘Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He is just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship and sickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly in Afghanistan.’ The whole train of thought did not occupy a second. I then remarked that you came from Afghanistan, and you were astonished.”

—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet

Identify and describe a friend you have, a course you have taken, and the college you attend. Be sure your descriptions are specific and include what you think about the friend, the course, and the college.

1. is a friend.

He or she is . . . .

2. is a course I have taken.

It was . . . .

3. is the college I attend.

It is . . . .

Now review your responses. Do they include factual descriptions? For each response, note any factual information that can be verified.

In addition to factual reports, your descriptions may contain inferences based on factual information. Can you identify any inferences? In addition to inferences, your descriptions may include judgments about the person, course, and school—descriptions that express your evaluation based on certain criteria. Facts and inferences are designed to help you figure out what is actually happening (or will happen); the purpose of judgments is to express your evaluation about what is happening (or will happen). For example:

· My new car has broken down three times in the first six months. (Factual report)

· My new car will probably continue to have difficulties. (Inference)

· My new car is a lemon. (Judgment)

When you pronounce your new car a “lemon,” you are making a judgment based on certain criteria you have in mind. For instance, a “lemon” is usually a newly purchased item—generally an automobile—with which you have repeated problems.

To take another example of judging, consider the following statements:

· Carla always does her work thoroughly and completes it on time. (Factual report)

· Carla will probably continue to do her work in this fashion. (Inference)

· Carla is a very responsible person. (Judgment)

By judging Carla to be responsible, you are evaluating her on the basis of the criteria or standards that you believe indicate a responsible person. One such criterion is completing assigned work on time. Can you identify additional criteria for judging someone to be responsible?

Review your previous descriptions of a friend, a course, and your college. Can you identify any judgments in your descriptions?

When we judge, we often express feelings of approval or disapproval. Sometimes, however, we make judgments that conflict with what we personally approve of. For example:

· I think a woman should be able to have an abortion if she chooses to, although I don’t believe abortion is right.

· I can see why you think that person is beautiful, even though she is not the type that appeals to me.

In fact, at times it is essential to disregard your personal feelings of approval or disapproval when you judge. For instance, a judge in a courtroom should render evaluations based on the law, not on his or her personal preferences.

4-7aDifferences in Judgments
Many of our disagreements with other people focus on differences in judgments. As a critical thinker, you need to approach such differences in judgments intelligently. You can do so by following these guidelines:

· Make explicit the criteria or standards used as a basis for the judgment.

· Try to establish the reasons that justify these criteria.

For instance, if I make the judgment “Professor Andrews is an excellent teacher,” I am basing my judgment on certain criteria of teaching excellence. Once these standards are made explicit, we can discuss whether they make sense and what the justification is for them. Identify some of your standards for teaching excellence.

Of course, your idea of what makes an excellent teacher may be different from someone else’s, a conclusion you can test by comparing your criteria with those of other class members. When these disagreements occur, your only hope for resolution is to use the two steps previously identified:

· Make explicit the standards you are using.

· Give reasons that justify these standards.

For example, “Professor Andrews really gets my mind working, forcing me to think through issues on my own and then defend my conclusions. I earn what I learn, and that makes it really ‘mine.’”

In short, not all judgments are equally good or equally poor. The credibility of a judgment depends on the criteria used to make the judgment and the evidence or reasons that support these criteria. For example, legitimate disagreements may occur about judgments on the following points.

· Who was the greatest US president?

· Which movie deserves the Oscar this year?

· Which is the best baseball team this year?

· Which music is best for dancing?

However, in these and countless other cases, the quality of your judgments depends on you identifying the criteria used for the competing judgments and then demonstrating that your candidate best meets those criteria by providing supporting evidence and reasons. With this approach, you can often engage in intelligent discussion and establish which judgments are best supported by the evidence.

Understanding how judgments function also encourages you to continue thinking critically about a situation. For instance, the judgment “This course is worthless!” does not encourage further exploration and critical analysis. In fact, it may prevent such analysis by discouraging further exploration. Because judgments are sometimes made before you have a clear and complete understanding of the situation, they can serve to prevent you from seeing the situation as clearly and completely as you might. However, if you understand that all judgments are based on criteria that may or may not be adequately justified, you can explore these judgments further by making the criteria explicit and examining the reasons that justify them.

Thinking Activity 4.10

Analyzing Judgments
1. Review the following passages, which illustrate various judgments. For each passage:

1. Identify the evaluative criteria on which the judgments are based.

2. Describe the reasons or evidence the author uses to support the criteria.

3. Explain whether you agree or disagree with the judgments and give your rationale.


. One widely held misconception concerning pizza should be laid to rest. Although it may be characterized as fast food, pizza is not junk food. Especially when it is made with fresh ingredients, pizza fulfills our basic nutritional requirements. The crust provides carbohydrates; from the cheese and meat or fish comes protein; and the tomatoes, herbs, onions, and garlic supply vitamins and minerals.

—Louis Philip Salamone, “Pizza: Fast Food, Not Junk Food”

. Let us return to the question of food. Responsible agronomists report that before the end of the year millions of people, if unaided, might starve to death. Half a billion deaths by starvation is not an uncommon estimate. Even though the United States has done more than any other nation to feed the hungry, our relative affluence makes us morally vulnerable in the eyes of other nations and in our own eyes. Garrett Hardin, who has argued for a “lifeboat” ethic of survival (if you take all the passengers aboard, everybody drowns), admits that the decision not to feed all the hungry requires of us “a very hard psychological adjustment.” Indeed it would. It has been estimated that the 3.5 million tons of fertilizer spread on American golf courses and lawns could provide up to 30 million tons of food in overseas agricultural production. The nightmarish thought intrudes itself. If we as a nation allow people to starve while we could, through some sacrifice, make more food available to them, what hope can any person have for the future of international relations? If we cannot agree on this most basic of values—feed the hungry—what hopes for the future can we entertain?

—James R. Kelly, “The Limits of Reason”Source: © 2013 Commonweal Foundation, reprinted with permission. For more information, visit

Thinking Critically About New Media

Distinguishing Perception from Reality
How can people have vastly different understandings of the basic facts of a situation? For example, when accounts from eyewitnesses and aerial photos failed to agree when it came to estimating the size of crowds at the 2017 Presidential Inauguration, people on both sides of the political spectrum accused the other of manipulating images to distort viewers’ perceptions. How could a simple question of fact become so hotly debated? The problem may in part lie with social media. Consider the following three problems associated with uncritical social media habits:

The Echo Chamber
In 2016, 62% of American adults got their news through social media, with Facebook being their primary source. If you are one of these people, what shows up on your individual Facebook or Twitter news feed is determined by an algorithm the site uses to tailor your experience as closely as possible to what you have clicked on, relinked, and liked in the past. While this is a boon for advertisers, it can create a false perception of reality where everything you see agrees with you, hiding any contrasting ideas and perspectives. Your news feed becomes a metaphorical “echo chamber” in which your beliefs become amplified and reinforced through repetition. Inside the echo chamber, sources often go unquestioned and competing perspectives are marginalized, decreasing the chance of critical discourse across differences.

1. What problems might arise from many people living their lives in an echo chamber?

2. What are your news sources and how do you know that they are fair and accurate?

Confirmation Bias Bubble
Echo chambers are the social media manifestation of an unconscious tendency humans have to seek and interpret information and other evidence in ways that affirm our existing beliefs, ideas, and expectations. The term confirmation bias was coined by the English psychologist Peter Wason when he noticed that instead of trying to falsify a hypothesis to test it, people tend to try to confirm it. This unconscious tendency makes judging the veracity of the news and information we receive via the Internet more difficult. Driven by our biases to accept uncritically reports of examples of behavior that conform to our expectations, we selectively pay attention to information that is consistent with our existing viewpoints and feelings, creating a “bubble” for ourselves and our like-minded friends on social media. For example, if we believe that a political party or candidate is generally bad for the country, we might selectively pay attention to negative news and commentary about that party or person. Researchers link this occurrence to a marked increase in political polarization that has encouraged extremism on both sides of the political spectrum and made bipartisan problem solving more difficult to achieve.

1. Do you ever read or listen to news articles that do not align with your pre-established beliefs? Why might doing so be a valuable, if sometimes frustrating, experience?

Advertisers and hyper-partisan organizations on social media can exploit confirmation bias through the use of so-called clickbait articles that play to our hopes and fears instead of simply reporting unvarnished facts. Clickbait uses exaggerated, salacious titles—often phrased as cliffhangers—to encourage users to click on a particular link that generates online advertising revenue. Examples such as:

· “When She Looked Under Her Couch Cushions and Saw THIS . . . I Was SHOCKED”

· “He Put Garlic in His Shoes Before Going To Bed And What Happens Next Is Hard To Believe”

· “The Dog Barked At The Delivery Man And His Reaction Was Priceless”

intentionally leave out relevant information to drive the reader to click on the link. The sensationalist nature of clickbait is often capitalized on at the expense of accuracy and quality. Since clickbait is designed to attract clicks and encourage forwarding over social media, it is also the source of much of our viral misinformation. For example, during the 2016 election season Conservatives read that the Pope endorsed Donald Trump, whereas Liberals read that he endorsed Hillary Clinton. The Pope, however, did neither.

1. What examples of clickbait have you seen recently? Have you or one of your friends ever shared a link that you later discovered was full of misinformation? What did you do about it?

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US Air Force Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

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Lucas Jackson/REUTERS

Given the pervasiveness of clickbait, our tendency to uncritically accept information that confirms our biases, and the algorithmic encouragement of echo chambers, how do we tell the difference between information that is relatively accurate, objective, and factual from information that isn’t? The short answer is that we need to come armed with our full array of critical-thinking abilities combined with a healthy dose of skepticism. The following Thinking Activity offers some practice.

4-7bThinking Passage: Perception and Reality in the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting
On the morning of December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, age 20, shot and killed his mother as she lay sleeping. Then, armed with a Bushmaster XM-15 semiautomatic assault rifle and two handguns, he drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School. Wearing black clothes, earplugs, and a utility vest for carrying extra ammunition, he shot his way through a locked glass door and then proceeded to shoot and kill the principal, school counselor, four teachers, and twenty first-grade students ranging in age from 6 to 7. With the police approaching, he fatally shot himself.

These are the basic facts of this horrific catastrophe, about which there is fundamental agreement. However, in trying to understand why this event occurred and how to prevent events like this from occurring in the future, many competing points of view exist, reflecting different perceptions of reality. Some view this primarily as the act of a deeply emotionally disturbed individual who had been taught to shoot by his gun-loving mother. Others view this as the symptom of a culture that is obsessed with guns and whose lenient laws make it possible for virtually anyone to secure virtually any kind of weapon. For example, on the day before the Sandy Hook massacre, lawmakers in Michigan passed a bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in schools, and Ohio lawmakers passed a bill that would allow concealed guns in the statehouse. Still others view this as the product of a society in which gun violence is made to seem sexy and exciting in graphically violent movies, television shows, music, and hyperrealistic video games. Since the 1980s, firearms manufacturers have reacted to declines in demand for hunting rifles by increasingly focusing their production and marketing on pistols and “assault weapons.” Those who view this as more than an isolated event point to similar events that have occurred on a regular basis in the United States, making schools the killing fields of our time:

· On July 20, 2012, the suspect James Eagan Holmes killed twelve people and wounded fifty-eight in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight.

· On January 11, 2011, Jared Lee Loughner used a nine-millimeter Glock semiautomatic pistol with a high-capacity magazine to shoot nineteen people, including US Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords; six died.

· On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, a student at Virginia Tech University, shot and killed thirty-two fellow students and wounded seventeen others with a nine-millimeter Glock semiautomatic pistol before committing suicide.

· On April 20, 1999, two high school students at Columbine High School in Colorado, using a Hi-Point 995 Carbine and a shotgun, killed twelve students and one teacher, and injured twenty-one, before committing suicide.

The world’s perception of these events was framed, shaped, and communicated through the media’s reporting. And this reporting influences the beliefs we form regarding our understanding of what occurred and what, if anything, can be done to diminish the likelihood of similar events occurring in the future. As you read the following accounts, reflect on the interpretations that they are presenting, the reasons and evidence that support their interpretations, and the perceptions that you are forming (and have formed) as a result of these and other responses. Then consider and respond to the questions that follow the articles.

The Price of Gun Control
by Dan Baum

When you write about guns, as I do, and a shooting like the one in the Aurora movie theater happens an hour from your house, people call. I’ve already done an interview today with a Spanish newspaper and with Canadian radio. Americans and their guns: what a bunch of lunatics.

Among the many ways America differs from other countries when it comes to guns is that when a mass shooting happens in the United States, it’s a gun story. How an obviously sick man could buy a gun; how terrible it is that guns are abundant; how we must ban particular types of guns that are especially dangerous. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence responded to the news with a gun-control petition. Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times has weighed in with an online column saying that “Politicians are far too cowardly to address gun violence . . . which keeps us from taking practical measures to avoid senseless shootings.”

Compare that to the coverage and conversation after Anders Behring Breivik murdered sixty-nine people on the island of Utøya in Norway, a year ago next Sunday. Nobody focused on the gun. I had a hard time learning from the news reports what type of gun he used. Nobody asked, “How did he get a gun?” That seemed strange, because it’s much harder to get a gun in Europe than it is here.

But everybody, even the American media, seemed to understand that the heart of the Utøya massacre story was a tragically deranged man, not the rifle he fired. Instead of wringing their hands over the gun Breivik used, Norwegians saw the tragedy as the opening to a conversation about the rise of right-wing extremism in their country.

Rosenthal is wrong, by the way, that politicians haven’t addressed gun violence. They have done so brilliantly, in a million different ways, which helps explain why the rate of violent crime is about half what it was twenty years ago. They simply haven’t used gun control to do it. Gun laws are far looser than they were twenty years ago, even while crime is plunging—a galling juxtaposition for those who place their faith in tougher gun laws. The drop in violence is one of our few unalloyed public-policy success stories, though perhaps not for those who bemoan an “epidemic of gun violence” that doesn’t exist anymore in order to make a political point.

It’s true that America’s rate of violent crime remains higher than that in most European countries. But to focus on guns is to dodge a painful truth. America is more violent than other countries because Americans are more violent than other people. Our abundant guns surely make assaults more deadly. But by obsessing over inanimate pieces of metal, we avoid looking at what brings us more often than others to commit violent acts. Many liberal critics understand this when it comes to drug policy. The modern, sophisticated position is that demonizing chemicals is a reductive and ineffective way to address complicated social pathologies. When it comes to gun violence, though, the conversation often stops at the tool, because it is more comfortable to blame it than to examine ourselves. . . .

. . . 40 percent of Americans own guns, and like it or not, they identify with them, personally. Guns stand in for a whole range of values—individualism, strength, American exceptionalism—that many gun owners hold dear. Tell a gun owner that he cannot be trusted to own a firearm—particularly if you are an urban pundit with no experience around guns—and what he hears is an insult. Add to this that the bulk of the gun-buying public is made up of middle-aged white men with less than a college degree, and now you’re insulting a population already rubbed raw by decades of stagnant wages.

The harm we’ve done by messing with law-abiding Americans’ guns is significant. In 2010, I drove 11,000 miles around the United States talking to gun guys (for a book, to be published in the spring, that grew out of an article I wrote for this magazine), and I met many working guys, including plumbers, parks workers, nurses—natural Democrats in any other age—who wouldn’t listen to anything the Democratic party has to say because of its institutional hostility to guns. I’d argue that we’ve sacrificed generations of progress on health care, women’s and workers’ rights, and climate change by reflexively returning, at times like these, to an ill-informed call to ban firearms, and we haven’t gotten anything tangible in return. Aside from what it does to the progressive agenda, needlessly vilifying guns—and by extension, their owners—adds to the rancor that has us so politically frozen and culturally inflamed. Enough.

President Obama, to his credit, didn’t mention gun control in his comments today. Maybe that was just a political calculation; maybe, during an election year, he didn’t want to reopen a fight that has hurt his party so dearly in the past. But maybe it’s a hint of progress, a sign that we’re moving toward a more honest examination of who we are.

Source: © 2012 Harper’s Magazine. All rights reserved. Reproduced from the July issue by special permission.

Response to the Massacre in Newtown, Connecticut by Wayne La Pierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, on December 21, 2012
As reflected in the articles in this box on the massacre of students and teachers of Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, many people believe that the absence of meaningful gun control laws has at least some responsibility for gun violence in this country. From this perspective, gun violence can be reduced by banning guns like military assault weapons, outlawing high-capacity magazine clips, and instituting meaningful background checks for all people seeking to purchase guns. One of the most vocal opponents of any gun control restrictions is the leadership of the National Rifle Association (NRA), citing Article 1 of the Constitution, which grants citizens “the right to bear arms.” (Contrary to the NRA leadership, the rank-and-file members of the NRA overwhelmingly support more restrictive background checks.)

Following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the leadership of the NRA did not issue a public statement until December 21, 2012, one week after the shooting. During those prepared remarks, Wayne La Pierre, the CEO of the NRA, did not make any reference to gun control initiatives or legislation. Instead, he advocated for having armed guards in every school, arguing that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” From his perspective, the gun violence in this country is caused by a number of factors unrelated to gun control restrictions, including the following:

· “. . . an unknown number of genuine monsters—people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them.”

· “. . . a national media machine that rewards them [copycat killers] with the wall-to-wall attention and sense of identity that they crave . . . .”

· “. . . violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse . . . and . . . Kindergarten Killers.”

· “. . . blood-soaked slasher films like ‘American Psycho’ and ‘Natural Born Killers’ that are aired like propaganda loops on ‘Splatterdays’ . . . .”

· “. . . a thousand music videos that portray life as a joke and murder as a way of life.”

The answer to this gun violence, according to La Pierre, is to hire some of the “millions of qualified active and retired police; active, reserve and retired military; [and] security professionals” to be deployed, fully armed, in every school in the country in a “National School Shield Program.” After all, La Pierre reasons, we protect other valued institutions in our country with armed protection, shouldn’t we also protect our most valuable institutions—our schools?

Why Gun ‘Control’ Is Not Enough
by Jeff McMahan

Americans are finally beginning to have a serious discussion about guns. One argument we’re hearing is the central pillar of the case for private gun ownership: that we are all safer when more individuals have guns because armed citizens deter crime and can defend themselves and others against it when deterrence fails. Those who don’t have guns, it’s said, are free riders on those who do, as the criminally disposed are less likely to engage in crime the more likely it is that their victim will be armed.

There’s some sense to this argument, for even criminals don’t like being shot. But the logic is faulty, and a close look at it leads to the conclusion that the United States should ban private gun ownership entirely, or almost entirely.

One would think that if widespread gun ownership had the robust deterrent effects that gun advocates claim it has, our country would be freer of crime than other developed societies. But it’s not. When most citizens are armed, as they were in the Wild West, crime doesn’t cease. Instead, criminals work to be better armed, more efficient in their use of guns (“quicker on the draw”), and readier to use them. When this happens, those who get guns may be safer than they would be without them, but those without them become progressively more vulnerable.

Gun advocates have a solution to this: the unarmed must arm themselves. But when more citizens get guns, further problems arise: people who would once have got in a fistfight instead shoot the person who provoked them; people are shot by mistake or by accident.

And with guns so plentiful, any lunatic or criminally disposed person who has a sudden and perhaps only temporary urge to kill people can simply help himself to the contents of Mom’s gun cabinet. Perhaps most important, the more people there are who have guns, the less effective the police become. The power of the citizens and that of the police approach parity. The police cease to have even a near-monopoly on the use of force.

To many devotees of the Second Amendment, this is precisely the point. As former Congressman Jay Dickey, Republican of Arkansas, said in January 2011, “We have a right to bear arms because of the threat of government taking over the freedoms we have.” The more people there are with guns, the less able the government is to control them. But if arming the citizenry limits the power of the government, it does so by limiting the power of its agents, such as the police. Domestic defense becomes more a matter of private self-help and vigilantism and less a matter of democratically-controlled, public law enforcement. Domestic security becomes increasingly “privatized.”

There is, of course, a large element of fantasy in Dickey’s claim. Individuals with handguns are no match for a modern army. It’s also a delusion to suppose that the government in a liberal democracy such as the United States could become so tyrannical that armed insurrection, rather than democratic procedures, would be the best means of constraining it. This is not Syria; nor will it ever be. Shortly after Dickey made his comment, people in Egypt rose against a government that had suppressed their freedom in ways far more serious than requiring them to pay for health care. Although a tiny minority of Egyptians do own guns, the protesters would not have succeeded if those guns had been brought to Tahrir Square. If the assembled citizens had been brandishing Glocks in accordance with the script favored by Second Amendment fantasists, the old regime would almost certainly still be in power and many Egyptians who’re now alive would be dead. . . .

The logic is inexorable: as more private individuals acquire guns, the power of the police declines, personal security becomes more a matter of self-help, and the unarmed have an increasing incentive to get guns, until everyone is armed. When most citizens then have the ability to kill anyone in their vicinity in an instant, everyone is less secure than they would be if no one had guns other than the members of a democratically accountable police force.

The logic of private gun possession is thus similar to that of the nuclear arms race. When only one state gets nuclear weapons, it enhances its own security but reduces that of others, which have become more vulnerable. The other states then have an incentive to get nuclear weapons to try to restore their security. As more states get them, the incentives for others increase. If eventually all get them, the potential for catastrophe—whether through irrationality, misperception, or accident—is great. Each state’s security is then much lower than it would be if none had nuclear weapons.

Gun advocates and criminals are allies in demanding that guns remain in private hands. They differ in how they want them distributed. Criminals want guns for themselves but not for their potential victims. Others want them for themselves but not for criminals. But while gun control can do a little to restrict access to guns by potential criminals, it can’t do much when guns are to be found in every other household. Either criminals and non-criminals will have them or neither will. Gun advocates prefer for both rather than neither to have them.

But, as with nuclear weapons, we would all be safer if no one had guns—or, rather, no one other than trained and legally constrained police officers. Domestic defense would then be conducted the way we conduct national defense. We no longer accept, as the authors of the now obsolete Second Amendment did, that “a well-regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free state.” Rather than leaving national defense to citizens’ militias, we now, for a variety of compelling reasons, cede the right of national defense to certain state-authorized professional institutions: the Army, Navy, and so on. We rightly trust these forces to protect us from external threats and not to become instruments of domestic repression. We could have the same trust in a police force designed to protect us from domestic threats. …

Gun advocates will object that a prohibition of private gun ownership is an impossibility in the United States. But this is not an objection they can press in good faith, for the only reason that a legal prohibition could be impossible in a democratic state is that a majority oppose it. If gun advocates ceased to oppose it, a prohibition would be possible.

They will next argue that even if there were a legal prohibition, it could not be enforced with anything approaching complete effectiveness. This is true. As long as some people somewhere have guns, some people here can get them. Similarly, the legal prohibition of murder cannot eliminate murder. But the prohibition of murder is more effective than a policy of “murder control” would be.

Guns are not like alcohol and drugs, both of which we have tried unsuccessfully to prohibit. Many people have an intense desire for alcohol or drugs that is independent of what other people may do. But the need for a gun for self-defense depends on whether other people have them and how effective the protection and deterrence provided by the state are. Thus, in other Western countries in which there are fewer guns, there are correspondingly fewer instances in which people need guns for effective self-defense.

Gun advocates sometimes argue that a prohibition would violate individuals’ rights of self-defense. Imposing a ban on guns, they argue, would be tantamount to taking a person’s gun from her just as someone is about to kill her. But this is a defective analogy. Although a prohibition would deprive people of one effective means of self-defense, it would also ensure that there would be far fewer occasions on which a gun would be necessary or even useful for self-defense. For guns would be forbidden not just to those who would use them for defense but also to those who would use them for aggression. Guns are only one means of self-defense and self-defense is only one means of achieving security against attack. It is the right to security against attack that is fundamental. A policy that unavoidably deprives a person of one means of self-defense but on balance substantially reduces her vulnerability to attack is therefore respectful of the more fundamental right from which the right of self-defense is derived.

In other Western countries, per capita homicide rates, as well as rates of violent crime involving guns, are a fraction of what they are in the United States. The possible explanations of this are limited. Gun advocates claim it has nothing to do with our permissive gun laws or our customs and practices involving guns. If they are right, should we conclude that Americans are simply inherently more violent, more disposed to mental derangement, and less moral than people in other Western countries? If you resist that conclusion, you have little choice but to accept that our easy access to all manner of firearms is a large part of the explanation of why we kill each at a much higher rate than our counterparts elsewhere. Gun advocates must search their consciences to determine whether they really want to share responsibility for the perpetuation of policies that make our country the homicide capitol of the developed world.

Source: © 2013 The New York Times.

The (Terrifying) Transformative Potential of Technology
by Lisa Wade

When Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School, he was carrying a Bushmaster .223 caliber Remington semiautomatic. This is the frightening weapon he used to take the lives of 27 people:

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Richard Green/Commercial/Alamy Stock Photo

The refrain—”guns don’t kill people, people kill people”—does an injustice to the complicated homotechnocultural phenomenon that we call a massacre. Evan Selinger, at The Atlantic, does a wonderful job taking apart this phrase. It assumes an instrumentalist view of technology, where we bend it to our will. In contrast, he argues in favor of a transformative view: when humans interact with objects, they are transformed by that interaction. A gun changes how a person sees the world. Selinger writes:

To someone with a gun, the world readily takes on a distinct shape. It not only offers people, animals, and things to interact with, but also potential targets.

In other words, if you have a hammer, suddenly all the world’s problems look like nails to you (see Law of the Instrument). The wonderful French philosopher Bruno Latour put it this way:

You are different with a gun in your hand; the gun is different with you holding it. You are another subject because you hold the gun; the gun is another object because it has entered into a relationship with you.

So, that’s the homotechnological part of the story. What of the cultural?

At Sociological Images, Michael Kimmel observes that the vast majority of mass killings in the U.S. are carried out by middle-class, white males. “From an early age,” he writes, “boys learn that violence is not only an acceptable form of conflict resolution, but one that is admired.” While the vast majority of men will never be violent, they are all exposed to lessons about what it means to be a real man:

They learn that if they are crossed, they have the manly obligation to fight back. They learn that they are entitled to feel like a real man, and that they have the right to annihilate anyone who challenges that sense of entitlement. . . . They learn that “aggrieved entitlement” is a legitimate justification for violent explosion.

Violence is culturally masculine. So, when the human picks up the object, it matters whether that person is a man or a woman.

Bushmaster, the manufacturer of the weapon used by Lanza, was explicit in tying their product to masculinity. Though it has now been taken down, before the shooting visitors to their website could engage in public shaming of men who were insufficiently masculine, revoking their man card and branding them with the image of a female stick figure. . . .

[Their] man card is “revoked” and Bushmaster has just the solution[, which is to “reissue” a man card once a weapon is purchased].

Manliness is tied to gun ownership (and, perhaps, gun use). Whatever it is that threatens his right to consider himself a man, a gun is an immediate cure.

Many people are calling on politicians to respond to this tragedy by instituting stricter gun control laws and trying to reduce the number or change the type of guns in American hands. That’ll help with the homotechnological part. But, as Kimmel argues, we also need to address the cultural part of the equation. We need to change what it means to be a man in America.

This post was co-written with Gwen Sharp and originally posted at Sociological Images.

Source: © 2013 Sociological Images.

Morning Joe

Joe Scarborough began his show Morning Joe Monday, December 17, 2012, addressing the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Today, we as a nation grieve. Today, we as a people feel helpless. Helpless to stop these random acts of violence that seem to be getting less random by the day.

It may the geographic proximity of Newtown to my hometown, or the fact my children’s ages average those of the 20 young children tragically killed on Friday, or the fact my second son has Aspergers, or the fact that too many other facts associated with Friday’s nightmare strike so close to home . . . that for me, there is no escaping the horrors visited upon the children and teachers of Sandy Hook.

The events that occurred in a short, violent outburst on Friday, December 14, 2012, were so evil that no words that I know of have yet been invented to sufficiently describe the horror experienced by 20 precious first grade students, their heroic principal, their anguished parents or the shocked New England town that will never be the same.

There is no way to capture the final moments of these children’s short lives or the loss and helplessness their parents must feel today. There is nothing they can do, there is nothing any of us can do, to ease their pain this morning, or to cause these little children to run back into the loving arms of their family members this Christmas season.

Soon, we will watch the burials of these babies. We will hold up their parents in prayer. And we will hold our own children tighter as we thank God every afternoon watching them walk off their school bus and into our arms.

But every American must know—from this day forward—that nothing can ever be the same again.

We have said this before: after Columbine, after Arizona, after Aurora, after so many other numbing hours of murder and of massacre.

But let this be our true landmark; let Newtown be the hour after which, in the words of the New Testament, we did all we could to make all things new.

Politicians can no longer be allowed to defend the status quo. They must instead be forced to protect our children.

Parents can no longer take “No” for an answer from Washington when the topic turns to protecting children.

The violence we see spreading from shopping malls in Oregon, to movie theaters in Colorado, to college campuses in Virginia, to elementary schools in Connecticut, is being spawned by the toxic brew of a violent pop culture, a growing mental health crisis and the proliferation of combat-styled guns.

Though entrenched special interests will try to muddy the issues, the cause of these sickening mass shootings is no longer a mystery to common-sense Americans. And blessedly, there are more common-sense Americans than there are special interests, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. Good luck to the gun lobbyist or Hollywood lawyer who tries to blunt the righteous anger of ten million parents by hiding behind a twisted reading of our Bill of Rights.

Thinking Critically About Visuals

The Aftermath of the Newtown Massacre
What are some of the elements of this simple memorial for those massacred at Newtown that make the photograph so profoundly heart-breaking?

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Gina Jacobs/

Our government rightly obsesses day and night over how to prevent the next 9/11 from being launched from a cave in Afghanistan or a training base in Yemen. But perhaps now is the time to begin obsessing over how to stop the next attack on a movie theater, a shopping mall, a college campus or a first grade class.

The battle we now must fight, and the battle we must now win is for the safety and sanity of our children, and that is the war at home.

It’s not all about guns, or all about violent movies and videogames. But we must no longer allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. And we must not excuse total inaction by arguing that no single action can solve the problem and save our children.

I am a conservative Republican who received the NRA’s highest ratings over 4 terms in Congress. I saw the debate over guns as a powerful, symbolic struggle between individual rights and government control. In the years after Waco and Ruby Ridge, the symbolism of that debate seemed even more powerful to my colleagues and me.

But the symbols of that ideological struggle have since been shattered by the harvest sown from violent, mind-numbing video games and gruesome Hollywood movies that dangerously desensitizes those who struggle with mental health challenges. Add military-styled weapons and high capacity magazines to that equation and tragedy can never be too far behind.

There is no easy ideological way forward. If it were only so simple as to blame Hollywood or the NRA, then our task could be completed in no time. But I come to you this morning with a heavy heart and no easy answers. Still, I have spent the past few days grasping for solutions and struggling for answers, while daring to question my long held beliefs on these subjects.

. . .

Abraham Lincoln once said of this great and powerful nation . . .

“From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia . . . could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.”

For the sake of my four children, I choose life. And I choose change. It is time to turn over the tables inside the temple, for the sake of our children and for the sake of this great nation that we love.

Chapter 4 Reviewing and Viewing
· We construct our world by actively selecting, organizing, and interpreting our sensations.

· We view the world through our own unique “lenses,” which shape and influence our perceptions, beliefs, and knowledge.

· The “prescription” of our lenses has been formed by our experiences and our reflection on those experiences.

· We construct beliefs based on our perceptions, and we construct knowledge based on our beliefs.

· Thinking critically involves understanding how perceiving lenses—ours and those of others—influence perceptions, beliefs, and knowledge.

· Different types of beliefs include reports, inferences, and judgments.

Benchmark: Professional Capstone And Practicum Reflective Journal