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The most important insight I have learned so far in my life is balance.


The idea came from my study of the nature of change (dynamics). Dynamics is the outcome of positive feedback loops (reinforcing loops) and negative feedback loops’ (counteracting loops, or balancing loops) interaction. Sometimes reinforcing loop is the strongest, producing growth or drop behaviour. But the growth or drop would not continue forever. It would slow down, indicating that counteracting loop becomes dominant. When there is reinforcing loop, there is counteracting loop; when there is larger reinforcing loop, there is larger counteracting loop; when there is strong reinforcing behaviour, there will be stronger balancing behaviour. That seems to be nature of change.


This reminds me of the traditional Chinese philosophy. Traditional Chinese philosophy contained primitive ideas of dynamics(易), positive and negative forces’ interaction (陰陽), balance/moderation(中道、中庸), relationship between extremity and regime shift (物極必反).

Balance is not only about engineering control theory or Socio-Ecological system dynamics. Think about homeostasis in personal health.

It is not only Chinese who notice it, i.e. there is idiom called “Feast or Famine”(時飽時餓,不是太多就是太少,不是極好就是極差,好壞不定的).

From the perspective of society, neither feast nor famine is desired. We usually prefer no more, no less—just—enough, and keeps it forever.


Naturally, while counteracting loop will balance back diverging(偏離) condition of reinforcing loop, due to the inherent delays, the correction may produce big swing as illustrated in Figure (a), or even regime shift (environment changes permanently, old way not works anymore). This may not be desired.
Figure (a) and (b)
Ideally, we might like to find equilibrium level and stick with it. There are three issues with this ideal: First, it is very hard, if not impossible, to ascertain(確定) equilibrium level accurately; Second, when there is shock, environment changes, equilibrium level changes again; Third, and the most fatal, inherent delays (stocks) can only be reduced but not eliminated completely. Therefore, the best we can do is to minimise the amplitude of oscillation like in Figure (b), so that rise and fall will be in relative peaceful (smooth) way.

In other words, being moderate does not mean we must find the exact middle point(中間點). It would be more like balance the condition back when we detect current condition becomes extreme. There will always be fluctuations—no worry about boring.


This is an era loss of ideology. Communism? Gone. Capitalism? Failing… What else can we refer to?

The problem of ideology/faith is people. People have tendency to like to take a principle to extreme. “Drink water is good for health.” Okay, so to keep healthy, I drink water as much as I can, but then I get sick. Why? “Too much water, water intoxication!” My goodness!

If people must have one single principle to simplify thinking (reasoning), I would recommend moderation.

It is the safest principle, because even if it is taken to the extreme, moderationism is still “moderate in moderation”. Still moderate!

“It can also be recursive in that one should moderate how much they moderate (i.e. to not be too worried about moderating everything or not to try too hard in finding a middle [point]).” from Wikipedia.


And “Moderation is the silken string running through the pearl chain of all virtues”—unknown source.

In the zero-centered multi-dimensional space, moderation can be understood as moving around 0, not too positive (+ve) and not too negative (-ve).


Caveat:
There are many advices like “balance between A and B”, not every A and B is the balance/moderation of what I mean. Moderation is a general principle inducted (not deducted) from many cases of A and B but by no means exhaustive, some may only valid in their particular context while some are really universal and timeless. All inductions are wrong, but some are useful.

Also, moderation does not mean compromise, take middle ground between two opposite positions on fact (e.g. global warming). This is a logical fallacy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_to_moderation).


Moderation is likely the principle for sustainability.

We’ve all seen kids present parents with irrational demands. It could be a pony, a jet pack, a real light saber, a trip to the Moon, or a swimming pool on the roof of the (single-story) house. Adults are adept at deflecting these requests—sometimes with logic, and sometimes with distraction tactics. Adults know that some of the demands are technically impossible, or that others are simply outside their financial means. Just because we want something doesn’t mean it is possible to have it. Just because we want our fossil fuel alternatives to be as cheap and convenient doesn’t mean they will be, no matter how much we might belly-ache.

Somehow, kids who vow to eat only ice cream as adults or look forward to never having to go to bed learn for themselves as young adults that these are not viable strategies—no matter how desirable they seemed to be as a kid. Likewise, kids grow out of fantasies like believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Yet, just as we don’t shake all of our mythical beliefs as adults, we don’t shed all of our irrational expectations and demands for the future.

When we are told we can’t keep growth going, that we face resource limitations, or that alternative energy sources may not be able to maintain our current standard of living, we see tantrums. When we’re told we can’t have free checking anymore, we howl in protest. When fuel prices skyrocket, airlines dare not raise airfare enough to cover costs, or the fits we throw will cause significant loss—so they lose money with under-priced fares and hope to make it up by keeping prices a bit elevated after fuel prices begin to ease. When taxes go up or stamps cost more, what do we do? We kick and pound the floor. Granted, some injustices are addressed effectively by tantrums, and sometimes with stunning results (Boston Tea Party). But on the whole, our tantrums are not held in check by the equivalent of a parent. We’re free to howl.

Many look to political leaders for, well, leadership. But I’ve come to appreciate that political leaders are actually politicians (another razor-sharp observation), and politicians need votes to occupy their seats. Politicians are therefore cowardly sycophants responding to the whims of the electorate. In other words, they are a reflection of our wants and demands. A child who has just been spanked for throwing a tantrum would probably not re-elect their parent if allowed the choice. We all scream for ice cream. Why would we reward a politician for leading us instead to a plate of vegetables—even if that’s what we really need. Meanwhile we find it all too easy to blame our ills on the politicians. It’s a lot more palatable than blaming ourselves for our own selfish demands that politicians simply try to satisfy.

My basic point in all this is that I perceive fundamental human weaknesses that circumvent our making rational, smart, adult decisions about our future. Our expectations tend to be outsized with respect to the physical limitations at hand. We quickly dash up against ideological articles of faith, so that many are unable to acknowledge that there is an energy/resource problem at all. The Spock in me wants to raise an eyebrow and say “fascinating.” The human in me is distressed by the implications to our collective rationality. The adult in me wants less whining, fewer temper tantrums, realistic expectations, a willingness to sacrifice where needed, the maturity to talk of the possibility of collapse and the need to step off the growth train, and adoption of a selfless attitude that we owe future generations a livable world where we can live rich and fulfilling lives with another click of the ratchet.


from this post.

Fundamental human weaknesses?

The adult in me says, “Let nature takes its course.” The human in me says, “Your food and knowledge comes from human community. You have the obligation to contribute to human community.”

In summary, the overall me says, “Do your best to influence the course to where you envision, and no hard feeling if it falls short.”

With God who needs math or physics?

If we go the God path rather than the science path it will get very ugly.


from Tankingthinker’s comment in The Oil Drum.


Also see this post.

This is a test for scientific thinking, a test for what our education have achieved. Have they overcome our tendency to ideology/faith/emotion? Have they strengthened our scientific thinking / critical thinking / reasoning / wisdom enough?

What is the percentage of scientific thinking people in our total global population? What is the percentage of people consider themselves as global citizens in such a globalized/interconnected world today? The larger the percentage, the larger the chance.

Make no mistake about it, ignorance is a choice. It doesn’t matter whether you are poor or rich. Books are available to everyone in this country.

We don’t know because we don’t want to know.

Americans have chosen to believe the lies because the truth is too hard to accept.

Becoming educated, thinking critically, working hard, saving money to buy what you need (as opposed to what you want), developing human relationships, and questioning the motivations of government, corporate and religious leaders is hard. It is easy to coast through school and never read a book for the rest of your life. It is easy to not think about the future, your retirement, or the future of unborn generations. It is easy to coast through life at a job (until you lose it) that is unchallenging, with no desire or motivation for advancement. It is easy to make your everyday troubles disappear by whipping out your piece of plastic and acquiring everything you desire today.

Americans love authority figures who act as if they have all the answers.

You are being lied to, but most of you prefer it.

When Jimmy Carter gave his malaise speech in 1979, Americans were in no mood to listen. Carter’s solutions were too painful, required sacrifice, and sought to benefit future generations. The leading edge of the Baby Boom generation had reached their 30s by 1979, and the most spoiled, pampered, egocentric generation in history could care less about future generations, long term thinking, or sacrifice for the greater good. They were the ME GENERATION.

Instead of dealing with reality, adapting our behavior and preparing for a more localized society, we put our blinders on, chose ignorance over reason and pushed the pedal to the medal by moving farther away from our jobs, building bigger energy intensive mansions, and insisting on driving tank-like SUVs, Hummers, and good ole boy pickups.

Kevin Phillips in American Theocracy concludes that there are so many Americans tied to our unsustainable economic model that they will choose to lie to themselves and be lied to by their leaders rather than think and adapt:
A large number of voters work in or depend on the energy and automobile industries, and still more are invested in them, not just financially but emotionally and culturally. These secondary cadres included racing fans, hobbyists, collectors, and dedicated readers of automotive magazines, as well as the tens of millions of automobile commuters from suburbs and distant exurbs, plus the high number of drivers whose strong self-identification with vehicle types and models serve as thinly disguised political statements.

“Our principal constraints are cultural. During the last two centuries we have known nothing but exponential growth and in parallel we have evolved what amounts to an exponential-growth culture, a culture so heavily dependent upon the continuance of exponential growth for its stability that it is incapable of reckoning with problems of non-growth.” – M King Hubbert

Are you tired of lying to yourselves?

“Most of one’s life is one prolonged effort to prevent oneself from thinking. People intoxicate themselves with work so they won’t see how they really are.” – Aldous Huxley


from this post.

The Australian Research Institute for Environment and Sustainability (ARIES) opinion:



  1. Envisioning a better future
  2. Critical thinking and reflection
  3. Participation
  4. Partnerships for change
  5. Systems thinking

More elaboration here.

How to be a human 怎样做人:


  • Moral / Ethics (based on innate Love / Conscience / care about others but with reasoning) – determine goal that good for society
  • Critical thinking / Judge conflicting information to make decision / how to think (use your brain) – determine the right way to reach the goal

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