A book to help you think in a confusing world

In the middle of so many different opinions, worldviews, religions and ideologies, one of the best tools we have to starting making sense of it all is reason and, specifically, science.

If you want to understand what science is all about and the ways it differs from superstition in understanding the world, try reading The Demon-Haunted World, by Carl Sagan:

In the mean time, I’ve written elsewhere this summary of the differences between scientific thinking and magical thinking:

Scientific thinking: those who think scientifically understand we have very powerful biases in our mind and we should try to avoid all the pitfalls created by those biases. Any hypothesis must be rigorously tested before being accepted as valid, and if our intuition is inclined towards a theory, we should test it more carefully than usual. The way to approach the truth is to distrust our first impressions and test our theories. We should also be implacable with our ideas and we should think critically. This means we should not accept anything without trying to understand it and test it, even if only with our mind. In a nutshell: we should try to disprove something to ourselves before accepting it as a (provisional) truth. We also understand that our emotions regarding a theory have no bearing in the capacity of that theory to explain the world. We may detest a specific theory and even so it may be the best available theory to explain whatever we are trying to explain.

Magical thinking: for those who think magically, words have a direct bearing on reality. They are literally magical. If you think about something, it will happen. What you think has a direct bearing on the world outside you. Fuzzy concepts in your mind create your reality. Metaphors don’t explain reality, they are a way of understanding hidden aspects of the universe. For those who fall prey to magical thinking, reality is not understood using such a painstakingly slow method as science, but rather using our intuition, which means we create some fuzzy image of the world and then just ignore everything else. This is a very comfortable way to think: and it is probably an adaptation of human beings to the fact they are conscious and sensible beings living in a very complex world which they do not entirely control.

Astrology is magical thinking. Homeopathy is magical thinking. Conspiracy theories are, more often than not, magical thinking. I could go on…


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