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Monday, 1 June 2015

Wishful thinking - critical thinking

Wishful thinking is one of the biggest obstacles to critical thinking.

Wouldn't it be great if there was a lottery win of £1,000,000 just waiting for me, and all I have to do it pay the paltry amount of £32 to release it? Wouldn't it be great if there was a pill that could takes 30 pounds of fat off me without the need for dieting? Wouldn't it be great if I could double my IQ just be drinking this medicine?

Yes, it would be great. And because we so want it to be true, we're tempted to think that maybe it is true.

Wouldn't it be great if after we die, that isn't the end, but things get even better? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could get what we desperately want, by asking the magic man in the sky? Wouldn't it be great if we could shed all guilt and responsibility by being forgiven by a shaman?

Yes, it would be great. And because we so want it to be true, we're tempted to think that maybe it is true.

Recently, I heard a terrible story about a young girl who committed suicide because she so desperately wanted to be with her father who had died a few years previously. Awful. Appalling. But untrue. Some people wanted it to be true, because it shows how religion can directly lead to a bad outcome, and for a while I believed it. But then I thought, if I want this to be true, am I falling into the trap of wishful thinking?

And it turned out to be untrue. I checked back to the sources, which turned out to be the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail, and they gave no source. So I checked further, and found a Polish source. And this important fact was uncovered - there was no suicide note, even though the newspaper reports quoted a suicide note verbatim in English (although I would have expected her to write in Polish). We don't actually know why she killed herself.

So in our efforts to believe what is true and disbelieve what isn't true, we should especially beware of wishful thinking.

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