024 – How Commerce Became a Tool For Getting Outside My Head


At the beginning of a new year it’s customary to reflect on events of the past year in order to set new goals and chart a course for the future. This is the first in a three-part series where I discuss the lessons I’ve learned in 2017.

In this episode I talk about the surprising role that commerce has played in raising the relevance and impact of my work as a critical thinking educator, and other positive highlights of 2017.


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Episode 023 The Argument Ninja Difference

023 – The Argument Ninja Difference


I’ve learned over the past year that I’m not the only one talking about the failings of traditional schooling. I’m not the only academic talking about developing online courses for the public that they can’t find anywhere else. I’m not even the only one using the language of martial arts in this context. (e.g. Jordan Peterson, Thaddeus Russell, Mixed Mental Arts ….)

But I realize that even among my audience, it may not be clear how the Argument Ninja Academy is supposed to stand out — how it’s different from what I’m seeing in these other projects.

In this episode I want to talk about these differences. I want to talk about what makes the Argument Ninja Academy special.

There are three areas that I can point to.

The first is the martial arts inspiration for this project. It goes way deeper than just borrowing the language of belt levels.

The second is a unique approach to teaching and learning critical thinking and persuasion skills.

And the third is the instructional design of the project, and the team I’m assembling to help make this a reality. The skill set they bring to the Argument Ninja Academy is powerful.

We’re going to talk about all of this today on the podcast. Specifically, I’m going to talk about

  • what it means to be a martial art
  • the difference between bujutsu and budo, the Japanese terms for martial art and martial path, or martial way, respectively.
  • the martial context of critical thinking, and why this language isn’t just metaphorical
  • my own relationship to the martial arts, and the original inspiration for the Argument Ninja Academy
  • what teaching and learning look like, when you focus on skill development rather than rote learning
  • what I’ve learned from my team partners about thinking clearly and thinking big.

In This Episode:

  • (0:00 – 4:10) Introductory remarks. Others working outside of academia — Jordan Peterson, Thaddeus Russell, Mixed Mental Arts. What makes the Argument Ninja Academy special.
  • (4:10 – 8:30) My thesis: critical thinking is a martial art. The definition of a martial art.
  • (8:30 – 12:00) bujutsu vs budo: the complementary faces of every traditional martial art. Examples: jiu-jitsu vs judo; kenjutsu vs kendo
  • (12:00 –  14:00) Does training for combat always involve training in the arts of physical violence? Consider skills related to situational awareness; de-escalation; psychological operations
  • (14:00 – 18:34) What is the “martial context” of critical thinking?
  • (18:34 – 19:40) The path back: reclaiming our autonomy, agency and authority over our own minds; avoiding the worst of the harms that we inflict upon ourselves
  • (19:40 – 20:15) How learning and teaching critical thinking is different when you view it as a martial art
  • (20:15 – 31:10) My experience with the martial arts, and the inspiration for the Argument Ninja Academy
  • (31:10 – 38:40) Introducing my team members: John Lenker (lenker.com)
  • (38:40 – 40:00)  Introducing my team members: Julie Dirksen (usablelearning.com)
  • (40:00 – 41:05) Clarifying mission, audience and learning objectives; defining core skills and curriculum elements
  • (41:05 – 44:25) The real challenge: designing an infrastructure that supports learning
  • (44:25 – 48:15) Lessons about mindset and the importance of thinking big
  • (48:15 – 49:00) How we envision the development process unfolding
  • (49:00 – 49:30) How you can support this project

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022 Thinking Clearly Interview

022 – Thinking Clearly About Critical Thinking: Interview with Kevin deLaplante


For this episode I’m going to share an interview I did for Thinking Clearly, a radio show about critical thinking hosted by Bob Froelich and Julia Minton.

On this live broadcast I answered questions about

  • my particular take on what critical thinking is and why it’s important
  • why I decided to leave my tenured academic job and go solo
  • what video courses I offer at the Critical Thinker Academy
  • what I think is wrong with traditional approaches to critical thinking education
  • what’s different about what I’m trying to do with the Argument Ninja program
  • and more

I even answered a couple of questions from live callers!

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What if Sam Harris and Scott Adams Had a Baby?

021 – What if Sam Harris and Scott Adams Had a Baby?


On this episode I use a recent episode of Sam Harris's podcast (#87 – "Triggered: A Conversation With Scott Adams") as a springboard for exploring a variety of topics related to critical thinking and persuasive communication.

When it comes to critical thinking and rational persuasion, half of my brain thinks like Sam Harris, and the other half thinks like Scott Adams. Each gets something right that the other doesn’t. I’m interested in identifying what each of them gets right, as a step toward creating something that is better than each of them separately, by integrating their strengths and avoiding their weaknesses.

In other words … I want the super-powered love child of Sam Harris and Scott Adams.


In This Episode:

  • (0:00 – 6:00) Introductory remarks
  • (6:00 – 10:15) Introduction to Sam Harris and Scott Adams
  • (10:15 – 15:30) Summary of Sam’s interview with Scott on the Waking Up with Sam Harris podcast
  • (15:50 –  16:30) Why this is relevant to the Argument Ninja Academy
  • (17:00 – 20:15) What I like about Sam: Intellectual virtues
  • (20:15 – 24:50) What I like about Sam: Critical thinking values and democracy
  • (24:50 – 30:10) What I like about Scott: The performative dimension of persuasion
  • (30:10 – 31:55) What I like about Scott: The language of “filters”
  • (31:55 – 39:00) Why both must be part of the foundational skill set for critical thinking and rational persuasion
  • (39:10 – 45:30)  The rhetorical triangle — ethos, pathos and logos
  • (45:30 – 51:18) Speech act theory and communication strategy
  • (51:18 – 58:00) Sam vs Scott: analyzing the conversation
  • (58:00 – 60:00) Speech act theory and Scott’s defense of Trump
  • (60:00 – 67:00) The accusation of “sophistry”: Sam Harris and the Very Bad Wizards (David Pizarro and Tamler Sommers) on Scott Adams
  • (67:00 – 77:40) The philosopher-sophist spectrum, and the persuasion challenge that Scott Adams faces
  • (77:40 – 90:00) Diving deeper: Scott Adams, the illusion of reality, and how persuasion masters can reshape the Matrix

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Critical Thinking in China

020 – Critical Thinking in China


This past month I was fortunate to be a guest of Xidian University in China for two weeks. On this episode of the podcast I share stories and reflections from my adventures as a first-time visitor to China, and I give an overview of some of the public talks and lectures I gave.

The episode has four distinct parts. The first 20 minutes is stories from my trip and observations about Chinese culture. Then there are three discussions on philosophy, science and critical thinking topics:

(1) on circular reasoning in the appeal to science and nature to justify social and political views;
(2) on the elements of science literacy and why public science education doesn’t teach it; and
(3) on the history of critical thinking in the west, and the challenges of talking about the value of critical thinking to audiences in modern China.

You can find a photo essay with lots of pics below!


In This Episode:

  • (00 min -20 min) stories from my trip and observations about Chinese culture
  • (20 min – 30 min) on circular reasoning in the appeal to science and nature to justify social and political views
  • (30 min – 40 min) on the elements of science literacy and why public science education doesn’t teach it
  • (40 min – 50 min) on the history of critical thinking in the west, and the challenges of talking about the value of critical thinking to audiences in modern China
  • (55 min – 60 min) whether I will accept Xidian University’s offer to hire me as a Visiting Professor

Quotes:

“And every morning, before work — between 6 AM and 8:30 AM, or so — hundreds of people, of all ages, would gather in and around this public space, and participate in some kind of physical activity. Many would jog around the track, but others would break off into groups to do tai chi. Older people would gather at a set of upright bars and do calisthenics or stretching in small groups. Off to the side, in these private little park spaces, other tai chi groups would set up. Some of them did tai chi with fans. I saw a small group with swords. Some do group dancing, with scarves and colorful costumes. I would go here in the morning to people-watch, mostly.”

“When you’re studying the natural world, you need to be on the lookout for biases that can creep in due to one’s philosophical or ideological worldview. To some extent this is unavoidable. But it’s particularly concerning if you’re appealing to science to tell you what’s “natural”, and then conclude that some particular social order that you prefer is natural and therefore justified.

People have found justifications for almost any social practice this way. Science tells us that slavery is natural, racial discrimination is natural, fixed gender roles are natural, colonialism is natural, hierarchy is natural, free market capitalism is natural, communism is natural.

This is a seductive path. You don’t want to find yourself projecting your ideology onto the science, and then using that same science to justify your ideology.”

“Critical thinking education, as represented by the curriculum in these commonly used textbooks, by and large ignores the psychological dimension, the actual mechanisms that determine how people form beliefs and make decisions. It ignores the connections between persuasive rhetoric, good argumentation, and psychology. It ignores the social dimensions of cognition, how we rely on groups and culture to carry the burden of much of our thinking. And it fails to recognize how hostile the current media environment is to critical thinking, how people are subject to persuasive messaging around the clock, that is engineered to exploit cognitive biases and bypass our conscious, deliberative reasoning processes.”


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Stories and Pictures from China

From June 27 to July 8 I was a guest of Xidian University in Xi’an, China. This was my first trip to China and it was a great experience.

The circumstances of the invitation are worth mentioning, because it really was a surprise.

I was invited by Dr. Zhu Danqiong. She teaches in the Philosophy Department at Xidian, and she is Director of the Center for Cross-Cultural Studies.

 

Dr. Zhu has a research program on environmental philosophy, and this spring semester she was teaching undergraduate courses in philosophy of science and philosophy of ecology. As Director of the Center for Cross-Cultural Studies she had an opportunity to invite someone who could provide a cross-cultural experience for students, and she was familiar with some of my earlier academic work in the philosophy of science and ecology, so that’s how I came to her attention.

I was invited to do some public talks, some workshops with students, and some meetings with faculty.

Here was the itinerary for the two weeks of my visit:

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