Learning How to Be a Skeptic

skeptic brain ideaOf all the roles I play today, being a lifelong learner is my favorite. I love engaging my mind in deep thoughts. None ran deeper than the online class, Skepticism 101 from The Great Courses. Never has a class challenged me and influenced my thinking.

Being a Skeptic

Dr. Michael Shermer teaches the course, which is offered as a series of 18 audio lectures, each about 30 minutes long. You may know of Shermer from his other roles as the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the executive director of the Skeptics Society, and a monthly columnist for Scientific American.

He begins the course with some disturbing statistics about the state of beliefs among Americans. For example, more people believe in miracles than in evolution. He attributes the issue to a lack of understanding of the scientific process and miscommunication by the media.

This scenario has created a need for skepticism, which he describes as, “the rigorous application of science and reason to test the validity of any and all claims.”

The Tour of Beliefs, Fallacies, and Myths

The 18 lectures explore several controversial topics, such as the existence of God, the paranormal, and UFOs. He peppers his lectures with thoughtful scientific research. He quotes many authors and experts to remove the possibility of misinterpretation. He is one who follows his own principles as the true skeptic.

Shermer brings many of our long-held beliefs, experiences, and behaviors down to the neurological processes of the brain. He offers rational explanations for phenomenon such as UFO abductions, cult experiences, and conspiracy theories. I found these discussions comforting in a way because they explain our humanness.

Mind and Brain

I have to admit that some lectures ventured into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territories. One running theme involves dualism versus monism. The former is the belief that two classes of substances exist in the world, corporeal and incorporeal. A spin on this is the existence of a brain and a mind. The latter sees them as one.

To the scientist, mind and brain are indivisible. The religious individual looks to the existence of the soul that lingers separately from the physical brain. I struggled a bit with the concept that my persona is simply the intricate pattern of neural networks that I have cultivated with time, education, and experience. I guess I’m like many others in this regard in wanting something more.

The class treads on grounds that many online classes do not enter. It’s powerful, thought-provoking, and enlightening. I left the class feeling empowered to spot the pseudoscience that impairs rational thought. I got to know my inner skeptic better. I also felt at peace. Science needn’t conflict with spirituality. The story has to much to tell.

http://exploring.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

photo credit: jaci XIII via photopin cc

Note Taking Version 2.0

note taking benefitsA common adage you’re likely to hear about writing talks of keeping a notebook with you always. I have. I love my trusty Moleskine. It was my constant companion while writing, “Murder to Order.” These days, note taking has morphed into new forms.

New Ways of Note Taking

While new and not new, using a stylus offers a paperless way to do the same task. Many might call foul over using one. However, there is a lot to reaching for one. It has to do with handwriting.

Several studies have shown that the simple act of handwriting plays an important role in brain development and later learning. James and Engelhardt (2012) found that handwriting in children helps reading acquisition skills later in life. Similarly, Berninger et al (2006) found that writing facilitated spelling achievement in children.

Long-Term Consequences

Writing helps to build the neural networks in our brains to help us develop these basic skills. The move through Common Core away from fine-tuning these skills may prove a detriment later in life.

Consider the findings of Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014). The researchers found that student taking notes by hand performed better on conceptual questions than students using a laptop. They concluded that laptop users didn’t process information the same as with those who took notes by hand. Again, the differences point to neural processing.

Version 2.0

Something is lost during learning without the involvement of handwriting. How do you fix it? Well, that’s where the handy stylus comes in. Taking notes with your smart phone or tablet can replicate the experience of paper notes. It is the act, after all, not the surface that you’re writing on that makes the difference.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Note 4 make it easy with their own stylus. You can also use a separate one with a tablet. The smart phone options stand far and above the tablet experience, IMHO. I can make detailed and fine notes using my Galaxy Note 3.

On the app side, Evernote and now One Note’s handwriting capabilities offer the Moleskine experience without the notebook. Evernote, however, does offer an option to use one with the app if you can’t let go of your favorite pen.

Benefits for the Writer

Handwritten notes give writers the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits to learning, reading, and memory that it offers. If you remember to add tags, you can make writing your next opus that much easier. Consider adding tags like:

  • Character name
  • Plot/subplot
  • Scene
  • Time

You can organize your work better and make searches easier. Writing your next book has never been easier—at least from an organization perspective.

When you embrace handwriting, you use your brain in a way that gives you optimal performance. In the competitive world of writing, any advantage you can take is worth pursuing.

mystery.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

photo credit: sachac via photopin cc