Teach a Kid to Fish (for Truth) …

Does this look like a familiar picture to you?

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Granted, those educators guilty of this error tend to be honest enough to not claim they are teaching critical thinking, but the image’s message remains.  Evidently the artist is criticizing the educational status quo for its emphasis on teaching students to search for the “right answer,” from sources they are expected to trust unquestionably.  This is in contrast to teaching how to distinguish right answers from wrong ones using widely applicable mental skills, as is surely necessary in the sea of ambiguous information we find on the Internet (and more traditional sources as well).

I may do a more extensive post on the state of standard education in the U.S., but for now I’d like to hear your thoughts on this cartoon’s premise.  Is this a fair critique, or is there an effectiveness to the current educational system the artist is missing here? Even if you agree with it, do you think any clear, feasible alternatives present themselves?  I’m curious, because the many debates that rage on over educational structures fascinate me in their massive relevance to this blog’s focus.  Few social institutions could have greater influence over society’s well-being than the means by which new generations learn (or learn how to learn) information.

“Diagnosing Everything” Is Just Being Human

What is ultimately responsible for every justice and injustice in this world? Though it’s aided by many external factors, this agent is quite evidently the human mind. The very concept of justice depends on the existence of conscious beings like ourselves, who assign varying degrees of value to everything on the spectrum of experiences, and who are aware of some — but not all — ways we could act to achieve more of what we value.

If, then, our capacities to value experiences and to understand their causes emerge, in at least some extremely significant sense, from the behavior of our complex brains, you can see whence cometh the need for accurate psychology and mental health care. So much of society’s complications are symptoms of a sickness that is ignorance of psychological facts, even when we label our lay psychology “common sense.”

The initiative Patel describes in this video is an example of applying knowledge of psychology to help immense numbers of people. It’s easy to lose perspective on just how instrumental ailments like depression, as Patel notes, are in creating a domino effect of emotional and physical harms. Like any medical problem, these illnesses not only inflict unnecessary suffering on those with them, but because they affect the brain directly they tend to influence their sufferers’ decisions in ways that have alarming social ramifications. The obvious exhibit A for this claim is any antisocial personality disorder; clinical psychopathy, for instance, consists of a genetic and neurological predisposition to lack of empathy, and to predatory behavior with the proper environmental catalysts. Even psychopaths themselves suffer from their condition, as this clearly impairs potential for developed relationships with others.

This, of course, brings further questions to the table. How can we tell genuine science from pop psych that preys on gullibility? How can we guard our judgments against abuses of logic, where data from a young field are hastily extrapolated beyond their place?

Hence, the utility of the scientific method. We may prefer to think of science as the domain only of the elites, a practice satisfying to curiosity but far subordinate in importance for society to economics, activism, and law. Yet in an often underestimated sense, the empirical methods of modern science are really just a systemized form of what we do all the time in reliable reasoning. When I say that psychology is a crucial tool for the prediction of and prevention of harmful human behavior, so much so that it deserves a place in the discourse of social justice, I am saying nothing more controversial than that there are large ways in which humans are causal systems, influenced by the chemistry of our brains. We prove this every time we reward good actions and punish bad ones, or apportion trust according to a person’s history of dealing with people.

In short, diagnosis is the lifeblood of prognosis — when you diagnose a mental illness, certain specified behaviors should tend to emerge more so than in the average person, and if they don’t, the diagnosis is flawed. In future posts, we’ll look at ways we can utilize models of mental health to improve our altruistic efforts.