A skeptical attitude towards ideas or stories can keep you from making mistakes or wasting your time with false information. Here are some ways to be more skeptical every day.
1. Learn About Human Flaws And Limitations
Learn about flaws and limitations of humans. As you learn how problematic even our most fundamental and obvious seeming senses can be, you will naturally become more skeptical.
Try studying cognitive biases. For example, confirmation bias is the tendency of the brain to ignore things we don’t agree with and focus on things that support what we think. This can lead us to false conclusions.
Learn about the flaws in memory and brain. For example, the feeling we get of certainty doesn’t come from the logic part of the brain. The feeling of certainty is more of an emotion that our brain creates. This means we might feel certain we remember something is a certain way, but our brain actually just made it up.
Another example of the body’s flawed processes is between the brain and our eyesight. Under some situations the eye has a blind spot. The brain will actually fill in that blind spot when the eye doesn’t send input for that blind spot.
2. Play Devil’s Advocate With Your Closest Beliefs
One of the most useful techniques for building your ability to be more skeptical, is to question your closest beliefs. If you can muster the courage to question beliefs closest to you, you will easily be able to question beliefs when they aren’t emotionally connected to your identity.
Make a list of the things you are most certain about. Ask yourself, what do I want to be true? List the evidence you have that those beliefs are true. Learn to attack the evidence you have of those beliefs. What else could that evidence support? What would someone who hates you say about that argument? What is the weakest part of the argument? Then practice listing evidence against those beliefs. Ask what you are assuming and what would the opposite side say about the argument.
Ask yourself how else could you approach this argument. What would be a different way of looking at it? Our article on framing can help you understand how to recognize and subvert assumptions in your beliefs.
3. Seek Out Different Opinions
Often we don’t know what we don’t know. Because of this it can be hard to spot problems in our arguments. This can be remedied by subscribing to people who we don’t agree with. Take a list of things you believe and look for alternative sources of information for each of those things. For example, if you are liberal, listen to the most logical conservative you can find. If you are conservative, listen to the most rational liberal.
The internet has many forums for people of all sorts of beliefs. Look on Reddit for a forum you don’t agree with. Read their forum wiki and ask questions. Often the best way to question your own beliefs is to engage in a discussion with someone who completely disagrees with you.
4. Be A Broken Record
Sometimes the best way to attack an argument is to ask why repeatedly. You can also ask how we know something repeatedly. For example, take a toilet. You probably think you know how a toilet works. But explain it out loud, and then start asking yourself why and how it actually works.
5. Use Modern Skeptical Techniques
We speak about this more in our article here, but there are many well used tools for skepticism. Research Socratic Questioning and learn to apply it to your beliefs and other people’s. Learn about Street Epistemology, a whole group of people focused on helping others find flaws in their reasoning processes. Study how lawyers persuade juries. Learn how they undermine their opponent’s case.
Now how can you be more skeptical about this list?