What makes a bad search?

Biases in the search

In the thinking processes where we are searching for evidence, we may be searching for clues and evidence by our actions or by searching our memories for something that may shed light on our investigations. There may be a number of biases in the way we think. We often search in a way that favours finding results that appeal to us already. A good example is in thinking about history. People sometimes want to demonstrate, for nationalist purposes, that their nation or people or culture is the best and so in searching for evidence, they look only for evidence and arguments that support their case and conveniently leave out searches that might yield evidence against their positions. To recognise this as bad thinking one has to recognise the goal of demonstrating that one nation is better than another (whatever better means). The search should really be concentrated in what is thought to bring the most decisive evidence, whether or not it is pleasing to the thinker. However this again depends on the goals of the thinker. Why should the thinker have intellectual honesty as the driving force? Where this becomes bad thinking is where intellectual honesty is compromised. It is of course a matter of degree and the more compromised the more serious this is (as part of the sin of disbelief)

Inactivity in the search

Inactivity in the search is really just another form of bias in our thinking. It results from trying to maintain intellectual honesty at the same time as keeping cherished beliefs, beliefs that are in possible danger if the search is too thorough. However, searching takes time and effort and you may have other priorities in life to spend your efforts on. There is a perception in this of diminishing returns, i.e. that the more you search the less significant the results will be. However, bad thinking in this respect will be in proportion to the degree of self-delusion about how whether the returns are diminishing or not. What these returns are and how well they fit into intellectual honesty is of course a value judgement decisive in the way we think and in what good thinking is.

Searching not in accordance to the importance of what the search is for

What is important is very much a value judgement; the importance will depend on what your goals are. If good thinking is to imply that you search in proportion to the importance of what the search is for, then it is first essential that the goals themselves are right; we must first search for our goals. What is important? I mean what is REALLY important? This is the most important question. The question can be asked as "what is good and what is bad?" or " What is the criterion for deciding good or bad?". If there is no absolute good and no absolute bad then what is important? Nothing. And if nothing is important then no thinking can be good and no thinking can be bad. (I will return to this theme in depth later) What is really important is whether anything is really important? Whether there is a single judge who determines what is good, useful, important and what is bad, damaging and useless, or just unimportant. This is the most important question: Does the judge exist, does God exist? - It is this question above all that deserves time and effort spent searching.

Confidence in the results, not appropriate to the amount and quality of thinking that has gone into reaching them

As far as this relates specifically to future searches it manifests itself either as arrogance or as timidity. Arrogant people say, "I know - therefore I don't need to listen". Such an attitude prevents the search process before it even starts. Timid people say, "there's no point listening - I couldn't understand". Both these approaches make thinking bad, though arrogance is usually worse because timid people tend to follow arrogant people.

The next section goes on to discuss the part of thinking through which we reflect on the results of the searches. Of course the split is not clean between these two processes but it is helpful to use these splits in explaining good thinking.


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