Secret Value of Higher Education

An Open Letter to My College Age Friends:

I want to share with you an important secret my college professor spelled out for me. It is: College is a tremendous opportunity to learn how to think.

You’re probably wondering: “Don’t I already know how to think?”

Sure, but you can always do it better. Right now you know what is chill, can figure out your smart phone, and best of all, can drive a car. But the trouble is that none of that is likely to be relevant in 30 years. I want you to have the mental chops to deal with new things coming up and do it better than all the older people you have to help with their smart phones or send to to find out that Bill Gates is NOT going to give them a bundle of cash for passing on an email.

If you’re not convinced that you need to learn how to think even after growing up, double-click into the field of behavioral finance. You’ll get a tour of all the ways us humans are wired to make us poor rational decision-makers.

College helps you think better, not only by jamming on information about various topics, but also in forcing you to think in various ways you wouldn’t ordinarily.

For example, in science-related majors, you cover statistical thinking, which is increasingly useful to understand and predict the outcome of complex processes. And everything is complex now as we understand how things are connected.

Of course there’s the foundation of the scientific method that helps us to add to our knowledge in a structured and proven way. In everyday use, the scientific method leads me to search out reliable data when making decisions.

Having a strong grasp of critical thinking is necessary to figure out what is really going on, and more importantly, form a plan of what you do about it. Hear Malia tell it.

With so much mis-information in media, internet, and even books, it seems that skepticism is a key survival skill. If you get a chance to take a logic and reasoning class I’d highly recommend it so that you can identify an invalid argument when you hear it.

Great literature enhances our thinking too, showing us humanity through emotion, metaphor, allegory, and symbolism. Interestingly enough, reading literary fiction has been shown in scientific studies to increase people’s emotional intelligence.

Don’t worry too much if you don’t know stuff right away. Being able to learn is the important thing.

IMHO, intuition is, at best, earned. After the 10,000 challenging hours of practice required for expertise in most fields, answers may seem to just appear. Before that expert level, (and even after when randomness and statistical processes enter into the game), what people try with intuition is more often “into-wishing”.

Saying IMHO, reminds me how important it is to understand the distinction between fact and opinion. And when considering an opinion it is always necessary to gauge the capabilities of the person making the claim. Sadly, all too often unqualified people state their opinions as fact.
Barriers to Critical Thinking
Partly how this happens to people, I believe, is that they don’t know what they don’t know….in two ways.
1. They simply aren’t aware of the difference between fact and opinion, so they genuinely believe they know something when its really just their opinion because there is not enough evidence to support it as a fact.
2. Secondly, it’s sometimes hard to conceive of how very little we do know and uncomfortable to admit not knowing all that.

Starting in college was when I first learned how to tell when I didn’t know something. Apparently that skill has been growing ever since because every year I realize more that I don’t know!

The saving grace is that with an educated mind you have the tools to sort it out and the confidence to sit with the unknowns until you find your way.