29 February 2020

Studying Philosophy - the beauty of critical thinking

Matthew Le
Bachelor's student

I never expected it, but what I learned in philosophy will not just help me in my career, it will help me in life.

Never have I ever thought that I would be sitting here right now writing a review blog about Philosophy 105G - the course that I hated so much at the beginning of the semester.

But it turns out I learned a few things that opened my mind. And I highly recommend taking a course at university that has nothing to do with your major, just because it might be interesting.

To give you the full story - I chose this course simply because:

  1. I wanted to be in the same class with my girlfriend;
  2. And I was too late to enroll in any other courses available.

Soooo… I took it, unwillingly. Only because I had to. Just like how I was forced to eat seafood when I was a kid.

(Ewww… *still don’t like it.)

Anyway, little did I know, philosophy was very helpful, informative and interesting... Okay, let’s just get straight to the point: Philosophy (or PHIL105G) was life-changing.

And I don’t just say it for the sake of it. What I learned in philosophy will not just help me in my career, it will help me in life.

Here are some of the things I learned:

Example 1: Confirmation Bias

We all know that I hate seafood.

Always have and always will. Plain and simple.

And don’t even argue that I haven’t tried good seafood yet - mind you that I’m from Vietnam.

As you can see, Vietnam is the world's third largest seafood exporter. So it's crazy that I don't like seafood...right?

The problem: Whenever I talk to a new group of people, I would often favor the opinions of those who also hate seafood - like me.

Don’t get me wrong - I never proactively try to do this.

It’s subconscious. It’s an underlying assumption that says: “Seafood lovers are not my type of people. They are not trust-worthy.

You see how toxic that was? :(

It wasn’t until I learned about it in PHIL105G that I finally realised and understood: I was suffering from a form of psychological bias - confirmation bias.

Sounds fancy? Yep, a confirmation bias basically means: We, as human beings, often only listen to things that are aligned with our opinions and disregard/ignore others.

That was literally what I was doing - only listening to those who agreed with “hating seafood” led me to trust them more instead of others.

Crazy right?

I know. When I found out about this - my mind was B.L.O.W.N.

The problem: Whenever I talk to a new group of people, I would often favor the opinions of those who also hate seafood - like me.

Don’t get me wrong - I never proactively try to do this.

It’s subconscious. It’s an underlying assumption that says: “Seafood lovers are not my type of people. They are not trust-worthy.

You see how toxic that was? :(

It wasn’t until I learned about it in PHIL105G that I finally realised and understood: I was suffering from a form of psychological bias - confirmation bias.

Sounds fancy? Yep, a confirmation bias basically means: We, as human beings, often only listen to things that are aligned with our opinions and disregard/ignore others.

That was literally what I was doing - only listening to those who agreed with “hating seafood” led me to trust them more instead of others.

Crazy right?

I know. When I found out about this - my mind was B.L.O.W.N.

Example 2: Appeal to Authority

This is about a fallacy that we all make called appeal to authority.

“Okay Matthew - enough with the fancy words already. Speak human please?” - said one of my friends.

Yea sure :) You guys remembered this picture?:

google search screenshot showing news story that vietnam is the world's 3rd largest seafood exporter

And did you notice the website? Yeah - it came from a site called “english.gamingonline.vn” which had nothing to do with seafood and was completely made up (by me - Matthew Le).

-- That, right there, is called a fallacy (or an appeal to authority, to be specific).

Okay, let me break it down:

  • You guys were convinced that Vietnam was the world’s 3rd largest seafood exporter based on an article on Google (hopefully).
  • I intentionally used the Google logo and search layout in the photo in order to create the feeling that this article came from a trust-worthy authority.
  • In reality, as we now know, this article is made up. Fake news in other words.

This is the perfect example of an appeal to authority: we, as human beings, often believe things just because they are from seemingly-trust-worthy sources (eg, Google or Wikipedia.)

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As you can see, getting to see and understand these very-much-practical-things that we all do daily was a total game-changer for me.

This was all done thanks to the University of Auckland for letting students like me choose some totally unrelated courses to my degree so that I could:

  1. Explore my options
  2. Gain a broader skill base for career adaptability in the future
  3. Have a kick-ass CV/portfolio

Excited for next year! :)

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About the contributors
Matthew Le
Bachelor's student

Hey, I’m Matthew. Born and raised in Vietnam. I spent the last 2 years in high school here in New Zealand. And now, I’m an international student at the University of Auckland. I am turning 19 soon. And I don’t like that. So… I’ve decided to live the last few months of being 18 by the "Theory of YES". Saying YES to things that scare the heck out of me.