(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY When you question assumptions, claims, and viewpoints instead of just accepting them as gospel, as in "I saw it on the internet so it must be true," that's called "critical thinking."
The concept dates back thousands of years to Socrates (Socratic method) and Buddha's teachings (kalama sutta). I'm always telling people to question conventional wisdom and challenge the status quo. Same thing.
Critical thinking is crucial for good decision-making. It's also a really neat trick if you want to sound smart.
In an age of quick fixes, fads, sound bites, social media, and information overload, where anything that sounds cool or impressive gets picked up by a hundred bloggers and retweeted thousands of times, nothing's more important than critical thinking.
Maybe it's me, but lately it seems that a big chunk of the human race has sort of forgotten how to think logically. Maybe everyone's just too busy talking, texting, and tweeting to be bothered with a little thing like rational thought.
Maybe we're all so doped up on dopamine and serotonin from our gadget and social media addictions that our brains just don't work right anymore. Who knows?
All I know is that when I first got my iPhone, I nearly walked into a pole. Then I tried texting while driving, almost crashed my car and had a mini heart attack. For me, that was enough stupidity for a lifetime.
Still, some people seem to revel in the absence of critical thinking. Maybe they overindulged in the past and are trying to cut down. Maybe it's a new fad: the No-Critical Thinking diet.
In case you're wondering why I think critical thinking is nearing extinction, here are a few examples from that all-time great haven for suckers -- I mean non-critical thinkers -- the stock market:
Diversification. I once had a friend who sold his company to Cisco in an all-stock transaction, then kept it all -- we're talking $20 million -- in Cisco stock for years. All the experts say diversify, diversify, diversify. Do people diversify? No.
Tesla. How is it that Tesla, a company that's never made money and maybe never will, has a $3 billion market cap? Guess what sent the stock soaring over 10% the past few days? News that the company is making 10 Model S electric cars per week and has delivered 50 sedans, so far. Whoopee.
Best Buy. Yesterday, formermade a bid to buy the company he founded for about $8 billion. Um, why? Hasn't anybody told this guy that it's an Amazon world, that the only electronics company making money in retail is Apple, that even Ron Johnson -- who set up Apple's amazing stores -- can't figure out how to replicate his magic at J.C. Penny?
Facebook. How many people warned everyone not to buy into this crazy overhyped IPO? I know I did: "You can't make money flipping stocks, so don't bother. If you want to own, either because you 'like' the company or as a diversification strategy, relax and wait until the dust settles." Did anyone listen? Nope.
RIM. Who can remember when BlackBerry maker Research In Motion owned the smartphone market and still thinks they've got a chance at coming back? If you answered in the affirmative, then you've got to be one of the poor saps that own this stock. Here's a bonus question: When CEO Thorsten Heins asked investors to be patient about the company's delayed BlackBerry 10, you bought that too, right? That's what I thought.
Sprint.are up about 30 percent since announcing that iPhone sales were better than expected, and the company's shutdown of Nextel and deployment of a next-generation network is on track. But the iPhone deal is a money loser until 2015, Sprint's network upgrade is way behind competitor's AT&T and Verizon, and the company continues to bleed subscribers and red ink to the tune of $13 billion over the past 5 years. Some turnaround.
I can go on and on, but what's the point? Half of you are probably on some sort of supplement that claims to cleanse your colon, grow your hair, or help you lose weight without any change in diet or exercise. Not into that sort of thing? Good for you. But if you have a whole shelf dedicated to self-help books, you might want to try a philosophy class, instead. I hear Socrates is making a comeback.
Image courtesy of Flickr user samirluther