Applying the Blind Men and the Elephant Parable to Critical Thinking

In this famous parable, a group of blind men try to understand the nature of an elephant, a beast they’ve never encountered before. Since they cannot see, they try to learn about the nature of the beast by touch alone. Initially, however, each blind man is only able to touch a single part of the elephant.

According to the parable:

Each blind man feels a different part of the elephant’s body, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then describe the elephant based on their limited experience and their descriptions of the elephant are different from each other. In some versions, they come to suspect that the other person is dishonest and they come to blows. The moral of the parable is that humans have a tendency to claim absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience as they ignore other people’s limited, subjective experiences which may be equally true.
— Wikipedia

This story has been used to illustrate a range of truths, but here I would like to apply it to the practice of critical thinking.

In my opinion, one best ways to approach critical thinking on a given subject is to compile a reasonably good list of:

  1. the views of said topic (both expert views as well as popular views),
  2. the policy pros and cons related to said topic, and
  3. the thinkers and writers who best represent the views and policies listed above along with references to their articles and books.

When I say “a reasonably good” list of views on a particular topic, I do not mean a perfect list of views (i.e. a completely comprehensive list of views). That, I’m afraid, may not be possible, especially since the list of views may grow and change over time.

In any event, I try to do this with my blog on a range of topics that interest me. If you’ve read my blog, you know AI and Machine Learning technology is one such topic. On that note, here’s a reference with a list of the 6 worst-case AI scenarios.


Bajema, Natasha

AI’s 6 Worst-Case Scenarios Who needs Terminators when you have precision clickbait and ultra-deepfakes?
by Natasha Bajema
3 January 2021

  1. When Fiction Defines Our Reality
  2. A Dangerous Race to the Bottom
  3. The End of Privacy and Free Will
  4. A Human Skinner Box
  5. The Tyranny of AI Design
  6. Fear of AI Robs Humanity of Its Benefits

Beshears, Fred

World Views as Blind Men Trying to Understand An Elephant
by Fred M. Beshears
4 January 2021

It [the blind men and the elephant story] has been used to illustrate a range of truths and fallacies; broadly, the parable implies that one’s subjective experience can be true, but that such experience is inherently limited by its failure to account for other truths or a totality of truth. At various times the parable has provided insight into the relativism, opaqueness or inexpressible nature of truth, the behavior of experts in fields where there is a deficit or inaccessibility of information, the need for communication, and respect for different perspectives.
— Wikipedia

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