Dr Duncan James > Critical Thinking and Waffly Ramblings

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Critical Thinking and Waffly Ramblings

The logical and social skills for thinking and learning!

As someone who enjoys learning and thinking, I have found I am naturally interested in being better at thinking and learning. I encourage you to explore this section to find out more about being better at analysing and understanding "critical thinking" (a real thing and a subject of its own at university) and also to have some fun chatting and speculating!

"Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups."

unknown (I like to hope that "never understimate the power of one wise person to influence others" is also true)

This used to just be my "ramblings" section. In its earlier incarnation it developed subsections on podcasts and logic. I now also have a blank section about quotes that I will be adding to. Now that I am completely changing my website to be a learning destination, the ramblings section deserves a higher profile. So, this means the very casual and chatty approach needs tightening up. I'll do this at some point: making this a much easier-to-read series of articles. I hope to create some videos and probably an eBook at the same time. Meanwhile, please remember this was more of a jokey/chatty section of my old website!

"When teaching I like to find something a student is good at. I then slowly introduce more difficult problems at a comfortable pace."

Dr Duncan James

"When you're talking to someone, instead of looking at their face, look at their ear."


"It has been found that teaching of scientific ideas does not mean the children 'learn' these ideas. They listen, review and build it into their existing world view. This is why encouraging them to think for themselves and build a sensible world-view based on observation and experiment is the only way."

paraphrasing Wynne Harlen (author of The Teaching of Science in Primary Schools)

I hope you enjoy browsing my website. I have included links to other websites where I think they will be useful. The book "Wildlife of Planet Earth" has lots of links in it. And here are some random links that don't seem to fit anywhere else:- A reason to feel good about the world is someone called The Dancing Man (link to an article on the Guardian website); If you want to be inspired perhaps read about how Steve Coogan started out with a self-confessed lazy approach and learnt to graft and got well rewarded. A great starting point to learn about how to deal with people that seem to talk too much (link to article on the Psychology Today website); Kukuxumusu do some amazing stuff including my favourite t-shirts (link to Kukuxumusu website); Finding vegan food in Bournemouth (link to Peta website); Fun decorative stickers for motorhomes or even cars (link to Hippy Motors website); I have found Solo Press to be a very reliable leaflet printing company; My vehicle is decorated with vinyl stickers from Stripes; Wildlife Watching Supplies is a website that has been running for many years and has some good products although note that "Skin so Soft" is a great insect repellent that is not sold as such which I have seen is very popular in places like Scotland; Fire saucers are a great outdoors product for having fires in a safer way with less damage to the ground.

"Before you criticise someone you should first walk a mile in their shoes. That way at least you are a mile away and have their shoes."

Jack Handey

"It is not possible to dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper."

from Edward de Bono in his book The use of Lateral Thinking

My Journey as an Author

I am really enjoying making books and videos. My inspiration is that I want to reach more people with my teaching work. The last 5 or 6 years I have been working on the books and videos and only in the last year have I started publishing. It has amazed me that it takes so long! The two exciting things for me right now are: (1) the other things in the pipeline that I have been working on for the last few years and (2) the prospect of advertising these products and starting to reach more people.

Another local author in the Bournemouth area is John Garland.


"What you’re capable of is not a function of what others think."

marc and angel

A theme in my life is positivity. In my wildlife guides I try to never give a negative review, simply adding more positivity to the places I liked the most and saying less about the others. In my teaching I look to find what a student is good at and build from a foundation of positivity and confidence. I love playing games and I look to celebrate the joy of the game whoever is winning.

marc and angel run a blog with some positivity articles that inspire me. An article I like on their blog is 7 Negative People you Need to Ignore. Another article is 6 Things Happy People Never Do.


I like this diagram. A lot of people study the field of inflation. I have had many discussions on this and I often find that others resort to explaining it in terms of other technical economic terms. While I understand explaining it this way is legitimate and builds on thorough work by other people (as is the nature of so many technical subjects) I feel like that is not what I want. I am intrigued to know the role inflation plays, what it really means if you strip away all the technical jargon and whether it is the root cause of inequality: My gut feeling is it might create a continually moving finish line that means the poorer cannot catch up with the rich.

Another financial topic is the value of money compared to the value of your time. I particularly enjoyed reading this Reddit conversation about time and money which is still quite technical but good for those of us that are not financial specialists.

Another related issue is that the world's most wealthy seem to keep getting wealthier. I am definitely most convinced by the arguments that this is a bad thing. However, something to cheer us all up a bit is that there are less people in "extreme poverty" now, at least according to some data on low wages.

"What folly to dread the thought of throwing away life at once, and yet have no regards to throwing it away by parcels and piecemeal."

John Howe

Easy Access to Knowledge and Outrage in the Media

I think the world is changing. It seems to be much easier to know in detail what people have done for many reasons including:- the ability to search out information on the internet; the permanency of anything written on the internet and; information platforms such as Facebook. I have observed many instances of people and the press to be outraged by mistakes people have made. Personally I have made many mistakes and I try to accept the mistakes of others. My prediction is that with the much larger number of mistakes that will become obvious we need to learn to accept the mistakes of others more and be less judgemental.

Is Consciousness in Humans Universal?

I feel I have to credit this idea to Todd E. Feinberg, writing in What We Believe But Cannot Prove. However, it is also something I am really interested in and have developed strong ideas about/evidence of myself. Todd E. Feinberg suggests that we cannot know if other people are actually conscious: they may just be mimicking the behaviour that a conscious person exhibits. So we only know for sure that we are conscious. He also points out that if you accept this idea it makes it possible that an AI machine that we think to be conscious might just be a clever reconstruction of conscious-like behaviour.

I have noticed that a number of people never seem to come up with original ideas and that if I watch them very carefully their behaviour seems to follow a few, simple rules. This, plus evidence from my one-on-one teaching makes me question the assumption that all humans are conscious/self-aware.

A related, and fun idea, is that if consciousness is a result of the large processing power of the human brain then it should be theoretically possible to build a really large cog-driven machine that is conscious. A crazy idea that I love!


"Autism is a condition but people living with autism are people."

unknown (I like this quote and feel it could equally apply to any condition)

An article I really like by James Williams (who has an autism website) is Six Principles Of Autistic Interaction. I strongly recommend reading this if you want some interesting thoughts on the subject.

This topic of logic and everyday life is particularly an issue for high functioning autistic people (link to autism website) for whom the illogical nature of everyday life can be very confusing. If you are interested in the high intelligence aspect of this I strongly recommend an article by John Simonds (link to external website) which provokes an interesting series of comments which give relevant experiences from others and also show how some misunderstand the topic as well.

Teaching Incrementally

Teaching fascinates me. I'm not completely sure why but possibly it is because I enjoy learning. I have spent many years teaching many things. My personal experience is that: good teaching seems to be structured and clear but great teaching seems to go beyond that and also take into account the incremental nature of learning.

As a maths tutor my job is to help student's find an extra something to boost their grade. The student may already have good teachers at school, a mature approach to learning and sometimes they already had a maths tutor. I believe I have found two main ways to help. One way I give them an extra boost is through some unique approaches to certain aspects of maths. The second is the use of incremental learning: I identify the stage they are at and simply make the work we do slightly more difficult every week. It has taken me a few years to be really confident in this approach because the short-term benefits are not very obvious. However, in the long-term I find a momentum develops as learning is retained better and the inevitability of getting a bit better every week means my student is like the tortoise in the famous "Hare and the Tortoise" story. I have found incremental learning in my maths tutorials to be a very effective approach.

I am starting to spot a pattern that teachers in other fields that are trying to create more effective teaching approaches are doing the same thing. For example, Robin Zander is doing similar things in the field of physical training. I first heard about Robin Zander in Episode 17 of The Autism Show.

Vegan Cooking

Generally I am not keen on eating animals or their produce (such as milk and eggs). Big picture: it seems a bit harsh on the animals. Even if they were bred for food why not free them to enjoy their lives? But hey; for whatever reason I therefore eat a lot of vegan food.

Where do I get my protein from? Well, I'm not claiming to be an expert and do not know for sure whether we need protein from meat to survive. However, there are vegan bodybuilders covered in muscle, prize bulls got to be enormous piles of muscle from eating grass and vegetables are generally between 5-10% protein. I don't think any of those things are definitive arguments but they surely are enough to counter the counter-argument that "obviously you need to eat protein".

Vegan batter mix with enough to make about 12 pancakes or to batter about 1kg fruit or veg. Ingredients 125g wholewheat flour, 60g soya flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, salt to taste, 125ml soya milk, 125ml water, 45ml oil. Method:- 1. Put the flours, baking powder and salt into bowl and mix well. 2. Now add milk a little at a time and then the water, stirring continuously until mixture is smooth and creamy. For fritters keep it thick. For pancakes water it down to be thinner - the thinner the lighter pancakes. I suggest experimenting to see what works for you. 3. Beat in the oil a little at a time with a whisk, a fork or electric mixer. Leave for at least 20 minutes before use. You can prepare well in advance (for example, the night before) if you want.

Beans and lentils are popular with a lot of vegans. I've never really got into them. I like them as ingredients in more processed dishes but on their own I'm just not that into them.

They Were People

This extract from "Blood and Iron" by Peter Mann inspired me when I was younger. It solidified my belief that we should be both willing to be opinionated about groups but caring towards every individual regardless of the group they are from.

Two good UK-based book shops for wildlife books I use are Calluna Books and the Natural History Book Service. Although not a specialist nature book shop I also find Abe Books to be useful.

"Would you like to know with great precision the date of your death? If not then consider introducing as much randomness as you can into your life to make your life more enjoyable on a smaller day-to-day scale as well. My personal preference is to cram all my fixed appointments into a small space of time so that the rest of the week can be flexible and spontaneous. I also like to know if (for example) a bus is running every 30 minutes and so enjoy the flexibility of just turning up whenever is convenient without planning a particular time."

Based on the work of Nassim Nicolas Talib, author of Fooled by Randomness

"Hostility and anger are buckets to carry substance, not substance themselves."

common principle

"I will see the big picture.
It will make me content.
It will make me a clear speaker."

This is my meditation every morning. It is sums up how I have found I can experience a richer life, enjoy socialising more and be productive in my work.

Here is a link to World Happiness Day which I am a big fan of!

Finally some jokes.

"I tried out one of the new Google driverless cars yesterday. It broke down after 20 minutes. I got out and back in again; and it started working again."

adaptation of old joke

"We don't serve tachyons in here says the bartender. A tachyon walks into a bar."


"I went to a fancy French restaurant called Deja Vu. The head waiter said, 'Don't I know you?'"

Steven Wright

"Mom said, 'Steven, time to go to sleep.' I said, 'But I don't know how.' She said, 'It's real easy. Just go down to the end of tired and hang a left.' So I went down to the end of tired, and just out of curiosity I hung a right. My mother was there, and she said 'I thought I told you to go to sleep.'"

Steven Wright

"I went down the street to the 24-hour grocery. When I got there, the guy was locking the front door. I said, 'Hey, the sign says you're open 24 hours.' He said, 'Yes, but not in a row.'"

Steven Wright

"I locked my keys in the car the other day. But it was alright, I was still inside."

Steven Wright

"It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to have to paint it."

Steven Wright

"In my house there's this light switch that doesn't do anything. Every so often I would flick it on and off just to check. Yesterday, I got a call from a woman in Germany. She said, 'Cut it out.'"

Steven Wright

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