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The Quiet Canine - a critical thinking tool to find the truth

critical thinking
Dog not barking

We have several sayings about dogs barking, like “barking up the wrong tree” and “his bark is worse than his bite.” But a less common canine concept can help in our ability to assess information - the dog not barking.

In The Adventure of Silver Blaze, Sherlock Holmes and a Scotland Yard detective are investigating a case of a missing racehorse. Holmes mentions the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. The detective says, “The dog did nothing in the night-time,” which was Holmes’s point. Why didn’t the dog bark at the culprit? Holmes deduced that the dog was not alarmed because it was familiar with the person who was stealing the horse, providing an important clue.

Holmes debunked the idea that a stranger committed the crime because of the quiet dog, and the phrase, “dog not barking” has come to mean any effect that didn’t happen but would have been triggered had the claimed event actually occurred.

Looking for the dog not barking is using deductive reasoning - an important part of a critical thinking toolkit. When someone makes a claim (especially a public figure) about an event or a situation, engage your imagination. Ask yourself what would be the likely effects of that event if it were true.

For example, someone claims there is a harmful societal trend occurring, citing specific examples. However, professional data/statistics experts - even those who support their team - are silent. That dog not barking indicates a lack of credible evidence. If there was non-anecdotal evidence to support the claim, the experts on their side would be shouting it from the rooftops.

A word of caution when looking for a dog not barking: proceed carefully. Think about if there is anything else that could have caused the effect not to happen. Avoid jumping to conclusions. Ask the person making the claim why the dog didn’t bark - they may be able to give you a valid reason.

Also, trust is important in interpersonal relationships. Questioning someone’s truthfulness may be more damaging than taking it at face value. But for public figures and the media, who have proven themselves quite capable of lying and misleading us without a second thought, question everything.

Think well - live well.

- Steve Haffner, speaker and mind performance strategist

Want to learn more about improving your decision making performance?

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