Critical Thinking

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I have for some time thought that critical thinking is in short supply in today’s world. This seems self-evident to me. The world population, at least that portion that lives in the developed world, seems to exercise thinking by soundbite. The soundbite may be a tweet by the moron ensconced at the White House, or by a member of the Kardashian family, or some equally illiterate and uninformed source. But this seems to act as a reputable source for the people who do their thinking like that. What is scary about this is that they vote based on that kind of input.


But as much as I bemoan the lack of critical thinking, it occurred to me that maybe I should do a small article on what exactly “critical thinking” is.


There are several sites I found on this subject, the most complete I think is https://www.criticalthinking.org//. It was founded by Dr. Richard Paul (1937 – 2015).


Below is a partial statement by Michael Scriven & Richard Paul, presented at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, 1987
"Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness..."


Wow! I believe my English to be excellent, but that is quite a lot to bite off at one time. Although it seems very complete.


I will try to break this down and simplify it.


To think critically about something involves three steps


1.    Information gathering:
      a.    Collect valid and correct data about the issue.
      b.    Do your best to ensure that the data you gather is unbiased. This can be difficult, to be sure. At the very least, if some of the information you gather is biased – you must recognize that and include that factor when you proceed to step 2.
      c.    Your data can come from:
              i.    Experience
              ii.    Online investigation
              iii.    Questions & investigation
              iv.    Thinking and / or reasoning
              v.    Etc.
2.    Working with the information
       a.    Organizing the information
       b.    Analyzing the information in one way or the other
               i.    Spreadsheets (one of my favorites)
               ii.    Synthesis (this is being able to combine information in different ways to be able to determine alternatives or finding new ways to accomplish things)
               iii.    Experimentation
               iv.    Further research
        c.    Write it down or discuss it with others – I find this to be invaluable in being able to evaluate your work on the subject.
        d.    Sometimes implementing your conclusions experimentally to see if your analysis of the information carries through into application
3.    Last, but definitely not least, use the conclusions from step 2 to guide your beliefs and actions


I think that that the following are important skills for being able to think critically:


1.    Ability to question yourself
2.    Ability to think outside the box (one of my weaknesses)
3.    Ability to realize that you don’t know
4.    Ability to think flexibly
5.    Ability to understand how to do research


And I don’t think this is a comprehensive list by any means. But since I have spoken scathingly so much about the lack of critical thinking in the world today, I thought it would be germane to write a little on what critical thinking is. Researching it has made me realize that I have work to do on this myself.


Furthermore, critical thinking is not a one-off effort. It is something that one should do constantly. Because life is change. Even if you have an opinion or beliefs about something – circumstances can change – critical thinking as a way of life demands that you are willing to rethink something as circumstances change.


I am not a critical thinker par excellence. It can be tiring, I’ll freely admit. But I won’t back away from my contention that it is an important, even essential, skill. And I would be highly distrustful of any organization or person(s) that either discourage it or don’t utilize it. Religions, cults, governments, and politicians spring to mind.

I found this matrix on the web somewhere a long time ago and it seems totally appropriate (I modified itbit for wording).

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