Many of us occasionally find ourselves in the situation described above and that is ok. It is never a good idea to reason from your conclusions. We often do, however, because we have never been taught critical thinking skills. Modern education is strangely devoid of systematic instruction on critical thinking.
“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”
― Francis Bacon, The Advancement Of Learning
Lack of Critical Thinking in Education
While unfortunate, the present situation in education can be remedied by the competent autodidact. An autodidact is someone who is self taught. You can teach yourself to think more critically or improve you current critical thinking skills. This essay will provide an overview of what is an extremely broad topic, to be discussed in more detail on this website later on.
Why Think Critically?
According to the website criticalthinking.org, a critical thinker “raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely.” A mature critical thinker “gathers and assesses relevant information, and using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively, comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards.” He or she often “thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences and communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.”
Critical thinking requires discipline, time and commitment to the truth. Lets face it; life is hard. Most people are either unwilling or unable to follow a process of seeking truth because of time and economic concerns, or because they do not have the aptitude or wherewithal to chase it. Either way, it is safe to say that many people are intellectually lazy. They rely on others or so-called authority figures for interpretation of complex events, often because that is the way they were educated. This state of affairs can lead to blind acceptance without verification of the facts.
Authorities in a particular field are often very knowledgeable, but that does not mean that you should ever listen to any authority blindly. To determine whether someone is qualified to comment, you have to look at the merit of their commentary, not what preceded it.
As a critical thinker, it is better to rely on personal experience for verification than it is to rely on authorities. The brain is excellent at recognizing patterns. In many cases, what has happened in the past is a reliable guide for what may happen in the future. If you have observed something first hand in the past, it is helpful to think about the outcome, especially with regards to ethics. For example, if a person has scammed you in the past, it is reasonable to assume that he or she may scam you again given the opportunity. Or, if you remember a negative outcome from engaging in a certain type of behavior, you might assume that the outcome will be similar if you behave that way again.
Relying on personal experience as a guide is limited however, because its exigency is reserved to what we have actually seen or done. Just because we have never personally observed something doesn't mean that it can't or won't happen. Assuming something won't happen because you have never experienced it before is called normalcy bias.
When you are faced with a complex problem that you have no personal knowledge of, the first step is to gather all the evidence that you can about the topic from different perspectives and then meditate on the topic. The left brain is logical and rigidly skeptical. You can't rely on logic and the left brain alone. You also need the right brain to imagine other possibilities or converse conclusions. Next, you should look for patterns or facts which you can verify from your own experience. Finally, you should draw out the best available or probable meaning.
It is also helpful to use alternative methods of thought. In school we are taught to place bits of memorized knowledge into rigid categories called subjects. This process continues somewhat in higher education and academia, where thinkers often pigeonhole themselves into extremely narrow fields of specialization and use specialized terms and concepts. Over contextualalization of ideas may be necessary, but it is a limiting way to view the world.
Remember that there may be multiple possibilities and sometimes the context of an idea or concept doesn't matter. Dialectical choices are not always all there is. A critical thinker is skeptical of both sides of a dialectic, not just of whatever the majority or accepted view is. A true skeptic for example, shouldn't just be skeptical about Christianity, they should be skeptical about atheism as well.
An example of a belief is, “I don't believe Eric would steal from the company. I know him, he isn't like that.” The belief is justified if you have no evidence to the contrary about Eric. If you are suddenly confronted with evidence that Eric has been embezzling, you will likely experience cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is what happens when you discover that the facts contradict your belief about something. In such a case, when presented with the truth, you either have to change your beliefs, or ignore the truth. The harder the truth is accept, the stronger the desire to ignore it becomes.
Another critical thinking rule is that you shouldn't ever quickly dismiss what you don't understand or agree with. To think critically, you need to be able to temporarily suspend your belief structure and look at all sides of an issue. Get your ego out of the way. Just because some proposition or idea offends you, does not mean you suddenly have make it a part of you just because you may take time to examine it as objectively as possible.
If something confuses, offends, or makes you afraid, (especially if offends you) it is a good idea to look more in depth into that information to see what you can discover. There are sometimes profound realizations to be had from taking on subject matter that frightens or offends you. Cognitive dissonance is nothing to be afraid of. While takes time and courage to learn how to think critically, its worth it.
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Off site: http://www.criticalthinkeracademy.com/