So many claim to be "Critical Thinkers."
Who thinks critically?
Politicians. Yes, I started my blog post with a critical thinking joke. This stuff is too heavy to start in thick. We must ease into it.
Certain segments of the population, who feel confidently educated, enjoy throwing around the cliche words. These people mean, perhaps:
Tell someone you manage, "generate some thought provoking ideas," and you'll get the same blank stare, if the person has a brain. Critical thinking skills get muddied up because most people do them without recognizing the method, or they fail to employ them at all. But you can.
Critical thinking and critical thinking skills are different, the latter is more specific. Skills move you in a direction toward action, but thinking is ambiguous. Critical thinking leaves one confused, but critical thinking skills empower individuals.
So, my opening question asked who does this sort of thing. You do, and I'll bet you do it well. You employ critical thinking skills throughout the day, and when you sit down to relax at the end, you can feel satisfied. Most would answer:
Scientists often think critically
Not randomly, however. They have a method, which gives scientists some actions and skills to think critically. The method has been proven to function since it was refined beginning with Francis Bacon. The scientific method of empirical observation and experimentation is acting, and this is a great direction to take. The scientific method is, in part:
a method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data,
Notice the steps, the plan of action, the movement from ignorance toward thought, critical thinking. Scientists learn these skills usually, but many others do not, or they don't know what to call them.
Scientific method: Skills and steps to test validity
Let's call the scientific method - critical thinking skills - and judge what happens. I think you might find the steps sounding accurate. This is because they are skill and method based, not just critical thinking. The numbers are from the previous definition:
Imagine the power if you used these skills consciously, with all important matters that are worth thinking about. This is critical thinking at its best, and you can reuse and (slightly) adapt the system as you get more practice. You are taking thinking to a deeper level, and you can duplicate the feat whenever you like.
Critical thinking skills and skepticism
Critical thinking skills go hand in hand with skepticism, and they can prevent you from clinging to false beliefs if you are objective. Skepticism means that you doubt, question, and test and that you have high standards of truth.
Writing for Skeptoid, Brian Dunning describes where confusion sometimes occurs:
The popular misconception is that skeptics, or critical thinkers, are people who disbelieve things. And indeed, the common usage of the word skeptical supports this: "He was skeptical of the numbers in the spreadsheet", meaning he doubted their validity. To be skeptical, therefore, is to be negative about things and doubt or disbelieve them.
According to Dunning, skepticism equals a process (steps and skills), which applies reason and doubt (testing and analyzing) to determine "validity." Validity is used here rather than "truth," because truth is tentative, subjective, and depends on further testing.
In the above example, ask an intelligent college student to determine whether the U.S. economic relationship with India is fair. Or, what is the income level of the majority population.
Ask yourself whether what you believe about childhood vaccination is valid. Or, should you be the same type of parent as your mother and father? Are there ways of changing or improving? Why do you believe what you do, and is it valid?
It's key to avoid entering this process with your mind already made up, merely mimicking the scientific method. You can lead yourself in circular thinking that leads you right back to where you began.
Journalist type questions are helpful in the entire thought process:
Anyone can learn and accomplish this, and the world is a much better place because of the advances in validity that feed science and technology. Trust yourself to be among the skeptics and critical thinkers.
If you want to think skeptically, remember to doubt, question, and test your beliefs and assumptions, even those you have held for a long time. Especially the ones that were given or fed to you. Why do you believe what you do? Doubt this as well.
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Let us know what you think. Does this sound like solid, action oriented thinking to you? What is a belief you have always held on to without ever questioning?