Despite hearing so much about critical thinking all these years, I realized that I still couldn’t give a concrete definition of it, and I certainly couldn’t explain how to do it.It seemed like something that my teachers just expected us to pick up in the course of our studies.
You can’t automatically assume that this invalidates the study’s results, but you should certainly question them when a conflict of interests is so apparent.While I venture that a lot of us did learn it, I prefer to approach learning deliberately, and so I decided to investigate critical thinking for myself.What is it, how do we do it, why is it important, and how can we get better at it? In addition to answering these questions, I’ll also offer seven ways that you can start thinking more critically today, both in and outside of class.“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.”– The Foundation for Critical Thinking The above definition from the Foundation for Critical Thinking website is pretty wordy, but critical thinking, in essence, is not that complex. If we had to think deliberately about every single action (such as breathing, for instance), we wouldn’t have any cognitive energy left for the important stuff like D&D. We can run into problems, though, when we let our automatic mental processes govern important decisions.It’s a tool that musician Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt created to aid creative problem solving.Some of the “cards” are specific to music, but most work for any time you’re stuck on a problem.Critical thinking is just deliberately and systematically processing information so that you can make better decisions and generally understand things better. Without critical thinking, it’s easy for people to manipulate us and for all sorts of catastrophes to result.The above definition includes so many words because critical thinking requires you to apply diverse intellectual tools to diverse information. Anywhere that some form of fundamentalism led to tragedy (the Holocaust is a textbook example), critical thinking was sorely lacking.Don’t get so bogged down in research and reading that you forget to think for yourself–sometimes this can be your most powerful tool.Writing about Einstein’s paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” (the paper that contained the famous equation ), C. Snow observed that “it was as if Einstein ‘had reached the conclusions by pure thought, unaided, without listening to the opinions of others.From Newton to Einstein to Yitang Zhang, questioning assumptions is where innovation happens. All these things can be a reality if you just question your assumptions and critically evaluate your beliefs about what’s prudent, appropriate, or possible.You don’t even have to be an aspiring Einstein to benefit from questioning your assumptions. If you’re looking for some help with this process, then check out Oblique Strategies.