Every single day, each one of us are assaulted with information. Facts and figures are thrown at us by the news media, advertisers, our boss, our subordinates, friends and family. Data comes in all different forms and varieties, from commercials claiming 4 out of 5 dentists recommend a particular toothpaste, to rumors about celebrities, to “facts” being taught to our children in schools. Just about every single person you run into or see or hear is feeding you information and claiming it is true.
It’s been said we are living in the Information Age. And that is because with computers, cell phones and other technology, vast amounts of data are spread rapidly around the world each minute of the day. The volume is unprecedented in history. Never before have we had this kind of free flow of data. It used to take months or even years for news of events to pass from area to area, from country to country. It used to take days or weeks for rumors to spread between friends and family in different cities. Now all of this takes just seconds.
Information comes at you for lots of reasons. Some people are trying to sell you something, some are just trying to be helpful or give you advice, while others are knowingly attempting to fool or deceive you. In the end, it is you who has to come to some conclusion or decision about whether a particular piece of information is valid and whether you are going to act on it or use it. People who lack critical thinking skills can easily be sold products that don’t work, take horrible advice because it comes from “someone they trust” and even lose their jobs, their family or their lives. The decisions you make are only as good as the information you are operating with. If you have bad data, you will make bad decisions or come to wrong conclusions.
So what is critical thinking? Quite simply, it means being scientific or rational in your thinking. It is a way of weighing facts and evaluating information instead of just accepting them at face value or on faith. Yes, it definitely takes more work to use your intellect to determine if something is actually true and valid. But if you look at how many times in your life you’ve made bad decisions or come up with incorrect solutions, then I’m sure you’ll see that it’s not always a waste of time to sometimes take your time before jumping to conclusions.
Critical thinking is not some rote or packaged method of thinking. It means using the tools of logic and reason. These are free for everyone, available at no cost whatsoever. No one anywhere has any monopoly on these or any right to deny them to you. The subject of logic has been being developed over literally thousands of years of thinking man, going all the way back to our earliest recorded history. No one anywhere can claim that this field is totally nailed and there is no more to learn about it. Quite the opposite, in fact. But there have been plenty of opportunities to test and revise and use certain tools of thought and reason.
By knowing more about these methods and tools, you can be more sure of your own decisions and make fewer mistakes that you will later look back on and wonder “What was I thinking?”