Critical thinking is all about being rational and logical. But for some people, these words make them think that critical thinking is boring, lifeless or dull. Or that you can’t be emotional or passionate or really care about what you are talking about. Yet scientists can be some of the most passionate and caring people you’ll ever meet.
Being a critical thinker isn’t some dry, unemotional approach to life. Unfortunately, it’s gotten kind of a bad rap in some popular shows because people like Mr. Spock on Star Trek (a show which I love, by the way) seem so cold-hearted and unattached. He’s always says that he finds things fascinating, but frankly he’s not exactly the life of the party.
So I wanted to take some time to discuss what is logic and how you can actually use it to improve your thinking, without feeling like you have to become a robot at the same time. There is nothing wrong with being passionate or emotional about something. Just as long as you are thinking straight about it at the same time!
What is Logic?
Logic is defined as “the use of valid reasoning in some activity”. There are other definitions, such as the “study of reasoning or some branch thereof” but that’s not what we mean by logic here.
Logic is basically the idea that you can figure something out through a sequence of reasoned steps which follow one after the other. You could also call it rational thinking.
Making a decision or conclusion about something is very similar to taking a drive. When you are undecided or not sure what to think, you are at point A. You want to get to a place where you have made a decision or where things make sense. So you follow a path of reasoning, step by step, to arrive at point Z, which is the destination. That’s where, based on the steps you took, you come to a conclusion or decide what to do.
I Came Here for an Argument
In logic, an argument is not a fight. It’s not even a disagreement. In logic and critical thinking, an argument means giving one or more reasons to support one or more conclusions. These are important to know about because arguments are the way that you can present or evaluate information. If you can break down what you are told or read is not what the actual arguments are, it really helps to get to the real points that are being made. And then you can more easily decide whether the arguments make sense or not.
Arguments can be worded many different ways but they always have a reason and a conclusion. Without these two elements, they aren’t an argument.
There are certain traits one can adopt that make it a lot easier to be a critical thinker. Some of these come more naturally to some people than others. They can all be practiced. Just knowing and remembering them is half the battle. You can consider these guideposts on the logic road.
- Be open minded, but not so open minded that your brains fall out! Logic and argument demand that you be willing to openly and honestly consider other points of view or other information than what you have to start with. If a person is unwilling to look or unwilling to accept that some other point of view may be valid, they close themselves off entirely from ever seeing anything but their way of looking at things.
- Be skeptical. Doubting the truth or validity of anything is what drives us to question and find out more, and that is a key trait for a critical thinker. You must constantly question the “facts” that are handed to you on social media, by friends and family, and in the news. It may sound like this is the direct opposite of being open minded, but not really. There is a balance to be struck between these two things. At one end of the spectrum is being gullible (believing anything) and at the other end is being so doubtful that you think nothing can ever be true.
- Be willing to be wrong. Have you ever been told something by some authority figure, such as your parents, and were then absolutely sure that it was the truth and quickly spread it around to everyone you could? I know I did. It’s interesting how we accept information and make it a part of us so quickly that when someone refutes it, we feel like they are attacking us personally. Rather than be wrong, we tend to fight back and insist that something is true, even when we don’t fully understand what we’re talking about ourselves. A good critical thinker does not hold on to information as though it’s a part of his soul. Data is just data. It’s perfectly fine to be wrong about something and adjust your thinking if you find out something new.
- Be curious. Critical thinkers seek out new information and question almost everything. It’s a pro-active thing. Very rarely will the whole truth just present itself in a box with a big bow on it. Usually, we have to work pretty hard to get all the facts about something, to dive in and investigate. It may take some work but it’s absolutely vital to not be mentally lazy.
Practice Makes Perfect
You should practice spotting the arguments that are being made around you all the time. The more you do this, the more quickly you can identify them, break them down and judge their validity. Using the guideposts above, you’ll be able to keep your head where others are getting overly emotional or confused or are missing the point entirely.
Logic is truly fascinating, and very helpful in day-to-day life. Practice and find out!