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.
The word critical comes from critic which goes back to a Greek term kritikos which meant “able to make judgments” from krinein “to separate, decide”.
Critical thinking means being scientific or rational in your thinking because that is the best method human beings have developed for discovering how and why things actually work and how the world works. 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 or valid. But if you look at how many times in your life you’ve made bad decisions or handled things poorly, then it’s easy to see why sometimes, you should take your time before jumping to conclusions.
Critical thinking uses a scientific approach but that doesn’t mean that you are supposed to be like Mr. Spock and not have any emotional investment in what you are studying or how you communicate about it. We’re human beings and there’s no way to avoid emotion. What you want to do with critical thinking is temper those emotions so they aren’t causing you to lose focus or be impulsive. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be passionate or driven or care about what you are talking about. In fact, I think that it is the subjects we are most passionate about that we could be the best at critical thinking. When you care about something deeply, you are going to put a lot of effort and attention on it. So when you invest so much of yourself into something, you should want the best result possible. That’s what critical thinking can give you.
It’s not some rote or packaged method of thinking. Critical thinking is not about faith and it doesn’t care what you believe. 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 nor 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 and there are some good guide posts on the road to 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?”
Keep in mind that critical thinking is not an end, it is a means to end. It’s a way of understanding the world around us, our relationships and figuring out our place in the big wide world. If you are using critical thinking only to poke holes in other people’s beliefs so that you can come out on top and prove how right you are all the time, then I think you are using it wrong and you are not going to change hearts and minds so much as you are going to just antagonize and infuriate people.
Yes, people do get things wrong all the time. Because we’re human and we care or get angry or upset when we see crime, injustice and savagery in the name of politics or religion or culture, we feel the need to step in and try to right thoe wrongs. There’s nothing wrong with that.
What critical thinking does is gives us an opportunity to come to real understandings of where people’s beliefs, attitudes and ideas come from and perhaps enable us to get along better as a result. So instead of working so hard to tear each other down, we could instead understand each other and the world around us.
And wouldn’t that be something?
Thank you for watching.