Friday, October 16, 2015

Why bad critical thinkers believe they are good critical thinkers

"When you are dead you don’t know it, but it is difficult for the people around you. Same as when you haven’t developed critical thinking skills."

I ripped off and modified this quote from an internet meme. Unfortunately, it relates a fundamental truth. Good critical thinkers know that they are good critical thinkers, because critical thinking requires training. It is an internal battle between the instinctual pull of human egocentrism and a disciplined commitment to evidence and logic. Non-critical thinkers don’t realize it, because they don’t really understand what the term “critical thinking” means. This lack of insight is itself a demonstration of egocentrism. 

Dictionary.com defines critical thinking as, “disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.”[1] This means that when evidence and logic conflict with what you believe, you change your position. Believing doesn’t make a piece of information true. Neither belief, faith, intuition, gut feelings, nor common sense can be used to validate the accuracy of a piece of information.

For instance, if I believe that the United States is the best country in the world, but I have never lived anywhere else and I have not researched the data on what constitutes the “best” country, then my belief is unfounded. It is based on feelings rather than evidence. “I love my country,” is a statement of feeling and requires no evidence. 

No matter how badly I may “want” a piece of information to be true, no matter how powerfully a piece of information “feels” true, no matter how many other people I respect “believe” a piece of information is true, critical thinking requires the maturity to rise above my own ego needs and reject information that is not supported by evidence and logic. 

The scientific method is critical thought in action. It is a mechanism for factoring out emotion driven human bias. The results of the scientific method are nothing less than every benefit of modern life from space ships, to medicine, to the electronic device you are currently using, to nearly every object in your current field of vision! Prior to the advent of the scientific method, our natural tendencies towards preconception and superstition were the primary stumbling blocks to the advancement of our species.[2][3] Human nature evolved to help us survive in the natural environment. Traits that are adaptive in a primitive culture can be quite maladaptive in a modern culture. As a result, many aspects of human nature hinder progress.

Reliance on gut feelings is natural. Every primitive animal on the planet operates on gut feelings.
Overriding gut feelings in favor of critical evaluation does not come naturally to any species. It requires ongoing diligent work and self-discipline. The difference between the skilled critical thinker and the average thinker is as dramatic as the difference between the physique of a professional bodybuilder and that of the average couch potato.

                                                                                          




[1] Open Source. (2014 ). Critical Thinking. Available: http://www.reference.com/browse/critical+thinking?s=t. Last accessed 28th May 2014.
[2] Harris, William. "How the Scientific Method Works." HowStuffWorks. HowStuffWorks.com, 14 Jan. 2008. Web. 09 June 2014.
[3] Killeen, P. R. "Superstition: A Matter of Bias, Not Detectability." Science199.4324 (1978): 88-90. Web.

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