Following a discussion of lateral thinking and its importance to education, the question of critical thinking arose. Just what is this thing called critical thinking and how can it be developed?
The word critical has many meanings. It can mean adverse or disapproving
comments; an analysis of the merits or faults of an idea or thing; of something at a point of crisis; or having decisive or crucial importance to an undertaking or idea.
All of these meanings are components of thinking, or processing of information. But crucial to the processing of information is having a fully informed opinion. Critical thinking is to analyze and make judgements on the merits or faults of any idea, problem or venture one is involved in. These judgements can only be made based on the information a person has.
The following thought on intelligence relevant to this discussion was posted recently:
“Central to a general understanding of intelligence (of whatever kind, at whatever stage, in whatever species) is the ability to make connections.
That, in effect, is what intelligence is. It’s a neural network.” Brad Nelson.
True, and neural networks are being built within our brains constantly. That’s how we learn. New neural pathways can be formed even in the brains of the aging. Reading and writing, and many other activities, may also help keep brains youthful.
Based on prior knowledge, need or experience, people make instantaneous decisions every day. Sometimes, however a shoot-from-the-hip stance can be destructive. A more thoughtful or even formal approach may be in order, and this is where critical thinking comes into play.
If a person has a crucial decision ahead, they need to determine if they have enough information to reach a truly informed opinion on the matter. Where might they find the information they need? How critical is their decision to other people? Could their lack of information be harmful to others? Are there other sources or their own experience that might change their first or second opinion? Do they need the advice of an expert?
All options should be considered before a difficult decision is made.
In order for a valid decision to be reached there must also be some principles, standards or truths a person can firmly rely on to test the decision against. It does no good to reach a selfish or pragmatic decision that causes a person to go against those truths he or she may hold dear.
No one wishes to be foolish in their decisions.
The philosopher Soren Kirkegaard gave a standard of truth for all when he said: “THERE ARE TWO WAYS TO BE FOOLED. ONE IS TO BELIEVE WHAT IS NOT TRUE; THE OTHER IS TO REFUSE TO BELIEVE WHAT IS TRUE.”
Read that again, carefully. Can a person be fooled in any other way?
If the truth will make us free, then it is also true that we become slaves to the lies we believe. Believing what is NOT true is easy and lazy, it requires no critical or even lateral thinking at all. A person simply accepts ideas because someone else said or wrote them. If a man or woman believes what is not true, they are implicit in their own slavery.
Note that the second part of Kirkegaard’s proposition REQUIRES ACTIVE PARTICIPATION, a person must REFUSE to believe what IS true. It takes an act of will, a deliberate turning away from the search for truth, perhaps even a hatred of truth. Those who refuse to believe even when shown the truth, or refuse to tell the truth when they know it, are morally complicit in their own destruction.
Only critical and lateral thinking can give all mankind the necessary tools to walk the winding pathways of life with intelligence and joyful hearts. Keep learning, watch everything, look at differences, make connections in your wonderful brain, and always search for Truth.
May a few lines sung by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, lead your feet and mine:
For still there are so many things
That I have never seen;
In every wood, in every spring,
There is a different green.