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Why Critical thinking is for Everyone




I recently enrolled in a course for intelligence analysts. I did this to get a better grasp on how to conduct online investigations.  The first module of the course was on critical thinking, and I was surprised to find out its almost universal applicability. Hence, starting with this blog post and in subsequent weeks, I will explain in non-technical terms, how to think critically.

In order not to put the cart before the horse, we must understand the essence and need for critical thinking, before going into how to do it. 

Critical thinking to put it rather plainly is engaging those evaluative dispositional attitudes of the mind in forming beliefs and conclusions that most likely correspond with reality. This is in direct opposition to non-critical thinking. Non-critical thinking is the act of absorbing data or information without evaluation. Non-critical thinking is often how we learn about the world, this is because learning in its most basic form consists of the assimilation of information. As an example, let's imagine you applied to join an organization called the Intergalactic Transporters. They require that all prospective members pass an aptitude test based on their particle beam transport manual. In such a situation, your best bet would be to read and understand their manual if your aim was to pass the exam and not to try and evaluate their manual.

But why is this critical thinking business necessary? First critical thinking provides the means by which we can accept or reject information. Just imagine if everyone used the non-critical thinking approach all the time, then we'll all believe what we read last.

Secondly, we need critical thinking to come to our rescue due to the nature of our minds. We all have mental patterns that act as roadblocks to effective thinking and tend to short-circuit decision making, as is often the case when faced with multiple options. Critical thinking ensures that the decision-making process is not derailed by these ingrained mental patterns.

Thirdly, we live in a time when there is an endless barrage of information. Invasive advertising and marketing literally hang over our very heads through electronic media. Critical thinking aids in evaluating these streams of information by revealing the disadvantageous side that is often hidden in most marketing gimmicks. 

Finally, and most importantly, critical thinking can aid in sifting through expert opinion. This is because often than not, experts tend to disagree amongst themselves about the facts of a matter. If you doubt this or want practical examples, please take up and read David Freedman's book, Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us. In such a situation, critical thinking can serve as your Swiss army knife to weed out opinions and take an informed decision.

In conclusion, the necessity for critical thinking is that as sentient rational beings, we must take responsibility and control for our beliefs and conclusions, the alternative is to let others do this for us, effectively making us intellectually bankrupt.

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