What In The World Is Critical Thinking?
As a student, you might be asking yourself, "What in the world is critical thinking?" This post explains what it is and the importance of critical thinking in your education. If you have a question after reading, leave a comment with your question for the teacher-moderator.
No student we know wants to be reading on a screen for hours. We admit, we do not enjoy that either. Therefore, Mindvax's posts are written to be read in 7 to 10 minutes, while teaching you a key aspect of critical thinking.
What Is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is the analyzing of different pieces of information to arrive at a conclusion about what you are reading, hearing, or seeing. This information involves examining several aspects of communication, such as specific vocabulary, sentence structure, sentence order, punctuation, numerical data, or a picture.
The goal of critical thinking is to ensure that the conclusion you reach is supported by the various pieces of information when all information is taken as a whole. Your conclusion should also be formulated, so you understand how to best use the information in the future.
A Simple Example
A new student named Joe enrolled in your school, and your friends are talking about him. The conversation is about what kind of pet he has. Several of your friends speak, and this is what you heard:
1. "I know him from my old neighborhood. He does not like cats because he is allergic to cat hair. I think he likes dogs."
2. "I worked with him at the animal shelter two summers ago. He liked dogs."
3. "Dogs are his favorite. I know his sister, and last time I was at their house there were dog pictures everywhere."
From the above comments, what conclusion can you draw about Joe having a pet dog? Let's use critical thinking to figure out what conclusion(s) you can reach.
Step 1: Study the verbs.
In response #1, the operative verb is think.
In #2, the verb to take note of is liked.
In #3, the pertinent verb is are.
Step 2: Take note of supporting information and its relevance to Joe having a dog.
In response #1, there is no supporting information. The only factual information about pets is an allergy to cat hair.
In #2, there also is no supporting information. Liking dogs at the shelter says nothing about having a dog as a pet.
In #3, there is information that dogs are his favorite. However, your friend never said she ever saw a real dog in the home.
How To Use Critical Thinking
In response #1, the person speaking is giving an opinion, not a known fact. The person thinks Joe likes dogs, but gives no supporting evidence that Joe, in fact, does like dogs. The information about the cat is irrelevant and should be ignored. Nothing in this statement allows the conclusion that Joe has a dog.
In #2, the location is not relevant. Joe liking dogs at the animal shelter is not supporting evidence that he has a dog at home. Therefore, the conclusion of Joe having a dog cannot be reached.
#3 can easily pull you in the wrong direction. The person makes a definitive statement that dogs are Joe's favorite. This, however, is inferring a belief onto Joe. There is no mention of ever seeing an actual dog with Joe. Therefore, to infer dogs are his favorite and he has one because of pictures in his house would not be correct.
The Answer After Critical Thinking
The answer is you cannot draw any conclusions about Joe having a pet dog. There is not enough information in the comments made by your friends.
Without critical thinking, you could be fooled into thinking Joe has a dog given what everyone said about him and dogs. It sure does sound as if he would have a dog, but it would be incorrect to assume this from what your friends said.
Imagine the number of people hearing the above conversation who would then tell others about Joe and his dog. However, using your critical thinking skills, you would not be one of those people.
How Misinformation Begins
Joe is a simple example because you did critical thinking. However, what about the scenario where someone reads an article about Joe and does not do critical thinking?
An erroneous conclusion about Joe having a pet dog could be easily assumed from the article. After all, the article indicates Joe really like dogs. Then, before anyone realizes it, the wrong information is spread and considered true. This is how misinformation begins and becomes part of what people believe.
Why Is Understanding The Above Example Central To Your Education?
You would be amazed at how many times you have been tricked into believing something false solely by the use of certain words which convey the semblance of being factual, when it is only an opinion or an assumption.
Next time you are reading a newspaper article, a textbook, or are watching a video, take special note when you hear/read words and phrases, such as the following: I think; probably; it seems like; she implied; most likely; maybe.
These words/phrases make it sound as if something factual is being stated when the reality is there could be little to no support for the statement, and it is purely an opinion or conjecture on the speaker's part. Most importantly, such information should not be used as the foundation for other major decisions because the information is not confirmed as accurate.
A Recommendation For You
Make an effort this week to identify five statements you read or hear that fit into this category of potential misinformation.
By doing this exercise, you start yourself on the path to better recognize such statements and towards the larger goal of no longer automatically accepting something that has little to no evidence of actually being accurate/true just because it sounds possible. You will be a lot smarter for it and will be less dependent on misinformation when taking decisions.
Our next post will examine an often used logical fallacy that sounds right every time it is used, but it is 100% wrong. We will show you how to spot it, and explain how not to be caught into believing it.