Uncovering Stubborn Myths about Critical Thinking

First two days of Critical Thinking workshop for most of the participants was majorly a myth busting session. This article will hopefully elucidate what Critical Thinking is by clarifying what it is NOT.

Critical thinking is to criticize

This is one belief which we might be holding onto, in fact I was asked about it by one teacher during life class day 1, about critical thinking but it’s not completely true. I think we feel this way when we focus on the word “Critical” and assume that thinking critically must be negative requiring us to criticize what we have heard, seen or read. So critical thinking is not criticizing, right? We might criticize a claim while thinking critically but it is reasoned consideration, logical and not driven by reflexive, quick, judgmental unthinking.

Critical thinking is “thinking too much” or “over thinking”

When we say we “think too much” or “over think” we all usually mean our brain has thoughts racing wildly within. This overthinking is driven by fear and anxiety and can screw things up when gush of emotions also get added to it. How is it different from critical thinking? This kind of “thinking” is not deliberate, you don’t do it, it happens, it eventually takes control of your sub conscious and keeps convoluting and instead of solving problem it ruins the picture of truth.

Critical thinking is for the BIG decisions of life

Critical thinking can be applied to plethora of cases; from day to day things like- which toothpaste to use, which brand of clothes to buy, whether to buy milk from local doodhwala or packet wala, which newspaper to subscribe to; to the more slightly occasional decisions like which school/board is good for your child, which insurance policy to invest in, what kind of profession should you choose, how to treat diabetes; to mundane truths like women are bad drivers, “marwaris are pakka businessman”, mangoes will make you fat; or while dealing with extremely sensitive and subjective issues like abortion, euthanasia, capital killing or religion. These examples are only indicative of the range of issues CT can be applied to..But considering the fact that critical thinking takes time, effort and careful consideration and that it is intentional it leads up to another question- “which decisions should I put under the scrutiny of critical thinking?”..Eh..now that too will need some critical thinking.

Critical thinking is being a rational fool

Critical thinking is not devoid of other ways of knowing like intuition, faith or emotion. Critical thinking is not cold, harsh or rude.  Emotions can be an obstacle to knowledge – strong emotion can colour perception, distort logic and inflame language. However emotions and reasons are not opposite and emotions can be used to reason and that’s what CT does. Thinking critically requires to analyse that the emotion is the result of careful assessment of situation. 

Critical thinking is about defending your argument

Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value. They will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the entire picture and are open to finding if they do not. Critical thinking requires a clear, often uncomfortable, assessment of your beliefs and it comes with an attitude of being open-minded.

Critical thinking is known to all and widely acceptable

Critical thinking is logical, it helps us to identify, formulate and raise vital questions, gathers and assesses relevant information, considers alternatives, derive well-reasoned conclusions, solve problems and all of this in the pursuit of finding the truth. Ideal it sounds! It is but the idea of questioning what exists since long, what is believed by most and acted upon through generations is like facing an alien spaceship to many of us. It is unbelievable, undoable and worst of all threatening. It will take time for people to even come to an understanding that it is okay to question assumptions! So you will have to hang in there for a little longer.

Humans are wired to think rationally

The term rational animal refers to a classical definition of humanity or human nature..So we might come to believe that critical thinking comes very naturally to us. Sorry for shattering your myth but unfortunately it’s not so! Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate, describes this precisely while defining 2 cognitive systems-System 1 operates automatically and quickly with little or no sense of voluntary control. It is a result of long history of human’s primitive hunter and gatherer way of living where they lived constantly under threat and for the sake of survival ingrained system 1 thinking for fast response. System 2 thinking is evolutionarily recent and more humane system which asks us to delay gratification, monitor self control and endure effortful mental calculation. 

Critical thinking is only for the grown ups

We often claim that kids should make wise choices while say choosing friends, scheduling time, eating good, selecting subjects and so on and so forth. Each of these problems offers children chances to exercise and build a foundation for critical thinking and are not minor to children. Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making, includes critical thinking on her list of the seven essential life skills needed by every child. Young children are constrained by fewer assumptions, and pays more attention to the evidence at hand which shows that foundations for critical thinking can develop in younger children.

If I am determined to think critically, there is nothing that can stop me

Well, there is something you should know before you leap- cognitive biases are annoying glitches in our thinking that cause us to make questionable decisions and reach erroneous conclusions. The human brain is both remarkable and powerful, but certainly subject to limitations. Cognitive biases are often a result of our attempt to simplify information processing. These biases sometimes trip us up, leading to poor decisions and bad judgments. 

We all can be critical thinkers!

Gotcha! 😉 For a matter of fact this statement is not fiction, it is real. We all can be critical thinkers! Wait no more..Start by realizing that there are serious problems in our thinking and only we are responsible for setting them right. 

[Contact Vardan sir for books and video references for getting started with critical thinking] 


http://mentalfloss.com/article/68705/20-cognitive-biases-affect-your decisionshttps://www.verywell.com/what-is-a-cognitive-bias-2794963
Definition and purpose of critical thinking by Aaron Dewald
Daniel Kahneman Interview- Nobel Laureate- The Guardian

One comment

  • Thinking too much or overthinking? Critical thinking often can be tagged as these two words. Moreover, one, in the intention of critical thinking, might think too much or overthink. There’s a fine balance that needs to be striked. Something like “Thinking Just Right” and that can be critical thinking.

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