Critical thinking is basically a doubting game where you question your fundamental principles or beliefs as being possibly wrong or you question the reliability or truthfulness of your authority figure or you question the truthfulness of your source of information or facts.
A successful result of your critical thinking may be finding a more plausible principle or belief which explains a circumstance(s) and/or event(s) or finding an authority figure(s) with a more plausible explanation of a circumstance(s) and/or event(s). Even a greater success may be finding a new set of reliable facts which then support your new principle or belief which explains the circumstance(s) and/or event(s) which preoccupies you. Sometimes your critical thinking will just reinforce your beliefs and they will remain largely unchanged even with new additional information which will often only reinforce what you already know or believe.
In subjective areas of inquiry belief usually overwhelms the facts which are often statistical norms with no clear cause and effect relationships and beliefs which themselves may be historical myths or lies presented as truthful or factual statements. Beliefs are harder to change than opinions and are often a barrier which impedes critical thinking about them since most humans are very defensive about their personal beliefs and seldom tolerate dissenting beliefs or views.
Polls are statistical norms which can be wrong or biased depending on the format of the questions asked and a sometimes inaccurate sampling of the questioned population. Thus the polls predicting a Hillary Clinton victory with an over 90% probability were inaccurate and failed to predict a Trump victory.
Statistics showing that on average women are paid less than men is flawed to a large extent because the statistics fail to take into consideration the equality of the work done. Women generally enter professions which are less well paid than other male dominated professions and a wage comparison is therefore inaccurate when statistical averages are compared between jobs. When women are compared to men salary wise in the nursing profession then the women do not make less than the men in similar job positions. Yes, women on average earn less than men but sex discrimination is not a totally valid reason for this assumption.
What may not be so obvious is that critical thinking in subjective areas of expertise is different than critical thinking in more objective and often mathematically based areas of expertise. In the latter thinking is guided by mathematical formulas and an analysis of observed facts about the natural world. You review old hypotheses and then make new hypotheses based new facts which sometimes don’t seem to fit the old hypotheses. The result is often a new hypothesis which explains the new facts and also the old facts of the historically incomplete hypothesis.
In physics relativity and quantum mechanics which theoretically explains the very very big and the very very small phenomenon are two distinct theories which don’t seem to overlap very well so it is like describing two different worlds of events which don’t seem to overlap very well. Thus there are theories for the very very small phenomenon and theories about the very very large phenomenon. It is almost a duality of worlds and not a single explanation or theory can be used for both.
In subjective areas of expertise an event(s) may be caused by two or more different causes depending on the time and circumstances. Thus a market crash or downturn may be caused by a liquidity crisis in money or it may be caused by overheated speculation in stocks where the current value of stocks is much too high when compared to the real value of the stock assets.
Things like unemployment figures, inflation rates, and interest rates can also affect stock prices as well as volatile international events such as borderline bankruptcies of relatively major economies of more than one country. Stocks go through boom and bust periods and very few are predicted ahead of time very accurately. Basically big money controls the stock market and it is more of an art than science in terms of predictability.
Critical thinking is supposedly observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making. What this doesn’t adequately cover is the inherent bias of opinions, beliefs, and unproven facts which populate the subjective world. The result is that some opinions, beliefs, and facts are false or untrue or partially false and drawing conclusions from them is filled with errors or falsity. Any inference, analysis, explanation, or decision making based on untrue information is bound to give untrue or false conclusions and critical thinking is useless.
Most important in any critical thinking is having very good definitions of the words which you are using. If your definition is vague, uncertain, or confusing then your critical thinking will be just as vague, uncertain, and confusing. Psychology is particularly filled with vague concepts or words such as aggression, open mindedness, hostility, tender-hearted, tough-minded, warmth, etc. which are verbosely used and attempts are made at explaining them with descriptions of examples of the words but no accurate true definitions exist which clarify their meaning. There is an old saying that if you can’t accurately define the word that you are using then you frankly don’t know what you are talking about or you are just beating around the bush.
In subjective areas of knowledge observation other than personal experience is often limited to authority figures who have processed gathered information and made their biased views known through articles, podcasts, videos, books, or personal presentations. It thus becomes important to assess the reputation and expertise, if any, of the authority figure which you choose to believe or trust.
What organizations or ideologies does that authority figure represent? What opinions do other opposing authorities have about that authority figure? Finally, how many years has the authority figure been prominently recognized in his or her field of interest? Yes, reputation, degree of trustworthiness, and length of experience are most important when observing and processing the views and facts presented by an authority figure who you hope to rely upon entirely or to some extent which is a wiser approach.
Analysis is breaking down a topic into it’s component parts or at least listing all the statements and facts about the topic and trying to eliminate any statements and facts which don’t seem to be relevant to the topic. What critical thinking omits is synthesis which is the process of rearranging statements and facts into a complete whole once irrelevant statements and facts have been eliminated and new relevant statements and facts have been included in the topic under consideration.
Interpretation is really just an explanation and it is really just providing enough statements and facts to make a communication understandable to an audience which you have chosen. Thus an explanation to a child is often overly simplified compared to an explanation to an adult and still more complex if it is an explanation to a professional group.
Explanation: n. communicating enough subsets to make a set(s) understandable
Reflection is merely seriously thinking again about your past experiences and accumulated knowledge to see if you can come up with some new insights or some new information which could be useful to the topic being considered.
Evaluation: n. judging the value of a subset(s) based on a subjective and/or objective (standard(s) and/or norm(s))
If you have any conscious standards and/or norms about the topic which you are considering then you will compare them against any new information which you have gathered and may want to add to the topic. If there is a correspondence or connection between the new information and your standards and/or norms then you may choose to add the new information to your understanding of the topic under consideration.
Problem solving inherently has a mathematical bias with the assumption that every problem has a solution. Unfortunately in the area of subjective disciplines or topics not every problem has an easy solution if one is even possible. Overpopulation is a problem in much of the world but how do you educate the very poor in family planning when they can’t even afford basic contraceptives or afford teachers who want to promote and teach contraception.
Human problems are often much harder to solve than math problems. Individual, social, and political change is extremely hard to engineer and the results of the engineered attempts often take a generation or more to show any tangible good results in the long duration.
Decision making is either a very personal skill for an individual or it can be making decisions which affect entire organizations or even countries where more than one human takes part in making the decisions.
Decision: n. making (an impulsive judgment and/or a judgment after some thought) and/or an inquiry and frequently doing and/or not doing a subset(s)
Decision making is really not an actual part of critical thinking but merely acting after all the critical thinking has been done.
It is one thing to say that there is climate change or extremes of cold and hot weather caused mostly by the sun or sun cycles. It is an absurdity to state that a fractional increase in CO2 levels is the cause of extreme cold and hot climate change. Similarly it is an absurdity to say that forbidding the use of plastic straws will greatly reduce plastic pollution since it comprises only a very small fraction of a percent of plastic usage in the world. Climate change is not primarily caused by humans nor is human use of plastic straws a major pollution problem.
Deforestation, wilderness destruction, factory farming, artificial pesticides, artificial herbicides, artificial fertilizers, antibiotics, GMO’s, over fishing, and manufacturing pollution are far greater problems to be addressed than climate change and plastic straws. Sustainable use of natural resources should be the primary goal and minimizing pollution by artificial chemicals and overly large use of non toxic chemicals is also important. Yes, human overpopulation is a never ending problem which has to be addressed seriously because a middle class existence by over 7 billion humans will destroy the environment even faster than it is being destroyed today.
Critical thinking is impossible if you base it on fake opinions, fake beliefs, and fake facts so the emphasis should be on finding valid opinions, beliefs, and facts to critically think about.
In political science, social science, and psychological science, which are all not sciences at all, ideological dogmatism reigns supreme. One assumes income distribution, equality of results, gender equality, race equality, and equality in general is a necessary good value or assumption to make whether or not the actual realistic facts support these assumptions.
Basic human genetic variability, educational inequality and financial inequality is totally ignored as possible causes for human inequality in society and the result is a dogmatic intolerance of any ideology which challenges a basically collectivist egalitarian left wing mindset. Critical thinking is not possible if your dogmatic ideology is no longer debatable as is the case for left wing ideologues in the media. If you don’t believe in the dogmatic ideology then you are insulted, name called, put down, ridiculed, humiliated, criticized, and even blacklisted from professions, the media, and society in general.
Critical thinking is not possible if differing opinions, beliefs, and facts are not tolerated or not made subjects of debate.
So critical thinking is finding truthful facts, statistics, opinions, and beliefs, trying to find relationships between causes and effects if there are any, analyzing and then synthesizing the validated facts using Venn diagrams if possible, comparing the opinions and beliefs of authority figures with opposing opinions and beliefs and trying to find areas of agreement, and finally incorporating any new information which you have learned with the information which you are knowledgeable about which is your personal opinions, beliefs, knowledge about facts, and experiences.
Critical thinking is not a simple process and just like thinking there are very few who excel in critical thinking or even know what it is. Most of us know what to criticize but few of us know how to criticize properly using the right techniques.
I have written a book HOW TO THINK on Amazon which should greatly help you if you are interested in becoming a true thinker. Once you have mastered the art of thinking about subjective topics or the science of thinking about more objective topics it is much easier to launch into successful critical thinking.
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