Why We Need Critical Thinking And How To Develop It Ichaku [Perfect Gifts Selection]

Why We Need Critical Thinking And How To Develop It

What is critical thinking

If one is able to think critically, one uses different cognitive skills and strategies to increase the likelihood of a desired outcome. It can be about anything from a profitable apartment purchase to effective emotion management.

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The author of the term "critical thinking" is the American philosopher John Dewey, and he describes this thinking as follows: active, persistent, thorough, applied to all forms of information, reflective and autonomous.

This means that the critical thinker scrupulously tests every idea. He conducts his own research rather than settling for someone else's opinion. He is also attentive to his own thoughts and checks how logical, reasonable, and unbiased they are.

How critical thinking differs from analytical thinking.

Analytics is taking information apart and trying to put it back together again so as to understand it better. And criticism is first and foremost questioning: searching for logical errors, lies, and manipulation, including with the help of analytical thinking.

If, for example, you read an article as an analyst, you will break the text into small paragraphs, read their contents sequentially, and then ask yourself the question, "What conclusion follows from what you read?"

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If you read the article as a critic, you will first of all be interested in who the author of the article is, where the author's opinion is and where the facts are, where those facts come from, and how reliable their sources are.

How critical thinking differs from common sense.

Common sense is not about the search for truth. It is a view of life shared by society: ideas about oneself, about nature, about norms of behavior. That is, common sense is a certain average answer of people at a particular time and in a particular place to the question of how to live properly. Sometimes it adequately reflects reality, but not always.

However, folk wisdoms constantly contradict each other: "God gave you a day, he will give you a meal", but "count on God, but be good for yourself", "be simpler, and people will be attracted to you" and "simplicity is worse than theft". For the critical thinker, this inconsistency means that the idea must be urgently tested.

Common sense is what critical thinking struggles with. When information is reproduced over and over again, it begins to seem true to people simply because the brain is familiar with it. This is how cognitive distortion works, which is called the cascade of available information.

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Also, common sense is the majority opinion. It does not presuppose the autonomy of thought that is mandatory for critical thinking. After all, the majority can be wrong, too.

Why it's important to think critically

The brain is designed so that it often makes mistakes. As Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains, the main organ of our body tries to spend as little effort as possible on thinking. As a result, we make most decisions quickly without really thinking. For example, we close the door before leaving the house because we are used to doing so.

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This economy of effort is reasonable: if we reflected on all our actions, there would be neither the time nor the cognitive resources to do the really important things. The only problem is that the brain can apply the strategy of quick decisions and where we need to think seriously.

Kahneman calls fast decision-making System 1, the brain's basic strategy that turns on automatically, at which point judgments are made almost instantaneously. An alternative strategy, System 2, is responsible for more complex thinking: problem solving, self-control, information analysis, planning. With it, we are more protected against cognitive errors. But for System 2 to work, we need to consciously concentrate on information.

Where to use critical thinking

In learning. To understand and remember something new, it is not enough just to listen, read, and write it down. It is important to work with information actively: to make a quality riserch and study different sources, to check the data, to argue with oneself. In other words, it is necessary not to memorize, but to think over the new information so that this new information forms an integral and detailed picture.

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Critical thinkers can learn this way and are more successful in acquiring skills and knowledge. This is shown by an experiment that Cambridge Learning Specialists conducted with English schoolchildren. They selected 2,000 students in their final grades who were doing about the same and divided them into two groups. One group continued as usual, while the second group took a course in critical thinking.

The students in the first group ended up with good grades in all subjects, just as they had before the experiment. But they rarely got more than a 9. Students in the second group, who took a critical thinking course, scored above 9 in almost all subjects. Their average score was close to the maximum grade.

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On the job. According to the experts of the World Economic Forum, critical thinking is one of the top five skills of the future. Without it, even a competent employee can misinterpret information and make the wrong decision.

Here is just one example. Imagine you work for a company that stores user data. Law enforcement officers urgently request information from you. There seems to be nothing wrong with the request, and you submit the data. But what if the law enforcement officers are hackers and you just didn't check the request properly? Your employer will lose the trust of the users and spend large sums on lawsuits with them because you weren't sufficiently critical of the request.

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Behind the news reading. Fake news on social media is reposted 70% more often than real stories, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculated.

This is because fake news often appeals to negative emotions: fear, anger, surprise, outrage. The brain is sensitive to negative stimuli and reacts more strongly to fake news than to the dryly presented truth. Sometimes this leads to tragedy.

For example, in the first three months of the pandemic, at least 800 people died trying to protect themselves from the coronavirus with methods from the Internet. These methods were untested, often obviously absurd and dangerous. Claims about their effectiveness were unreliable. But they influenced the decisions of many because they appealed to the negative emotions of already frightened people.

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Any important information, whether from the internet or from personal conversations, should be verified. Especially if it evokes strong emotions: it is possible that you are being manipulated. Critical thinking helps you to recognize manipulation and gaps in logic, check the reliability of sources, and separate fact from opinion and fiction.

In everyday life. Which is more profitable: shortening the mortgage term or reducing the monthly payment? We make these decisions all the time. To find the best way out, you don't just need to know the math, you have to resort to logic. And this is also part of critical thinking.

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Being able to think critically is also important for mental health. Small studies show that people with high levels of critical thinking are less impulsive, have higher self-esteem, and tend to believe that the world is kind to them.

But cognitive-behavioral psychotherapists know this the most. They see the roots of psychological problems in thinking errors.

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For example, psychiatrist Aaron Beck, the creator of cognitive psychotherapy, saw depression as a classic case of cognitive distortion. A depressed person believes that he is a loser, others are hostile, and life is meaningless. The illness works like a filter: it lets him see only the information that confirms his beliefs. Because of depression, this person is prejudiced and underestimates his successes, does not notice other people's displays of kindness, but sees everything that paints the world in dark shades.

To deal with this, cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy suggests questioning one's thoughts and beliefs and checking to see if they match reality. And it's so good for mental health that experts call cognitive behavioral psychotherapy the gold standard of psychotherapy.

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What gets in the way of critical thinking

Majority Opinion. If we talk about our ancestors, they thought first of all about security and the continuation of the clan. The optimal solution was to live in a community: there was always someone to guard the dwelling from predators at night, we could get food together, and it was not necessary to go far to get acquainted with a sexual partner.

Modern man's dependence on the people around him is much less. But the brain has memorized: living side by side with others is comfortable and safe, and exile is certain death.

The survival-focused brain panics when our opinion conflicts with that of the majority. A study by neuroscientist Vasily Kliucharev shows this perfectly. The participants were asked to look at 200 pictures of women and rate the appearance of each. Then they were told what evaluations other people gave.

All the while, scientists monitored the participants' brain activity using fMRI. If a participant learned that her verdict differed from the majority opinion, the cingulate gyrus was activated. Among other things, it is responsible for prediction and cooperation. To nonconformism, this area of the brain reacted as if the person had made a mistake.

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When we like what others like, the brain, on the contrary, rewards us with dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for motivation and providing pleasant emotions. For the sake of dopamine doping we want to give up independent evaluation and be like everyone else.

And this is normal: it is impossible to completely get rid of the influence of society. The main thing is to remember that the majority can be wrong. And to know that marketers and propagandists are also well aware of your addiction, and therefore will impose on you the "opinion of the majority" that benefits them. Don't fall into that trap.

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Tricks in marketing and propaganda. Imagine that you need a certain item, but you don't know very well how much it might cost. Let it be a vacuum cleaner. You go to the nearest appliance store, and the consultant shows you a model for $150. Your budget is more modest, and the consultant offers you other options, also too expensive. Finally, he mentions a vacuum cleaner with a 50% discount. You only have to pay $75-and you do so, not knowing that the same model costs $45 in the next store.

The situation demonstrates the trap of thinking-the tethering effect: the brain focuses on the first information it receives. When you first see a $150 vacuum cleaner, you'll make further comparisons based on that. The $75 model you'll think it's cheap, and you'll be so sure of it that you don't want to check it out. And this is just one of the marketing tricks that exploit the imperfection of our brains.

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Or another example. We all know how intrusive advertising can be. Posts about the same product are constantly popping up in the social media feed, and the same commercial is endlessly playing on TV. This is necessary so that our thoughts are confused by the effect of the cascade of available information - cognitive distortion, because of which any information becomes convincing to us if it is repeated many times. Propaganda exploits the same fallacy of thinking: it shows the same story over and over again, until it turns from absurd to true for its viewers.

The desire to be right. Everyone feels joy when he finds confirmation of his point of view and is upset when he is proven wrong. Therefore, people unconsciously seek information that confirms that they are right. For example, they read only the media and blogs, which broadcast ideas that are close to them. They also constantly interpret information so that it confirms their opinion. All of this happens automatically, without the control of the mind.

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This cognitive distortion is called confirmation bias. It was discovered by cognitive psychologist Peter Wason in an experiment with the "2-4-6" task. A person was asked to determine what principle the sequence of numbers was based on. Before giving the final answer, the respondent could check the hypothesis: several times he or she offered his or her own sequence of numbers, which, in his or her opinion, corresponded to the same principle. The organizer of the experiment responded to the hypothesis with one-word answers: "It fits" or "Doesn't fit".

The dialogues between participants and organizers were extremely similar. For example, the participant offered the sequence of digits 1, 3, 5. The experimenter would say, "Fits." The participant would suggest 20, 22, 24 - and right again. Then he suggested 102, 104, 106 - and that sequence also fit the rule. The contestant thought he had finally figured out the principle: each successive number must be 2 more than the previous one - and immediately voiced his thoughts. But, alas, the rule was not like that, but much simpler: each next number must be greater than the previous one, not necessarily by 2.

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Participants made mistakes because they didn't test their hypotheses carefully enough. First, they most often tried to determine whether a sequence can consist of odd numbers. Then whether a number can consist of two or more digits. And at this point many stopped, although it was worth checking other options. Having received the first confirmation of their rightness, the participants named only such sequences of numbers that would confirm their assumption. A much better strategy would be to give the examiner an example that could disprove the assumption. This would be a demonstration of critical thinking.


What are the methods and techniques of critical thinking

Critical thinking is based on the principles of formal logic, psychology, philosophy, and the theory and practice of argumentation. If there is no time to study all of these disciplines, use the following techniques.

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Fishbone - the skeleton of a fish. The name of the technique speaks for itself - to analyze a problem, you can visualize such a fish:

The head is the name of the topic or problem you are studying. You can formulate this title as a question to yourself. For example, your productivity and interest in work have dropped, and you want to understand why. Could it be burnout that everyone talks about so much?

So, your topic is "Am I burnout?" On the lower bones, write the facts that you have. For example:

- no desire to socialize with coworkers at Zoom meetings;

- no energy to get out of bed in the morning;

- used to have more ideas for project development.

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Think about the reasons behind each fact. Write them down on the top bones of the fish. For example:

- During a video call, everyone talks only business and formally, and you miss having lunch with your colleagues together;

- not being able to sleep until late at night;

- No new experiences.

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And lastly, try to remember where you used to get ideas? If it turns out that at the dinner table with colleagues, the picture takes shape itself. Remote work took away from your source of inspiration - communication with people. And being in the four walls was not so comfortable: now you are not physically tired enough to fall asleep in time.

The tail of the fish is your conclusion. It can be an inference, an evaluation, or a decision. Of course, the puzzle may not come together as easily as in the example. But by spending time going over the bones of your fish, you will likely be able to come up with the best solution to your problem.

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By the way, a skeleton can also be constructed according to other principles. For example, write out all the pros and cons of the solution. Then instead of facts in the picture will be the word "for" and instead of reasons - "against".

Five "why" questions. The rule for using the technique is simple: put a problem in front of you and answer the question "why did this happen?" five times. The answer to the first "why" is usually the cause that provoked the problem. The answer to the last one is the root cause.

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The technique was developed by Sakichi Toyoda, the father of Toyota's founder. Since early childhood, he dreamed of improving the hand loom his mother and grandmother used to work on. And he succeeded: he sold his patent for automatic looms to a large British company, and with the proceeds his son created the Toyota Company.

In addition, Sakichi Toyoda's developments formed the basis of "lean production. This is the name of one of the approaches to managing a production enterprise. Its main principle is to eliminate all unnecessary processes so that product quality improves and costs decrease. This concept has allowed Toyota to transform itself from a manufacturer of low-quality cars into a company whose product is better than American in price and quality.

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The five whys technique, as one of the creators of Toyota's production system, Taiichi Ono, recalled, helped him identify and eliminate the root cause of a problem more than once. It saved the company a lot of money. Without root cause knowledge it would have been necessary to constantly repair the same broken-down mechanisms over and over again.

As an example, Taiichi Ono recalls a situation in a shop where a circuit overloaded and a fuse blew. In this case, the five "why" technique works like this:

  1. Why did the chain overload? There wasn't enough grease in the bearings and they jammed.

  2. Why wasn't there enough grease in the bearings? The oil pump was malfunctioning.

  3. Why was the oil pump not working properly? The filter was clogged.

  4. Why was it clogged? Because they forgot to change it.

  5. Why did they forget to change it? Because there is no schedule for changing the filter.

After answering these five questions, once you get to the root cause, you can solve the problem - answer the now "How do I fix it?" question. If there is no filter change schedule, get it going.

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6Venn Rings. Critical thinking involves looking at an issue from different angles, from different angles. Neglecting this is not a good idea, lest you miss anything important. Any side of the issue should be reflected in as much detail as possible, but it will not be enough: it is necessary to establish the logical relationship between them. You can do this by drawing intersecting circles. In the circles indicate the essential details, at the intersection of the circles - what is common.

Such a diagram is called a Venn diagram. It is used for analysis and visualization in mathematics, logic, and even management. You can also use the rings in solving individual practical problems - for example, when you're looking for a job. Draw three circles, the first for your favorite activities, the second for skills you possess, and the third for anything that will potentially earn you money. Write down the ideas in the appropriate parts of the circles. The ones that end up at the intersection of all three circles are the most promising.

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Factchecking. The basis of quality journalism is fact-checking, which is a thorough check of all the facts in the text and the authenticity of photos and videos that accompany the text. Here are the basic principles of fact-checking that everyone should use when reading media, social media posts and even books:

  1. look for the primary source. A quality article always contains a hyperlink to the original source of the information. In another case, the author may simply write in the article about how the information ended up with him. It is worthwhile to read the original source, because the information can be distorted by paraphrasing or translating. If there is no link to the original source, try to find it on the Internet.

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  1. If the source of the information is a person, check their reputation. Type the name into a search engine and see in what context it is mentioned. Look at the person's social media pages. Is the person's information filled out? When were the first posts made? Do new ones appear often? Does the page look like the real person's account? If so, you can check to see if the information in the article matches up with the information on social media. For example, where the person lives and who they work for.

  2. Check the originality of images. Sometimes old photos are passed off as being up to date. If you drag a photo or a link to it in "Google Image", and then sort results by time, you can find out when the photo was published and where it first appeared. This function is also offered by special services, such as the browser add-on Who stole my pictures?

  3. Remember that your desire for truth can also be played on. So do not trust anything that promises to fight against fakes. Especially if this person does not do anything else and his reputation cannot be checked. An obvious example is anonymous telegram channels.

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How to develop critical thinking

Constantly remind yourself: you don't know much. Incompetent people overestimate their knowledge, while experts systematically underestimate it. This cognitive distortion is called the Dunning-Kruger effect. It is primarily due to the fact that incompetent people are woefully short of information in order to realize the extent of their ignorance.

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Justin Krueger, David Dunning, "Incompetent and Ignorant: How Problems with Recognizing Your Incompetence Lead to Exaggerated Self-Esteem."

Experts, on the other hand, know too much and realize that all their knowledge is only a fraction of what humanity has accumulated throughout its history. They are aware that their intellectual capacity is limited, as is the capacity of anyone, even a very intelligent person. It is often the idea of oneself as a dilettante that helps people become competent. It's a principle worth adopting.

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Try to remind yourself of the limitations of your knowledge more often. For example, you can create your own library of unread books - the anti-library, as it is called by economist and best-selling author of "Black Swan" and "Antifragility" Nassim Taleb.

Umberto Eco, one of the smartest people of the 20th century, researcher of aesthetics, mass culture and semiotics, philosopher and author of incredibly popular novels, had such a home anti-library. Racks full of books reminded him that there was still a lot he did not know. There were about 30,000 such unread books.

Read quality non-fiction. Many popular science books are written by scientists-they don't just retell important discoveries, but describe the misconceptions that preceded them and show the hard way that science has to go before it figures out the truth. These are good examples of scientific approach and critical thinking. Books like these will teach you how to doubt properly and make your own discoveries.

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Acknowledge your mistakes. Notice the blunders as often as you can: it's helpful. Without admitting mistakes, science would stand still and we would still think that the Sun goes around the Earth. If you acknowledge your blunder, you can analyze what led to it and thereby reduce the risk of it happening again.

Look for errors in your reasoning and actions. The pro level in critical thinking is to work with hypotheses through denial: look for logical errors and flaws in your reasoning, googling information that disproves your opinion rather than confirms it. It may turn out that you are right. Then you will simply know more about the subject than before. And if you find out you're wrong, you can admit your mistake and benefit from it.

Take pause before making important decisions. Quick decisions are always a high risk of error: the intuitive, automatic part of our thinking works. Slow thinking is more critical and rational and less susceptible to cognitive distortions. To get used to using it in everyday life, try this experiment: determine the limit for a purchase, for example, $100, and if the product costs more - take a 10-minute break for reflection.

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Actively work with information. Critical thinking requires searching, comparing, interpreting and evaluating information. All this is difficult to do in the mind, so it is better to use a pen and paper, tables or other techniques, including those specified in this text. By the way, retelling and discussion are also considered methods of active work with information.

Expand the social outlook. We tend to surround ourselves with those who share our views. Communicating with such people only confirms that we are right about everything, and that's quite nice. But because of this, our view of the world and people is limited and we run the risk of acting irrationally and prejudicially. The way out is to communicate regularly with those whose views we do not like, listen to them carefully and respectfully, and try to understand why their opinion is different from ours.

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