I must admit that since my education and career is in STEM I am oriented to logical thinking which seems to be related to critical thinking but not the same thing exactly. I never had a class called critical thinking and when I look at thoughts on it on the internet they seem a bit unsatisfying. I don’t have many readers but some are oriented to critical thinking and I welcome comments. I’ll start with something more well defined; Logic.
Figure 1 is about the idea of TRUE, FALSE and Unknown where in the example, saying something is known is not in itself a statement of which state, true or false is known. These are NOT statements often used in computer programming languages.
Figure 2 is about the AND condition in it’s basic form. An AND statement can, and often does, have more that two variables (X = A AND B AND C AND D). This is critical in understanding that there is no such thing as settled science. Science is always open to challenge since X = A AND B AND C may be incomplete if one day a rare requirement for a X = A AND B AND C AND D condition is discovered. We didn’t know that D was part of the equation because we had not seen it yet. This can cause spin offs like Quantum Mechanics from Newtonian Physics which works well within it’s realm.
Figures 3 & 4 are about the OR and exclusive OR (XOR) condition. Like the logical AND statement, they can be complex and the introduction of a new factor can change our understanding. This also leads to the following idea:
“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” -Ayn Rand
At the root of that are these ideas:
- Whatever you think you know is incomplete, and some of it is wrong!
- You don’t know what you don’t know,
- You don’t know how much you don’t know,
- You don’t know what part of what you think you know is wrong
You may have noticed that UNKNOWN was the dominant state in the three state logic tables (Fig 1–4). This is the primary limitation on logical process. In my career as a test engineer there were times when a test failed or passed when it shouldn’t have where the cause was unknown. Bad device under test, bad test equipment, bad test, bad system requirement? I found them all over the years. When they occurred we would have meetings with all of the stakeholders. This is where something I assume could be called critical thinking took place though phrase that was never mentioned. There might be competing ideas or consensus but it always led to me, in a lab, creating tests tried with a mix of variables controlled to eliminate ambiguity. Sometimes it led to me writing diagnostic tests that would be performed upon a failure and/or dumps to log files with data pertaining to states that changed in imbedded tests, and other data that would be analyzed by humans after the fact. The point of this is that unknowns were not tolerable. I had the luxury and responsibility for insuring that conclusions were drawn from the proper controls and data that could rightfully lead to a valid true-false conclusion that could be considered a fact within the above stated limitations for calling something a fact.
Why did I write all that? I mostly see the words critical thinking in areas where items 1–4 are critical (no pun intended). There are unknowns, acknowledged and ignored, Conclusions drawn from data may be unjustifiably called facts. I call those conclusions opinions because they are honestly debatable. This may sound harsh, and it’s just my opinion, but the definition below does not negate that opinion. The unacknowledged gap between opinion and fact seems larger in this realm.
I find this definition at wikipedia: Critical thinking is the analysis of facts to form a judgment. The subject is complex, and several different definitions exist, which generally include the rational, skeptical, unbiased analysis, or evaluation of factual evidence. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities as well as a commitment to overcome native egocentrism and sociocentrism. Emphasis mine.
Bias is a powerful influence and more difficult to control than is often believed. That can come in the form of conscious or unconscious cherry picking studies and conclusions drawn. I am certainly not saying that this is normative and I do believe that there are people doing their best to adhere to the standards of that definition. The results seem to tilt in the direction of well though out opinion vs. tested opinion with its higher standard of reliability in being something considered to be factual. Peer review is an attempt to provide confidence in studies but there are valid criticisms and this of the peer review process which challenge the idea that they are a 24K gold standard.
I have few readers so there may be no reply to this but I sincerely ask anyone vested in the idea of critical thinking’s thoughts on how the shortcomings inherent in the definition and the human nature desire to confirm what we already think can be effectively be addressed? Hopefully the crickets will not be limited to my tinnitus. Probably not.