Summary: 30th Gentle Thinkers Debate (Critical Thinking)

Critical Thinking: What is it? Should it be a mandatory subject? How can we teach it? How can we measure it?

Note: This summary is interpreted from notes taken during the debate and may contain errors. It is not a definitive text and should be used a means of sharing and developing ideas. Edits have been made to make this summary easy to read therefore it does not reflect the actual flow of conversation. If you wish to correct, be attributed to or contribute content, please contact me or post a comment.

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What is critical thinking? What makes a critical thinker?

  • Critical thinking is being critical of your own thoughts. This includes being a sceptic.

  • It’s possible to see if someone is being critical of themselves.

  • Wikipedia definition of critical thinking

  • For one member, critical thinking boils down to the question of “why” and not accepting things as they are given to you.

  • Critical thinking is important for being part of a democracy.

  • Critical thinking is the art of taking charge of your mind. It is crucial to one’s personal development.

  • Critical thinking is about helping people to understand different perspectives, ask questions and challenge what they are told.

  • Critical thinking includes analysis, empathy, understanding of ethics, examination of issues and the tools to come to a conclusion.

  • Critical thinking is a guide to belief and action.

  • Critical thinking is evidenced based.

  • Critical thinking is a tool.

  • Science is the practical application of critical thinking.

  • Critical thinking involves analysing your premises and issues current to your situation.

  • Critical thinking as reassessing what you know as the truth.

  • Critical thinking is a choice.

  • Critical thinking is the transformation from a follower to an individual.

  • Critical thinking as evidence based reasoning and how to evaluate the evidence. This is still an important skill regardless of your occupation.

  • Identifying fallacies is part of the critical thinking skills subset.

  • Critical thinking should involve self-analysis, identification of red flags and items missing from information. Information literacy and deconstruction of one’s views should also be involved.

  • Finding and understanding information and reference points that challenge your own views are some ways of developing your critical thinking skills. Critical thinkers need to know where their weaknesses lie and how to improve them.

  • Critical thinkers can’t be left or right wing if they want to be impartial and capable of evaluating everything.

  • Uncurious people may not be able to become critical thinkers because they lack the need to ask questions and learn the reasoning behind everything (or particular subjects).

  • Not having an interest in everything doesn’t mean you aren’t interested in critical thinking.

How do we teach critical thinking and how do we measure it?

  • We could teach critical thinking by indirect teaching by teaching how to ask questions to avoid spoon feeding the information to them.

  • The Socratic learning method of discussing thoughts, problem based learning and solving logic puzzles may be good ways of teaching critical thinking.

  • Rote memorisation may not be the best way of dealing with complicated problems. If there are more variables that affect the problem you encounter, the textbook based knowledge one has may not be sufficient to resolve that issue.

  • An important life skill is how to look at information critically. Learning about logic, statistics and biases is a way of achieving this. Logic is a set of skills like being able to ask questions of everything.

  • When looking at publications, one may need to adopt a hierarchy of validity to analyse the works critically.

  • The scientific method is a way of testing and verifying claims and information.

  • Most of the group agreed that critical thinking should be taught as early as possible but some may prefer it to be taught at a university level.

  • Critical thinking needs to be developed from an early age. Teaching and encouraging kids how to challenge their views is another way of developing critical thinking.

  • Children should be taught critical thinking so can avoid being influenced by others. Learning to deconstruct advertising and political rhetoric is part of this.

  • We should teach comparative religion in primary school after critical thinking has been taught to allow children to make up their own minds in regards to religion.

  • In the event we can’t implement critical thinking throughout the entire educational system, a stand-alone critical thinking course may be required.

  • For some this may be ineffective because critical thinking is a toolset that won’t work without context.

  • We may need to implement critical thinking across different disciplines (e.g. math, history, science) to enable it to be taught successfully.

  • The Queensland education curriculum says students should be critical thinkers but it doesn’t do a good job if the concept even makes it into a school’s curriculum. Philosophical and logic based units are being phased out of schools which limits students chances of developing into critical thinkers.

  • Inductive and deductive reasoning are critical thinking skills that are taught in schools and can be measured.

  • We can test if people can read and think critically and come to the “right” conclusions.

  • We could scale people’s ability to think critically. E.g. you may fit into Level 1 and could work up to Level 2.

  • Critical thinking could be taught by giving people open questions and asking them to present data to support their responses.

  • For some people, there is no objective scale to measure critical thinking. Some thought it was impossible in principle to measure.

  • We should encourage people to be sceptical, make mistakes and think about their actions, beliefs and information they encounter.

  • You could measure critical thinking by how people choose and apply the skills.

  • The (Australian) medical entrance exam tests for skills like logic and spatial awareness which could translate into measuring critical thinking or critical thinking skills.

  • Critical thinking could have a cultural basis. Some cultural groups are more inclined to listen to a voice of authority, be it parental, political or religious.

  • Debating is a critical thinking skill and a method of teaching critical thinking. It is one of the available outlets for students and teachers that can teach critical thinking skills.

  • Using debate topics that come from a variety of disciplines can facilitate the teaching and learning of critical thinking skills.

  • This can encourage students to learn more about the current debate topic and they can choose to learn more about that topic if they choose to.

Why do we need critical thinking?

  • It can be annoying if you are faced with the question “you can’t really prove it, can you?” in any debate.

  • Some of the group were very positive towards evidence based reasoning as a key skill for people.

  • Science can’t exist without critical thinking.

  • Where does the burden of proof lie? If you are asked to provide proof against a religious argument, the person who is asking for it may be the one who should be providing the proof. [Your Logical Fallacy]

  • Some of us prefer to believe in the probable rather than the improbable.

  • Internal consistency is an important factor to consider when analysing one’s thoughts.

  • Some people can’t dispute the validity of experience and feelings of another.

  • We are all capable of experiencing hallucinations neurologically. We are easily deluded by our senses and information available. Concepts like pattern recognition help us understand why this happens.

  • Some of us aren’t keen to feed into the delusions of others while others are willing to tolerate them.

  • People believe in a variety of things, we can’t definitely say they are wrong but we can say their beliefs are unrealistic and unlikely to occur.

  • Some people aren’t able to question religious dogma.

  • The rising rates of atheism and secularism in populations and is this may be connected to rates of educated people in a society.

  • People might believe we live in a democracy of consumerism and without critical thinking, we may not be able to realise this.

  • The internet does cause major problems for the health care system due to people being unable to critically analyse information they take from various sources.

  • Surprisingly, Dr Ben Goldacre [Website] [TED Talk] advises that you do not go to scientific papers for medical information (unless you have the scientific training to read them). Instead, he recommends you defer to an expert. E.g. your doctor.

  • People who have trouble finding reliable information may also have trouble finding it regardless of the access channels they have.

  • People prefer information that supports their own views and are likely to run with these assumptions. This is known as Confirmation bias. [You Are Not So Smart] [The Skeptic’s Dictionary] [New Yorker article]

  • To some extent, your values will affect what conclusions you will make, what beliefs you will hold and what you are likely to believe in.

  • Most people aren’t good at figuring out if information is bad which is why people should learn critical thinking so they aren’t misled.

  • People might choose to be happily ignorant whereas others may not be.

  • Why did a group like Hitler’s Nazi Party come into power? For some it is because people didn’t want or could to think critically.

  • Critical thinking should be encouraged outside the classroom. E.g. in the business sector

  • It is difficult to implement critical thinking in some institutions. Politics and bureaucracy of any organisation can prevent critical thought from happening.

  • It is easier for some people to be apathetic when working in an organisation to stay out of the firing line.

  • One person may not be enough to change a system despite their passion and the positive ideologies they wish to share.

  • “Smart” is a loaded term.

  • “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys” – A comment on our current teaching standards.

  • Teachers are underpaid and undervalued.

  • The entry requirements to be a teacher in Australia are considered to be quite low.

  • We should be evaluating how people use language (e.g. double speak). This is also another skill that falls under critical thinking.

  • Are you a critical thinker? Most critical thinkers will say yes. But most everyone else will likely say yes as well. So how do you know if you are one of those people?

-Different question: Are you stupid? Most people simply say no. A critical thinker might be more likely to say “yes”, because they are acutely aware of their fallibility, and maintain some degree of intellectual humility. But is this question an effective test to identify critical thinkers? It may require more refinement to do so.

  • The Dunning-Kruger effect occurs when people are unable to assess their incompetence and think their abilities are better than they actually are. People may not be able to evaluate their skills correctly and recognise their incapability. Critical thinking reduces this from happening. [Rational Wiki] [ABC’s The Science Show]

  • “Ignorance and confidence are the keys to success” – something to consider if you are familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect and its prevalence.

  • How we frame and define our values may influence what we think is necessary for life.

  • Happiness scale may depend on the difference in the scale. E.g. the disparity between the rich and the poor.

  • Greater inequality between people may affect the economic success of a country.

  • Some might argue that it is human nature to keep the most resources for themselves or for their tribe.

  • After the introduction of Henry Ford’s production model, the US economy boomed. One might argue that Adam Smith was the real father of this industrial production model.

  • Most people are happy to notice anecdotal patterns and accept and share them. But to be a critical thinker, before asking the question, “why are most venomous animals in hot climates [YouTube video]?” we first should ask the question, “are they?”. Also in QI, one question was “why are so many great men short?”, David Mitchell buzzed in and answered, “are they?” which was the correct answer [YouTube video].

  • Humans seem to be happy to let anyone have an opinion in fields like psychology and medicine but not with scientific fields like chemistry and physics. Why the different treatment of these fields?

  • There shouldn’t be any opinion that is free from scrutiny. We shouldn’t have to worry about offending people. We might not have to worry about this if we had a society of critical thinkers. We’d also get less people jumping the gun with their ideas.

  • We might not be questioning ourselves enough. We may not be aware that we hold particular views, biases until we or others analyse ourselves.

  • Sometime we are too lazy to form an opinion so we might adopt one from an “expert” opinion or claim ignorance on the topic.

  • It may be better to state one has no informed opinion on the topic and research until you are able to form an opinion.

  • We will take action depending on the strength of our opinion.

What is critical thinking? – Survey responses

  • Critical thinking is an ever evolving set of mental tools and knowledge one arms themselves with to be able to analyse information to determine if that information is useful, correct and not misleading. Critical thinking is used to understand where one or others make mistakes and fallacies and how to correct these. These tools are also used to explain one’s thoughts or defend one’s position (or attack one or another’s thoughts/position). Critical thinking has a wide range of use (e.g. understanding political rhetoric to debunking natural health claims) and should be used at every instance one encounters information.

  • The ability to question dispassionately and logically.

  • An understanding of fallacies (coupled with the ability to identify and avoid using them) as well as the ability to logically refute or explain an argument without resorting to emotions.

  • Being sceptical about everything, even one’s own conclusions, one’s own methods, one’s own opinions and thoughts. Questioning everything.

  • Critical thinking is the ability to think rationally and logically about a problem or set of facts and when information that proves your previous assumption/belief wrong, it is the ability to accept this and adjust your world view to reflect new information, rather than adjust the information to fit your world view.

  • Using your brain, not your taught response.

  • I think critical thinking is making decisions based on evidence and logic.

  • I think of critical thinking as a formal method of thinking that allows the user to examine ideas and such in a structured way.

  • The ability to look beyond the initial question presented to the thinker- to look for the underlying thoughts, question the assumptions made, taste the words and unspoken thoughts immanent to other peoples’ deeds and words. To put it another way, to be one who wishes to truly understand.

  • A mental process of extreme scrutiny that examines the validity of what it looks at but also the validity of its own conclusions.

  • Critical thinking is careful thinking.

  • The meaning and application of critical thinking is contextual, which is why it is used in so many different ways. For many people the immediate social context for evaluating and acting on ‘facts’ is the imagined effect on their set of social relationships of the moment. In some cultures this is formalized (earlier I mentioned mianzi ). Individuals operating within such parameters will apply their cognitive skills to social outcomes as a priority, rather than to tasks, events, empirical history etc. Others with different habits (probably you and me) watching such reaction and scheming might assume a severe lack of ‘critical thinking skills’ in our interlocutors. It is not necessarily so (though it might be so). The takeaway lesson is that if you are going to teach formal ‘critical thinking skills’ (as I have in a university), you cannot take anything for granted about the way in which your black-box set of tools will be applied and interpreted. (btw, something similar applies to the interpretation and misuse of “psychological research” in companies and government departments). [Definition of mianzi]

  • Reasoning supported by evidence that establishes what appears to be true or the most true at the time.

Interesting questions posed by the group

Is critical thinking generational? E.g. Increasing levels of secularism per generation.

Why are there still religious scientists? (asks Neil deGrasse Tyson [YouTube Video])

Is there an inherent human desire for religion?

Is it considered “spoon feeding” if you teach someone how to think critically?

What if we teach critical thinking from primary to tertiary educational levels?

Is critical thinking a set of skills or a set of values? E.g. Deduction and analysing information versus curiosity and open mindedness.

Are people better at detecting BS if they are aware of information manipulation techniques and are constantly bombarded with information of varying quality? E.g. the younger generation growing up knowing about Photoshop and living on the internet.

Does the curiosity of critical thinking only apply to a specific domain? Does it matter that we aren’t curious about mundane things?

As a democracy, do we allow ourselves to be carried into the consumerist swamp?

How do we evaluate the importance of knowledge?

Can critical thinking be taught as a stand-alone course?

Will people still succeed if they didn’t learn critical thinking?

Are you a critical thinker? How do you know if you are a critical thinker?

How do we properly evaluate the accessible information without the inaccessible?

Is science based on provisional truth?

How do we justify our judgements?

How do we know these are “right”?

Are the most scientifically advanced societies the happiest?

Can we achieve absolute truth with the information we have?

Can we use the scientific method to determine what the best values are?

How do you measure happiness?

What determines happiness?

Are we benchmarking ourselves incorrectly?

What will people in the near future consider to be the most ridiculous idea of our time?

What will we take for granted in the future?

Is philosophy now the domain of scientists?

Have we been brainwashed into thinking capitalism is good?

Does everyone have the right to their opinion?

Additional Content

Research into the afterlife, out of body and near death experiences and how this research is conducted

God Gene [Wikipeida] [Washington Post article] [Washington Times article] [New York Times article]

The works of Henry Giroux [Website] [Wikipedia]

Doctor Google

The useability and reliability of Wikipedia

Recommended viewing and reading: ABC’s Insiders [Website] and The Drum [Website]

Michio Kaku on creativity [Video] (not the actual recommended content but the closet I could find)

Myth of the stolen generation

Situations in the Middle East (namely Syria and Israel)

Human rights and ethics

The happiness index of Bhutan [Website] [Forbes article] [Happy Planet Index]

The Spirit Level [Guardian review] [TED Talk]

Economic differences in the USA’s population

The mechanics behind Google’s search engine [Wikipedia] [Guardian article]


More summaries can be found via the Summary Index.


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