What is critical thinking and how to think critically

What is critical thinking and how to think critically

“The basic concepts of critical thinking are being able to understand or figure out what the problem (or conflict, contradiction) is; to direct thinking to the specific purpose of solving the problem; understanding the frames of reference or the points of view involved; identifying and understanding the underlying assumptions; identifying and understanding the basic concepts and ideas that are being used; citing evidence, data, and reasons and their interpretations; following lines of thought that are advanced; and understanding inferences, implications, and consequences. (Beyer, 1985; Nosich, 1993; Paul, 1990). There is a creative component to strong critical thinking such that originality, freshness, and inventiveness are brought into the problem-solving and applications.”  

J. Davis-Seaver, T. Smith, D. Leflore, N. Carolina A&T State U.

Critical thinking is a term that means little to many people. Worse yet, it can even be off putting, given that the word “critical” has a connotation that we more commonly equate with criticizing or being criticized. But, we should be more concerned with the substance behind the words, because critical thinking, or “effective thinking,” or “8C thinking” can change our lives.
Critical thinking is self-regulating and self-correcting mental structures and processes reinforced by a philosophy that engenders an appropriate habit of diligent and conscientious intellectual behavior. While processes and structures can be learned relatively quickly, appropriate habits supported by a philosophy cannot be memorized, and as such, it is evident why critical thinking offers no quick fixes.
Just as the key to success in life is to know oneself, critical thinking requires us to be astute self observers, to develop a habit of making conscious the thinking processes that are commonly unconscious. Routinely observing your mind’s workings, once you know what to observe, is a huge step toward heightened self consciousness and improved thinking. This is a process referred to as meta-cognition—the ability to think about your thinking. Of course, it is necessary to not only observe but to also gain control of the thinking process in order to achieve specific tasks in life.
The goal is to become so familiar with the key structures that they perform as automatic, systematic thinking audits built into our cranial software to constantly verify and question the quality of thinking taking place in our brains. Thus, critical thinking is not a type of thinking, it is a way of thinking that uses specific structured responses, launched by word cues, to ensure that all the important thinking components are fully explored. Critical thinking is multi-layered; successive layers add strength to protect effective thinkers from the many pitfalls we invariably encounter in life.
An extremely significant benefit of critical thinking is that it enables us to be proactive in that we conduct all of our experiments in the laboratory of our minds before committing to decisions, plans, or actions. As such, critical thinking is a process that helps us avoid many of the mistakes and pitfalls in life because it enables us to accurately anticipate future events. It also provides checks to ensure that we have been comprehensive in our analyses and that, ultimately, we are reasonable in our assessments and assertions.
After decoding and interpretation, analysis is almost always the next step for critical thinkers and this approach stands us in good stead for the topic at hand as well. Critical thinking can be viewed as an interconnected and overlapping series of separate stages and functions that should, at a minimum, include the following:
  • decoding
  • interpreting
  • reflecting/recalling
  • analyzing
  • questioning
  • defining problems
  • examining evidence
  • reasoning (based on defensible evidence)
  • inferring
  • checking for and correcting assumptions/biases
  • controlling psychological landmines and emotions
  • avoiding oversimplification/generalizations
  • synthesizing
  • evaluating
  • considering other perspectives
  • evolving ideas/concepts
  • applying creativity
  • anticipating outcomes and consequences
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