HOW TO BE A CRITICAL THINKER
By George Thindwa,
Regular Science & Critical Thinking column published in the Sunday Times (Malawi) of March 27, 2011
Quote: Customs do not concern themselves with right or wrong or reason. But they have to be obeyed; one reasons all around them until he is tired, but he must not transgress them, it is sternly forbidden. Mark Twain
Critical thinking is the most valuable and underused resource. Malawians need to be critical thinkers to avoid being deceived, conned, misled and exploited. Critical thinking can help us to conquer fear, ignorance, and gullibility; challenge long standing political, religious and social dogmas. It can free our minds from superstition and nonsense. With critical thinking, we are unlikely to fall victim to faith healers, fraudsters like evangelical con artists, money multipliers, asing`ang`as and realise that some of what we see on satellite Televisions is not faith healing but fraud. The miracles claims are stage-managed and meant to hoodwink vulnerable gullible folks. Ask yourself, why can`t these miracles solve the many economic and social problems in their countries? Why can`t the money multipliers make themselves rich? Critical thinking is for everyone. There are many superstitious beliefs in Malawi that should be subjected to critical thinking. Our society would be better off then. So think critically.
Critical thinking is an ability to evaluate, compare, critique and synthesize information, think critically and analytically; thinking to generate questions and examine and challenge claims; questioning beliefs and assumptions. These are the eight essential guidelines on thinking critically.
1) Ask questions, be willing to wonder. Creativity is sparked by an openness to question the world around us. Critical thinkers examine all ideas and beliefs. New and old claims should be examined and questioned especially when evidence is weak.
2) Define the problem clearly. To solve a problem, you must in the first place define the problem clearly. Many times proposed solutions fail because they are not addressing the correct problem.
3) Examine the evidence. Demand good evidence before accepting a belief as true. Ask for evidence to support a claim. As much relevant evidence as possible should be examined.
4) Analyze assumptions and biases. Critical thinkers need to be aware of their own biases and prejudices in order to keep those influences to a minimum.
5) Avoid emotional reasoning. Feelings and intuitions are not enough to base an argument on. Give little credit to a person who can only support his opinions by emotions. Science and our understanding of the world, progress on facts and not feelings.
6) Do not oversimplify. We live in a complex world. Avoid easy generalizations and understand that there may be several viewpoints that make valid claims. Know that “the devil is in the details’; i.e. a claim that seems impressive may turn out to be false once the details are examined.
7) Consider other interpretations. Be creative in formulating hypotheses that offer potential explanations of behavior and events. Find an explanation that accounts for the most evidence with fewest assumptions. Generate as many interpretations of the evidence as possible before settling on the most likely.
8) Tolerate uncertainty. Maintain an open mind. Be receptive to new ideas and possibilities. Do not be dogmatic. Science cannot answer every question. Some answers are probabilities. Critical thinkers must admit when they are not sure of something.