By this I mean the habit of constantly checking one’s views against evidence from the real world, and the courage to change positions if better explanations come along. When you drop a book, it will fall on the floor — a single-cause event. In his seminal book, Expert Political Judgment, Philip Tetlock followed Isaiah Berlin in distinguishing between hedgehogs, who know one big thing and apply that understanding to everything around them, and foxes, who know many small things and pragmatically apply a “grab bag” of knowledge to make modest predictions about the world. Perhaps the most common and dangerous of these is confirmation bias, the tendency to seek out information in accordance with our previous views and ignore or dismiss information contrary to those views. But most of the interesting things in the world have multiple causes; educational success, for example, is affected by a student’s aptitude, but also by the educational achievements of the student’s parents, the quality of the school he or she attends, and the attitudes and intelligence of the other students in that school. The ability to think in terms of the sizes of things, rather than only in terms of their direction. In his study of hundreds of foreign policy experts over 20 years, Tetlock showed that foxes outperform hedgehogs in making predictions, and hence tend to make better decisions. A critical thinker, however, can quickly conclude that the existence of such a thing is probably unlikely—even if there are a few bucks under their pillow.
Focusing on these can put you on the path to becoming an exceptional critical thinker.
The first step in the critical thinking process is to identify the situation or problem as well as the factors that may influence it.
Critical thinking is the analysis of an issue or situation and the facts, data or evidence related to it.
Ideally, critical thinking is to be done objectively—meaning without influence from personal feelings, opinions or biases—and it focuses solely on factual information.
Once you have a clear picture of the situation and the people, groups or factors that may be influenced, you can then begin to dive deeper into an issue and its potential solutions.
How to improve: When facing any new situation, question or scenario, stop to take a mental inventory of the state of affairs and ask the following questions: When comparing arguments about an issue, independent research ability is key.
The highly formal, top-down, methods of teaching brittle content do not work as methods of teaching for critical thinking.
Critical thinking is developed bottom-up, for reflection on realistic examples and authentic problems.
Hosted by the Beijing Foreign Studies University, the conference was attended by educators from K-12, graduate and post graduate institutions.
During the July 23-24, 2019, conference, there was enthusiastic consensus in the importance of critical thinking.