Thinking Critically is Crucial

by Gaurav Ojha

As human beings, we all think and to think seems so obvious to us, as we have thousands of thoughts emerging and subsiding inside our heads. But we are not clear in terms of how we construct our thoughts, how we derive conclusions and assert our claims, what makes us think, and why we ignore to think on crucial occasions and we don’t know whether our thinking is reactive or reflective. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has divided all our thinking impulses and patterns into two basic dimensions: System 1 and System 2 thinking, also known as fast and slow thinking.  System 1 is related to fast and reactive thinking, in this thinking mode we derive quick conclusions and fast decisions based on intuitions and emotional responses. It is more like reaction thoughts and impulsive opinions rather than comprehensive thinking. Reaction means we are confirming our prejudices, established assumptions, and biases. Our main confusion here is that we put reacting and thinking into the same category.

 Reactions are different but that’s the way we think, we are thinking with someone else’s thoughts, repeating what we have been told, or thinking in a way that confirms our biases, prejudices, and ignorance. Whereas system 2 thinking is a slow, deliberate, rational decision-making process and conclusion based on careful evaluation of available information and cost/benefit analysis. Most of the thinking happening in this age of hyper-connectivity is obviously fast rather than slow; we have lost patience for deliberate analysis, evaluations, interpretations, and clear attention to detail. Maybe we don’t want to think and we have left out patterns of algorithms as outsourcing for our brain mechanism. Therefore, as we go on scrolling up and down the screen for the sense of delightful disengagement we comment, share, like, and react but we don’t think.

More importantly, our powerful and influential institutions, social, political, business, YouTube channels, brands, and social influencers, including universities and educational institutions don’t want us to think, they want us to continue with our common sense that resembles our confirmation bias, snap judgments, reactive thinking and limited attentions to details that keep us away from critical thinking. After all, critical thinking makes you question, examine and evaluate our common sense that has become so common, clear, and obvious that we have started to confuse it with the reality, truth, evidence, or something with an objective observable standard. Besides families, friends, educators, religious figures, and politicians want us to keep hanging with our common sense and accept their claims, ideas, values, and assumptions without questions, evaluations, judgments, or criticism. Therefore, the challenge remains on how to develop a mindset for critical thinking.

Basically, critical thinking is the evaluation of ideas, and if you are prepared to evaluate assertions, claims, and statements of yourself and others with supporting evidence, examples, data, trend, observations, and other relevant information then you know how to think critically. This looks basic but most often we confuse the evaluation of ideas with the person. And, we are inclined to accept, embrace and express assertions and claims without the evaluation of supporting reasons and premises. Here, I would take the case of Nepal as the general election is upcoming, we have started to hear all sorts of outrageous claims by our politicians, and the most cliched is metamorphosing Nepal into Switzerland, Singapore, or any utopian dreamland. As a critical thinker, you can evaluate this claim by comparing and contrasting Nepal and Switzerland, on different parameters such as geography, history, cultural ethos, ethnic landscapes, demographic factors, political orientations, employment opportunities, and on different economic indexes etc. You can also look at the economic growth of Nepal and predict how many years it would take for the Nepalese economy to progress and even come closer to the Swiss economy. What about Swiss industries and multinational corporations, do we even have a skeleton for such a far-fetched dream?

For evaluation of any claims or justifications, you can use different criteria such as compare/contrast, pros/cons, advantage/disadvantage, strength/ weakness, expansion/limitations, you can also ask questions like why, how, when, where, who, how often or examine assumptions that sustain outrageous claims of the politicians. Similarly, you can also analyze and evaluate how a persuasion or a conclusion has been derived, and more importantly what parameters and premises, evidence, data, facts, probability, or simply from belief systems, ethical principles, and cultural values have been provided for sustaining and supporting a particular claim or assertions.

There are different ways of practicing critical thinking, but the core issue here is that critical thinking is an individual choice and responsibility, and it’s for you to think, question, analyze and evaluate, and if you wish for others to think for you they will do it, but they will also evaluate you as a follower, who can easily be tricked, manipulated and fooled. In a democracy without critical thinkers, that is what politicians think of all us, mindless followers and fools.

Moreover, in these times of fake news, pseudoscience, post-truths, conspiracy theories, and manipulative marketing tactics, more importantly where everyone is entitled to their opinions and expressions, and where everyone has access to different social media platforms to express their outrageous claims and assertions, critical thinking as a tool for examining ideas, in relations to realities of the world and within the framework of evidence, reliable information, and analysis, has indeed become crucial for saving ourselves from believing yet another hoax, safeguarding our minds from embracing expressions out of touch with reality and not to get deceived by unjustified claims and propaganda once again.

About the Author:

Gaurav Ojha is a writer from Kathmandu, Nepal. He works have appeared in Indian Periodical.

Comments are closed.