Are you a thinker? , critical thinker or decision-makerThe French philosopher Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” Recognizing that, as humans, we are thinking beings. We have evolved from instinctual reactions (thinking) to beings who must think continuously. But what does this mean? Because we can think, do we? The answer, as it often is, is that it depends. There are thinkers, and there are Thinkers.
Thinking Has Evolved
Our early historic lives were much simpler. The main purpose of our thinking was to identify danger and to get us to flee from the dangerous situation automatically. Today, however, we are like an island in a raging river of information. Inundated every day by untold thousands of things we could be thinking about. The trick today is to build your critical thinking muscle so you are thinking crucially about the right things.
Cognition refers to the mental processes involved in acquiring, processing, storing, and using information. How do you pick from the raging river of information? Critical cognition, also known as critical thinking, refers to the ability to analyze and evaluate information systematically, logically, and unbiasedly. It helps you ignore what doesn’t matter and focus on what does.
While cognition encompasses a wide range of mental abilities, critical cognition is a specific subset of cognitive abilities that involves higher-order thinking skills. Critical cognition involves analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing information to make informed decisions, solve problems, and develop arguments.
Some examples of critical cognition include:
- Analyzing arguments and evidence to determine their validity and reliability.
This is critical today because we tend to accept or reject what is being said because we label the speaker as someone we agree with or dislike. This is lazy thinking, not critical thinking. We need to listen carefully, ask questions, and determine whether the argument rings true.
- Identifying and evaluating assumptions, underlying arguments, or claims.
We always need to look for assumptions, not only theirs but ours. Remember that, to find the truth, we must always look beneath the surface for the gems that may be there. We must remove our barriers to clarity and understanding.
- We are evaluating the credibility and relevance of sources of information.
We also must always consider whether the person knows what they are discussing. Did they see it with their own eyes, experience it themselves, or is this second or third-hand information? Why does the speaker believe it? Does the information really matter to me?
- Synthesizing information from multiple sources to draw conclusions or make decisions.
Critical thinking involves looking for answers from multiple sources before we draw our conclusions. Seldom does one source have all the correct information or all the answers.
- Applying logic and reasoning to solve problems or make decisions.
Lastly, we must apply logic and reasoning before reaching a conclusion. Critical thinking requires us to use our reasoning powers, not just to accept what we are told.
Yes, thinking is a cognitive process. Cognition refers to all mental processes involved in acquiring, processing, storing, and using information, and thinking is one of the most fundamental cognitive processes. Thinking involves the manipulation of mental representations and using mental processes such as attention, memory, perception, language, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making to process information and generate new knowledge or insights. In other words, thinking is a form of cognition that involves mental activity and mental processes.
Improving Your Critical Thinking.
Choose some or all of the practices listed below to improve your critical thinking. I will follow up in other blogs about each in more detail.
- Improve your mindfulness. This involves being fully present in the current moment. You can’t be a critical thinker when you aren’t paying attention.
- Listen for the assumptions that underlie what is being said. Listening is a critical skill we all need to develop. Let your mind fully hear what is being said rather than half-hear while formulating a response.
- Become a questioning listener. Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand what is being said and what it is based upon.
- You know your own biases and knowingness because they are always present and color your thinking.
- Consider how what is being said will affect you now and in the future. Think about not only the obvious consequences but the secondary ones as well.
We make decisions all of the time. Most are inconsequential and almost automatic, like driving from work to home and wondering how you got there. Other decisions require a lot of critical thinking to get them right, such as whether I should change jobs or move. We all have mental models that help us with the toughest decisions: pro-con lists, Eisenhower matrices, and other models to help us organize our thoughts and weigh each appropriately.
I hope this convinces you that critical thinking skills are important and worth your time improving them. So get started by reflecting on the decisions you make each day. Which ones were based on critical thinking?