Monday, November 5, 2007

Speaking of ‘Critical Thinking’… What IS it? Why should I care? (Part 1)

By way of introduction, this is my first blog post ever.

Like Mr. Unquiet, in his “Fish” post, below, about ‘da rules’…

So, please… be gentle. Be kind. And be patient. This is a pretty daunting task for a novice -- especially a novice “critical thinker.”

May I introduce myself?

My background includes undergraduate studies majoring in Chemistry at a well-known liberal arts university, and a career of some thirty five plus years as a Business Systems Analyst. From a serious interest in “science” as a youth, and having been introduced to the Scientific Method and formal Debate Clubs and competitions in the lower grades, I guess I’ve been lurking around the edges of Critical Thinking for a while, now. I certainly do not consider myself an “expert” at it, and would frankly take serious umbrage at being called such.

My reasoning?

1.) “X” is a common mathematical notation for an Unknown value or variable.

2.) A “Spurt” is commonly the release of some quantity of liquid under pressure.

ERGO: An “expert” is simply…

An Unknown Drip under Pressure.

(subdued rim-shot, please. Source, Unknown.)

While there are those who might disagree, I do not consider myself either a drip OR under pressure. I undertake this post with willingness and high hopes of doing the topic justice to some small extent. It is a subject I consider of importance, given our world since 9/11.

I had become interested in politics, and political “discussions,” well prior to 9/11/2001. I had engaged friends and family in numerous direct and on-line, email “debates” leading up to that fateful day. Ever since high school, I have “leaned” conservative, but I have always tried to base my opinions on what I thought to be “sound reasoning.” I generally tried to apply at least the principles of the Scientific Method to my argumentation, but in an informal, undisciplined way.

Brief review, here:

The Scientific Method is generally accepted as involving an iterative approach to achieving understanding and arriving at properly qualified conclusions by:

1.) Making Observations.
2.) Forming Hypotheses to explain the Observations.
3.) Creating and executing measurable, verifiable, repeatable Tests of the Hypotheses.
4.) Refining the Hypotheses based on the results of those Tests.
5.) Returning to Step 1.

Also, the Scientific Method (when properly applied) “encourages” the elimination of human bias and prejudice, and always remains open to modification, and even outright rejection, of specific hypotheses. It is never “settled,” and there is no such thing as “consensus.

Back to the Introduction.

In applying the above to my career, I achieved a modicum of success through the years. I have been gainfully employed for most of those years, and I remain so (keeping fingers crossed
behind back, for luck).

I also came to recognize some of the standard fallacious argument techniques that are employed to manipulate public opinion from time to time by various entities in the public forum. The “Straw Man” fallacies. The “Red Herring” fallacies. And others.

Then, 9/11.

After a few brief weeks of blessed national unity in the somber rage and anger engendered by the attacks on that day, I watched in disbelief as that unity began to dissipate, and the echoes of times past reached my ears. You see, I had been a freshman in college during the Spring of 1968. I was there when the “Blame America First” movement was born, (or re-born, as the case may be). And I had witnessed “up close and personal” the effects of late 60’s radicalism on my college campus. I had overheard quiet talk over beers that might have been related to organization of The Weather Underground, and I was certainly familiar with the rantings and ravings of the Students for a Democratic Society.

The fact that supposedly intelligent and “well educated” individuals could blindly follow the path down moral relativism to believe and espouse the tenets of outright communism, and, ultimately for some, to even subscribe to nihilism, was one thing. To see them take that path and completely deny the obvious fruits of Western Civilization embodied in the United States was, and remains, beyond the pale to me. It appalled me then. It still amazes me, in a negative sort of way.

I found Bill Whittle’s blog, and began reading, studying his essays. Every one of them. Here was a man speaking from his convictions, with passionate logic, and in a manner that spoke directly to both my intellect and my heart. I became bold enough to add a comment now and again into his essay blogs. In those comments, I was received kindly, and with respect. I appreciated that greatly then, as I do now.

Eventually, I read “Seeing the Unseen,” parts 1 and 2.

In that fascinating piece, I saw reference to a kind of thinking to which I had long aspired – clear, concise, fact-based, with a solid logic that was tight, and awfully close to unassailable, IMHO, (In My Humble Opinion). It spoke of CRITICAL THINKING, and I wanted to know more.

Then, along came “You Are Not Alone,” parts 1 and 2.

I was completely enthralled, excited, and motivated.

For here was a path to self-improvement, and some incredible support along the way!

I knew from the comments sections of the essays that there were people volunteering to teach so many of the things that I wanted to learn!

But, not only that… I realized that,

by contributing to the effort, I could “encourage” my own learning and self-improvement. Just by contributing!

And so, my journey to better thinking begins.

I cordially invite you to walk alongside us on this little blog, as the topic begins to come into focus, and we explore one of the most fundamental contributions made by Western Civilization to the cause of mankind – CRITICAL THINKING.

For without it, and its predecessor (IMHO), the Scientific Method, there would be no technology such as we see today. There would be no modern electrical power grid. No conveniently packaged foods in abundance at the store just down the street. There would be no telephony, much less wireless, mobile, cellular telephony. No iPod, no iPhone, no internet. No memory of Sputnik or Mercury, no human footprints on the moon.

No, none of that. And there would certainly be no “pretty picture” of NGC 4258 to enthrall Mr. Otto Gass or the rest of us.

In fact, I maintain that without the earlier manifestations of Critical Thinking, there would be no Declaration Of Independence, no Constitution of the United States of America, no Federalist Papers, no Poor Richard’s Almanac, among other treasures and gems. Western Civilization would remain trapped in the Dark Ages, as are some other parts of the world.

So, what IS this thing called CRITICAL THINKING?

Initially, and through most of my career, I considered “good thinking” to be simply the application of the Scientific Method to anything requiring analysis or problem solving. I would observe. I would research the literature to see if the problem, or similar problems, had been previously addressed and resolved. I would form a “testable” hypothesis, test it, refine it, and so on. I would try to keep my own bias out of the way. I would remain “rational” to the best of my ability.

I had been exposed to the basic disciplines of Logic, and tried to apply that, also. However it was always in an informal manner, and seldom with the discipline I really wanted to achieve. Results were adequate and acceptable, but I wanted better.

And then, in “Seeing the Unseen, Part 1,” Mr. Whittle introduced me to the term, “Critical Thinking.”

When I began snooping around on the internet for a more complete, formal explanation of the term, I came across the following web site, which appears to be a pretty substantial source for information on the topic:

Browsing there and elsewhere, I learned that, for some time, people have been extending the knowledge base on “good thinking” way beyond the Scientific Method! I learned that, especially in the education fields, a great deal of work has been done exploring what Critical Thinking is -- how to better do it and teach it! I even recognized some elements I had seen in some business seminars I had attended, including the subject of “mind mapping!”

I learned that there was much to learn. Much to explore.

(And I just absolutely love when that happens!)

The “Journey” Begins.

I posit that the DEFINITION of Critical Thinking is CRITICAL to eventually reaching the destination.

And so, I start my journey toward better thinking by referencing the first chapter of a book written by Alec Fisher, titled Critical Thinking – An Introduction©, that first chapter of which is available for your review here. In it, Mr. Fisher gives a brief history of the development of a definition for Critical Thinking, beginning with one coined and published about 100 years ago by a man named John Dewey. Mr. Dewey, as Mr. Fisher points out, is “widely regarded as the ‘father’ of the modern critical thinking tradition.” The definition he (Dewey) proposed for critical thinking is:

“Active, persistent, and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds which support it and the further conclusions to which it trends.”

As Mr. Fisher suggests, let’s stop, breathe deeply, and consider that for a moment… Fisher “deconstructs” the definition for us, starting with the key words “active,” “persistent,” and “careful.”

Active, in the sense that critical thinking does NOT “just happen.” It requires effort and energy. The critical thinker must actively participate in the process of thinking, and not just passively absorb thoughts, arguments, or statements. He must work the intellect to independently raise further questions and find more information.

Persistent and careful in the sense that Dewey is contrasting the practice of Critical Thinking from other types of thinking that we engage in, such as the seemingly instantaneous thought involved in responding to emergencies, or the shallow thought involved in non-reflective conversations and activities. Critical Thinking takes some time, and is done carefully… it is reflective.

Then Fisher points out what might be the crux of this definition – the combination of the phrases “in the light of the grounds which support it,” and “the further conclusions to which it trends.” In those two phrases, we realize that Critical Thinking requires an examination of the reasons that support a conclusion, the reasoning used and its soundness, and the ramifications of the conclusions. We ask if the reasoning is sound and the conclusions justified. We bring to bear the discipline of Logic, and all the resources available to help us evaluate the structure and “strength” of the arguments.

Fisher then introduces a second definition of Critical Thinking for our consideration, which extends and (hopefully) clarifies Dewey’s. This one is from a man named Edward Glasser, who co-authored the most widely used test of Critical Thinking at the time of Fisher’s publication, the Watson-Glasser Critical Thinking Appraisal.

That definition reads:

“(1) an attitude of being predisposed to consider In a thoughtful way the problems and subjects that come within the range of one’s experience; (2) knowledge of the methods of logical enquiry and reasoning; and (3) some skill in applying those methods. Critical thinking calls for a persistent effort to examine any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the evidence that supports it and the conclusions to which it tends.”

As Fisher astutely notes, Glasser’s definition builds on Dewey’s by recognizing that Critical Thinking individuals possess a set of skills and a predisposition to use them. We can therefore, (IMHO), develop those skills, and encourage (or nurture) that predisposition. I suspect those realizations helped to provide and/or reinforce the basic justifications for the efforts that have been made to further understand Critical Thinking, and modify curricula in the education disciplines to support its propagation!

With that, I will close this first part of what I intend to be a series of blogs on the topic of Critical Thinking.

I will be following this up with a second part, to further define the topic and describe why it is important to me, in the near future.

However, I can’t close this without “assigning” some “homework” for “extra credit,” should you feel so inclined.

I ask that you consider the definitions and discussion provided so far, and reflect on how they relate to your own circumstances. Are you a “critical thinker” from time to time? What are some examples of your “best” critical thinking – what are some of the areas in your experience to which you may have given “critical thinking” consideration? Might you use these areas, or the results of that “critical thinking,” to form underlying premises on which you base most, or all, further thinking on the particular topic?

Finally, consider the worth of critical thinking to yourself, to your family, (if applicable), to your community, and to Western Civilization in general. For assistance, you might consider reading pages 17 through the end of this resource:

And if you have read this far, may I thank you for your time and attention. It is with humility that I undertake this journey, as I seek to improve my own thinking. I sincerely appreciate the company!


daddyquatro said...

Thank you, Paul A.
Nobody told me there would be homework!
Seriously, I've already started to explore the links you provided. There's at least a year's worth of "further study" there.

Otto Gass said...

Paul A.,

With your first post to the blog you have set the bar very high indeed. You have at once presented a strong introduction of CT outlining its principles, identified solid reasoning and motivation for employing a disciplined approach, and with your links to resources have opened a course of study that is likely to have no end to its influence. It will certainly take me a good while to digest the rich and varied material you've brought forward. Thank you for the care and consideration you poured into this post, I very much appreciate your effort and find it challenging and inspiring.

Kind regards,

gwen said...


Anonymous said...

I've finally had the time to read this.
Now I'll go read the first chapter
and when I post next, it will be immediatly after I've done it.
Could be today,
might be tommorow, or when hell freezes over,(not far off),
I just don't know.

Google/Bogger doesn't want anything to do with me today.

tk said...

. . . part two?

Anonymous said...

The future now belongs to societies that
organize themselves for learning... nations
that want high incomes and full employment
must develop policies that emphasize the
acquisition of knowledge and skills by
everyone, not just a select few.”

Ray Marshall & Marc Tucker, Thinking For A Living:
Education And The Wealth of Nations, Basic Books. New
York. 1992.

A couple steps are skipped here, imho, starting with the following.

that want high incomes and full employment.."
First of all, these nations must be at peace before they can even think about such things.
Nothing earth shattering in that.
But to get these nations to be peaceful would be.
(I'm talking about the Mid-East countries specifically).

Now in my view, we must take what they are saying to us, " We love death as you love life", as the Truth.
That is the first step in the direction of dialog.

I'll stop here to let the dialog begin.


Dougman said...

Dear Douglas,
Here is your horoscope
for Saturday, December 1:

You've got plenty of mail, email and other messages to catch up on -- including a few you might not know about yet. Block out all the time you need to make it happen, as it's more pressing than you realize.

Sounds ominous

I'm on the edge of my seat

Anonymous said...

Thank you all, for the kind and generous comments.

Yes, there is going to be a Part 2. And more, beyond that.

I am working on it as time here in China permits, and hope to post by the end of this week, 12/08/2007. No need to bate your breath, however... (chuckle, chuckle). Stay tuned, or check in occasionally.

Best Regards!
Paul A. 12/02/2007

Dougman said...

Well it's been a week and this is the first e-mail from outside my circuit with anything of interest.

"Welcome to It's Your Opinion, where you can give us your opinion and we'll give you chances to win a $400 Shopping Spree! Simply complete our short online surveys and tell us about yourself..."

Appealing to my financial needs to get a response would have worked before I found the Truth. Not now.
What's the question.

"Should the government provide more foreign aid to poor countries?"

"Yes/No/I don't know"

I would choose the last because I am uninformed on this matter.
Why would any Sane entity give me a vote on something so important as taking money from One to give to
another without making damn sure all of the facts are out in the open and understood?

Dougman said...

"You've got plenty of mail, email and other messages to catch up on -- including a few you might not know about yet. Block out all the time you need to make it happen, as it's more pressing than you realize."

Why didn't you say to check my wife's emails.
Correction: My wife's e-males.

Lord, Xmas is for the kids,
after that, do what you will.

dougman said...

Dear Doug,
Here is your horoscope
for Saturday, December 15:

Circumstances beyond your control are affecting how the people in
your life see you, for better or
worse. It's a good time to let
your reputation take care of itself -- you'd rather enjoy your
own energy anyway.

"...for better or

What the FUCK would YOU now about THAT!!!

If you knew me you'd know that today I'd rather be DEAD!!!

Dougman said...

Dear Doug,
Here is your horoscope
for Tuesday, December 18:

You've got a pretty sizable network, even if there are lots of folks out there you don't see all that often. It's a good time to step up to them and reacquaint yourself -- you never know what might happen.

When did you start Doug instead of Douglas?

There's something happen'in here
What it is ain't exactly clear...

Sorry about that "bitch" part,.. forgive me?

Paul A. said...

Forgive you?

Of course, and with no reservations! Been there, done that, got the T-shirt and scars to prove it.

Know that you have my best wishes and most fervent prayers!

Dougman said...

Thanks for your support Paul.
It means alot to me.

I learned a hard truth this past week.
This is what I projected on to my wife, "You're going to leave, that's what women do."

The more she tried to prove me wrong, like leaving behind all of her friends, the more I would close down. Giving even less of myself than before.
I just couldn't accept that she really did Love me.
What a fool I was!
And soooo self rightous.

I set her up to fail so I could point my finger and say,"See, I told you so".

I learn alot hanging out on under the table, licking up the bread crumbs that fall from above. "woof woof"

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Dougman said...

I almost never watch movies.