What is critical thinking? This is a special ability of person. For example, as the ability to dance well. Some people dance better, others worse. One can use his thinking better than the other. When we say “critical thinking”, we mean the ability to use thinking to solve different, intellectual tasks. That is, using thinking as a tool that is purposeful and meaningful.
What's the catch. Most often a person does not distinguish the process of thinking inside his consciousness — and the choice of the best way to think about it “with something”. For example, we all know about cognitive distortions — some kind of built-in thinking errors based on its natural flaws or the characteristics of the human psyche. It would seem that easier? Since we know about them, we can avoid them. But this does not always work. People see their mistakes well in a retrospective analysis — when they begin to understand why “everything did not work out”. And in the process of making the decision, they do not always succeed.
This effect was noticed by Francis Bacon in the 16th century. In his theory of “idols,” that is, cognitive distortions that interfere with cognition, he noted that the human mind cannot distinguish two merged parts in its perception of the world — the result of perception and how it was affected by distortions arising from the work of the mind itself.
In other words, if we decide to describe our mind in terms of information theory, then it can be represented as an information channel that has internal noise and interference, distorting the information it broadcasts. After all, we can simultaneously think and observe our thinking, perceive and observe our perception. We are both an information channel and an observer. This is the problem. The “observer” in us does not notice distortions and noises in the “channel of information”, since he is both.
It turns out that we need a special educational discipline that would train a person to use his mind effectively. So that in the process of perceiving and processing data, he can correct the interference. Moreover, propagandists, yellow media, and advertisers use the weaknesses of the human mind. You need to be able to resist them, so that it is not so easy to fall for their fishing rods.
The first systemic attempts to create such a discipline were made in the USA in the 1930s of the last century. President Roosevelt's federal administration was looking for ways to confront powerful corporations in the fight for the minds of voters. Corporations tried to manipulate the consciousness of the masses with the help of media and PR technology created by Edward Burneys, one of the first PR specialists in the United States, based on the Freudian theory of the mass and individual psyche of man. The US federal authorities, through educational films, told voters how to track such media manipulations. Critical thinking courses began to appear at American universities. Non-governmental organizations have sprung up a culture of critical thinking in society.
Now similar disciplines are spreading in Russia. This is not teaching people to think, but learning to use the resources of their own thinking. The field of study of critical thinking includes the ability to expose fakes and, in general, media literacy.
Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason, discusses two types of judgments — analytical and synthetic. Analytical ones are characterized by the fact that their “subject already contains a predicate”. That is, the conclusions are contained in the judgment itself and in the view — it is only necessary to “unpack” them. Synthetic judgments are based, from Kant's point of view, on contemplation. The conclusion about the sum 2 + 7 cannot be reached logically — it is only possible by contemplation to establish what will result from the addition.
A similar situation is with critical thinking. There is an approach that can be generally called analytical. A striking example is one of the first textbooks on critical thinking in Russian, published in 2001 by A. V. Tyaglo “Critical Thinking Based on Elementary Logic”. It describes the work of thinking through logical optics: from what point of view this or that text should be considered, what questions and in what order to ask, how to put forward counterarguments. That is, the book proposes a certain sequence of logical operations common to the understanding of any material. The problem with this approach is the same as the problem of any analytical judgments — thinking cannot be concluded within one formal structure, no matter how logical it may be — it cannot be universal. It is for such a limited approach that the teaching of critical thinking is criticized.
Of course, within the framework of the formal logical approach, the problem of teaching critical thinking is difficult to solve. A somewhat different approach was taken in his book “Critical Thinking. Analyze, doubt, shape your opinion” modern British thinker Tom Chatfield. He tries to supplement the tools of formal logic with the help of references to informal logical errors and generally tries to teach the reader to use logic more than logic itself, this is a very important point. However, he never succeeds in completely moving away from the formal approach.
The main problem of formal logical and analytical approaches is that thinking itself synthesizes these approaches. And most of the errors of thinking lie outside the formal sphere. Moreover, as mathematicians or programmers would say, thinking is “recursive”, it can use different formal structures and combine them according to different principles. Or, as a philosopher would say, thinking is dialectical. The well-known American psychoanalyst Michael Besseches believes that we can flexibly and consciously use different formally organized thinking procedures, being not “inside” them, choosing the optimal “thinking programs” for each situation.
In general, this approach is best suited to understanding the essence of critical thinking — as the ability to flexibly, but efficiently and deeply work with one’s thinking apparatus, without following formal schemes under which thinking needs to be “adjusted”. For example, we are trying to solve such a problem with colleagues in our course “Critical Thinking” at the Liberal Arts faculty of the RANEPA.
Why do you need to specifically learn critical thinking? As practice shows, this improves the quality of education in general. In the UK, according to a Cambridge Assessment study, from 2001 to 2009, the number of schools that teach critical thinking increased from 130 to 1000. At the same time, there was a significant improvement in the performance of students who completed a course of such training. This is confirmed by research by the Foundation for Critical Thinking. Simply put, critical thinking is a way to intensify education, as well as a good tool for selecting the best students.
Of course, someone may argue that the academic field is far from practice, and good education is not always applicable in everyday life. Although in creative and high-tech economies, and not just resource economies, this is not the case. The problem of teaching critical thinking has long been discussed in various professional communities. Here, for example, it speaks of the need for critical thinking for nurses — human life may depend on the availability of this skill in medical staff.
It can be explained even easier. Effective thinking takes less time. When the thinking subject understands that his thinking is ineffective and tries to fix it — his consciousness is ordered, his conclusions become less errors and gaps. Such a person is better aware of the problems, analyzing the work of his thinking, he distinguishes the lack of information from the lack of their own cognitive capabilities. People are more creative when they can control their thinking and use different methods to direct it in unusual or non-standard ways.
In general, teaching critical thinking is an investment in human development, and therefore in economic efficiency and quality of life. Many large companies are already investing heavily in the development of this discipline, realizing that this is one of the technologies for obtaining competitive advantages, reducing costs and increasing the efficiency of human capital. The critical thinking of employees helps companies to develop better and solve more problems at no additional cost.
On the other hand, developed critical thinking is necessary for social stability and social well-being. People who are able to think critically are less susceptible to brainwashing by extremists of all kinds, the effects of propaganda and advertising, they commit less unreasonable actions and expenses. They are more willing to invest resources in their own development and growth, not expecting to easily get everything at once. That is, developed critical thinking creates a civic culture based on balanced and non-conflict decision-making, taking into account different interests and rational choice. Thus, the effectiveness of thinking is directly related to the development of society.
Denis Grekov, Senior Lecturer, Department of Humanities, ION RANEPA