Thursday, February 6, 2014

Critical Thinking

How to Train Your Mind to Think Critically and Form Your Own Opinions (Thorin Klosowski)
Critically thinking is a very useful skill, and although some people know how to absorb important information, and then use it to form a decision or opinion for themselves--some are unable to think critically and just spout off what they hear others say. Critically thinking takes practice, and we can train ourselves to do it better.

  • Train Yourself to Pay Attention to the Right Details

One of the most important parts to thinking critically is the ability to learn what details actually matter. Because we are exposed to so much information and other's ideas everyday, it becomes easy to get lost in the details. Start by listening to your gut--if something doesn't sound true, then that is your first warning sign. Then you can start to look for holes in an argument:

Think about who benefits from a statement: think about who benefits from the statement being made--if someone's making an argument, then there is a good change they benefit from it for some reason.

Question the source: especially with the Internet, the sources are not immediately visible, so if something sounds off, track down where it came from before you form an opinion about it.

Look for obvious statements: a common trick in debates and reviews is to find a critical argument inside a series of obviously true statements. For example: "So, now we know the sky is blue, that grass is green, that clouds are white, and that Apple makes the best computers"

  • Always Ask Questions 

Critically thinking and asking questions go hand in hand. A series of questions can help you reveal what you think about an argument or idea. However you approach it, the end result is to learn to think critically and analyze everything. It is always important to ask yourself why something is important and how it connects to things you already know, and as you do that, you train your brain to make connections between ideas and think critically about more information you come across.

  • Watch for Qualifying Phrases 

You also have to train your ear so you notice subtle words and phrases that can set off warning flags. It is impossible to pay attention to everything, so knowing some phrases that tend to come before a weak argument is really helpful.

The Wall Street Journal has a lot of these types of phrases that tend to signal untruth, and they are good indicators that it is time to start paying more attention.
I want to say; I'm just saying; To be perfectly honest; I just want you to know; To tell you the truth; I'm not saying; I hear what you're saying; Don't take this the wrong way; Let's be frank; As far as I know; I'm thinking that; Surely... etc. 

  • Know and Confront Your Own Biases 

We are all bias about information whether we realize it or not, and part of critical thinking is cultivating the possibility to see outside of those biases.

  • Practice Any Way You Can 

As with anything, if you want to become good at critical thinking, you need to practice daily. Much of this can be done in your head, but you can also do exercises to whip your brain into shape.

One easy way to do this is to keep a journal of some kind. This could be casual observations or a notebook with opinions, but the point is to write every single day. Once your comfortable writing, blogging is not only good for you, it is also a great way to engage other people and challenge yourself to see alternative points of view. Likewise, participating in a healthy debate with friends is great practice, as well as reading more conscientiously!

Critical thinking never ends. The more knowledge you cultivate, the better you'll become at thinking about it. The end results is a brain that automatically forms better arguments, focused ideas, and creative solutions to problems.

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