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Friday, June 1, 2012

Critical Thinking...Don't Argue With Non-Thinkers!

Have you run up against this?

You are trying to have a reasonable discussion with someone who has an opposing view. You are a logical, analytical, critical thinker. You use empirical data, realizing at the same time, you are unable to escape your worldview, no matter how enlarged it is. However, you have a defined worldview, and the other person does not.

This is problematic. Critical thinking involves knowledge of scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking. If you have not been trained in school (and many schools do not teach this unless you take specific classes) to learn critical thinking across this entire arena of learning, then you have giant holes missing in your knowledge base.

Will we know all there is to know? Of course not! Are there many truths and unknowns still to be discovered? Wonderfully, yes! And, a very, very important question...is there room for many different points of view and opinions on serious matters? I certainly hope so. The most brilliant minds in the world clash on everything from the Big Bang theory, to math problems, to BIG philosophical questions that will never be answered, and even who is the best painter of the 18th century, for God's sake! (Never listen to art critics; that's my position!)

I appreciate this brief summary of critical thinking (taken from "The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools", by Richard Paul and Linda Elder.)

"A well cultivated critical thinker:

  1. raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
  2. gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it, effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  3. thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  4. communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism."

Now, let's consider what happens if you have a well-defined worldview. First, your worldview is shaped from the moment you are born. Your experiences in your home, your school, your relationships with friends (or lack thereof), your interaction with your community, your religious experiences (or lack thereof) as you are growing into an adult all shape your worldview.

What SHOULD happen is as we mature, grow in knowledge, experience, interact with others, travel, read, leave our homes, and meet other people, we begin to develop our own worldview. And it becomes larger. Does this always happen? NO! Some adult children may leave their town or city for awhile, but their worldview does not change; they take it with them, and bring right back home. Or they take it with them, and it stays small. So do they. 

Negative experiences, lack of acceptance for being different, being taught hatred toward others in the home or church, or dishonesty, or that there is only one way that is right, and that there is no middle ground on anything leads to a very small worldview, a closed mind, a mind that refuses to learn, and is utterly incapable of critical thinking. 

It is important to note that our worldview should continue to grow as we mature, assuming we are life-long learners, and follow the steps of critical thinking forward with us. It is easy to see what year someone's brain stem died, and they have given up on learning. Why is it we somehow get to the place where we think we know enough?

Think of this inquisitive thought: the most unexplored place known to mankind and scientists is the ocean. We know infinitely less about it than space. More species are discovered in a single day in the ocean, and yet scientists have only dipped their toe in the water. They readily admit how little they know. This thrills me! The less we know, the more we have to learn. The more we have to learn, the greater the possibility our worldview will expand, change, twist, turn, and all that. It's truly an exciting venture. 

Sad, isn't it, some choose to let past experiences, ignorance, a refusal to learn, and a tiny worldview keep them from interacting with kindness, having real discourse with humanity in a way that effects change, brings hope, brings intelligent, gentle interaction to the table?

Don't waste your time trying to discuss important matters with such people. They don't get it. They do not have rational thoughts. They have preconceived notions, and prejudices they are unable to let go of. Their egocentrism may tell them they are absolutely right; your critical thinking will tell you not to argue. Find someone with whom you may have an intelligent conversation.