The following three qoutes from critical thinkers just about sums it up, which is why I chose to start with them:
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident”. – Arthur Schopenhauer.
The above quote arguably summarizes the process of critical thinking (as long as the third stage is reached).
And, “That which can be ascertained without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence”. – Cristopher Hitchens.
Also, Arthur Conan Doyle said (about truth finding):“When you remove the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth”.
So what is critical thinking? Is it the process by which we find the truth of what we are seeking? Is it asking questions and more questions unabridgedly? Or is it asking the right questions ?
If we break it down more layman-like, it seems to me that critical thinking is the process by which one decides to think (by him or herself), using the best available information to do so. And this is critical if one wants to think out of the box (in fact, we shouldn´t even think in terms of boxes), and out of our comfort zone and what is established.
It may not be politically correct to procede this way, but it will be the correct thing to do. That´s why critical thinking changes someone and how critical thinkers change the world.
Thus, it follows that anything that disables one to think and ask about one particular subject, inhibits the critical thinking process.
Something that has been done since the beginning of mankind is that if someone of a particular moral stature or social standing doesn´t understand some natural phenomenon (like an eclipse, or a comet passing by, which requires further observation and comprehension), he or she will oftentimes invent an explanation out of their imagination, and that although creative as it may be (and cunningly manipulative), it is not critical thinking by definition.
Thus the birth of religion and astrology to name but a few by products of such a phenomenon called by psychologists, the argument from ignorance (in other words, going from abject ignorance to abject certainty without studying, learning or thinking).
Here´s an entertaining interview with critical thinker Bill Nye discussing just that:
Critical thinkers have changed the world being a minimal part of humanity: thinking of all the billions we are and we have been – for the last 5,000 years alone, it is estimated that there have existed 15 humans for every 1 who is alive today*- humanity has been changed by so few – by the critical thinkers – who did just that, think critically (by asking uncomfortable and difficult questions and seeking an answer), and that´s what has made the difference.
*There over 7.4 billion people alive today (as of late april 2016), according to the very interesting world population clock:
Considering that the first major (massive) human migrations out of east central Africa originated some 200,000 years ago, and that in Atapuerca, Spain, there are the most complete collective human deposits (remains) found so far, which display the last million years of human evolution. So how many have we been through the ages? Certainly many more than just 15 for every 1 who is alive today by a factor of at least 2 or 3. Or by a factor of 7 according to the following 2011 article which claims that 108 billion people have lived so far (it makes for an interesting read since the author started his research thinking critically, based on an unsubstantiated factoid from someone else):
There´s also an accompanying video:
Moving on, the Oxford Dictionary defines the word critical from the root of the word critique which is the “objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a -clear- judgement”. That sounds (and reads) about right.
The waning philosphical contribution. There was a time when philosophy was a safe haven for critical thinkers and polymaths. The ancient greeks with their sophist movements dared mankind to think above and beyond, and for many centuries, that was the norm with the big thinkers (from Heraclitus, Confucius and Socrates to Da Vinci, Galileo and Spinoza among so many others).
However, nowadays, with the advancement of science, philosophy has been left behind in science´s wake, to the poignant point where contemporary philosophers have failed in keeping up with science, and as such, have similarly failed to make further contributions to the thinking processes of mankind. The jury is still out whether this will continue to be the case, I personally hope it won´t be.
Here´s what happens when people not only don´t think critically, but furthermore, argue the indefensible (they get owned, in this case, by the critical thinkers Bill Maher and Lawrence Krauss):
It´s easier to fool people…than to convince them they have been fooled”. – Mark Twain.
So back to what doesn´t allow us to think, or to think beyond of what we are told. Carl Sagan, the respected astrophysicist and exobiologist, wrote an interesting response to Irving Copi who wrote:
“In some circumstances it can be safely assumed that if a certain event had occurred, evidence of it could be discovered by qualified investigators. In such circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof of its occurrence as positive proof of its non-occurrence.” — Copi, Introduction to Logic (1953), p. 95
To which Sagan´s response was to criticize by way of the famous argument from ignorance (which states that people oftentimes go from abject ignorance to abject certainty without any proof for their “absence of evidence”), with his by now famous alleged maxim from cosmologist Martin Rees´, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.
Sagan´s powerful argument was that lack of research, or knowledge and understanding, should not promote imprudent conclusions. The link below (from his original prize winning COSMOS series), describes his hallmark “extraordinary claims have to be supported by extraordinary evidence”.
Let´s hear what two other famous critical thinkers think about on the point of logic with Neil DeGrasse Tyson (himself an astrophysicist, a science propagator and a self-proclaimed Sagan fan), making the smart point that maybe humans´ brains are not wired for logic (because otherwise they would all be naturally good at maths and science instead of believers of religions), with renowned evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins agreeing:
So the question is, is logic the initiator of reasoning and of critical thought?
If so, it´s no wonder that 95% of people (simple standard deviation Bell curve population variances, based on the gaussian function from the sum of simple regressions based on ) seem illogical, unreasonable and incapable of critical thinking.
Also, too much TV and too little hard reading (as opposed to light reading), might have something to do with it as well.
To quote DeGrasse Tyson: “that´s all I´m saying (and don´t get me started)!”
And all this actually applies to everything that humans think about and subsequently do. Everything. Yet science remains through the ages as the only human subject that doesn´t have a high priest, or an omniscient figure claiming to be infallible and all knowing (quelling all inquiries with an iron fist, making critical thinking untenable within their ranks).
I know some of you might be saying (or thinking), hang on a minute, science is not the only critical thinking path or process of the human mind, and you´re right. Advanced forms of thinking are welcome as long as they push you to do just that: to think without restrictions.
There´s an old adage which says “I don´t want you to think like me, I just want you to think”.
So what else is there aside from science? Well, many things, all of which require critical thinking to be done properly and professionally in an unabridged manner.
There´s engineering (which is pretty close to science in terms of critical thinking due to its problem solving prowess).
There´s the medical sciences which are related to the sciences of biology and biochemistry and the neurological sciences (which, unless a physician is an actual medical researcher, he/she is not a scientist, since they rather follow the line of prescriptional diagnoses biased by the pharmaceutical companies).
Although I have to say, the specialised surgeons who save people´s lives (whether they use innovative surgery techniques or not), are pretty amazing people, and certainly right up there with the scientific community as brain titans in critical thinking.
There´s the vast arts and humanities (like literature in all its forms, music, film making, and many others like ballet, cultural contemporaneous dancing, sculpting and painting), as forms of human expression influenced by culture, which in turn helps to change culture, making the arts and other forms of human expression a physical manifestation of the internal creative impulse. And in doing that, art elevates us, and betters us.
However, art is about feelings more than rationale. Art is poetry. and poetry is poetry. And everything can be poetry if it is beautifully done or expressed, even science, just look into space and it´s poetic colors and forms and the explanation of how things came about and you´ll see that science can be art as well.
There´s also the all important psychosocial sciences (humanities ranging from economics and business, to sociology and psychology), which describe human behavioral patterns (sometimes using mathematical models created by mathematicians called algorithms).
There´s journalism, which, although it isn´t a science, also requires critical thinking for investigating, researching, and adding up the dots for finding the patterns, which make up a groundbreaking story. The Boston Globe´s Pulitzer Prize winning Spotlight team did just that not too long ago, and the film by the same name just won an Academy Award for portraying it critically due to the critical investigative process:
There´s other respected academic subjects, like archeaology, anthropology, architecture and so on and so forth and such like.
There´s also lawyers and physicians…whom we would all appreciate it if they thought more critically and ethically instead of economically (sorry, but it´s true).
And there´s religion (theology)…I won´t go into that, but you know where that conversation leads to in terms of critical thinking when they tell you not to doubt, and not to think, not to ask, and not to go further than what you are told by authoritative figures, self proclaimed as truth holders, who themselves are not particularly knowledgeable or cultured and certainly not critical thinkers themselves.
For an interesting debate on that I recommend watching the following link:
And a bit more on the subject with Dawkins and Maher:
And now let´s hear the ever so eloquent Carl on that matter:
But let´s get back to the subject at hand.
Thus, as respected as all the thinking and professional fields mentioned above are, only the vast sciences (and I´m talking about the exact ones which include mathematics and engineering), are exact forms for organising empirical evidence and practical knowledge in order to invent, solve, innovate, design, research and maintain just about everything we know, into a structured form of testable explanations to make accurate predictions about the Universe.
In science there is no maximum high priest who says that he or she is the holder of absolute truth. And that is the beauty and poetry science, since anyone can contribute and challenge the establishment (like Einstein did), without having to be an established or renowned or famous science proponent. He/she, simply has to observe critically, think critically, propose critically, test critically and defend critically his/her thesis using the process in the diagram above.
In fact, I have found that the scientific method can be used for everything in ordinary life and it works beautifully. Like the stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations “This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what its causal nature -or form-? And what is it doing in the world?” In other words, what is its nature? That is critical thinking at its best!
Let´s hear what a favorite fictitional and criminally gifted mind, Hannibal Lecter, has to say about that:
This just reminded me of Einstein´s critically self-accepted “greatest blunder” regarding the cosmological constant Λ (greek letter lambda, known nowadays as Lambda Cold Dark Matter, or LCDM), as an addition to General Relativity, which he introduced to account for a steady state Universe (which Hubble disproved with his by now famous red shift Doppler effect), and in fact, turned out to be a great thinking tool to understand the expansion of the Universe nowadays via Dark Energy which overrides Gravity (more on that later on another blog article), so regarding Einstein, he was right even when he thought he was wrong.
Here, cosmologist Brian Greene tells us a bit about that:
And now Neil a bit more eloquently on the same subject (as of min. 4:30), but I recommend all of it because it´s great:
So like it or not, accept it or not, understand it or not (and I´m sincerely hoping that you do on all three counts), science remains our most advanced form of logic, reasoning and critical thinking tool for human advancement and development.
Glossary of the sciences: the sciences include by virtue of inclusion but not of limitation:
Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, Cosmology, Geology, Biology (and all it´s branches and ramifications like Biochemistry and Medical Research Sciences), Computer Sciences, Engineering and Mathematics.