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CHAPTER TWO

WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?

When Arthur was in the first grade, the teacher directed the class to "think." "Now, class," she said, "I know this problem is a little harder than the ones we've been doing, but I'm going to give you a few e tra minutes to think about it. Now start thinking." It was not the first time Arthur had heard the word used. !e'd heard it many times at home but never "uite this way. #he teacher seemed to be asking for some special activity, something he should know how to start and stop. $ike his father's car. "%room&m&m," he muttered half aloud. 'ecause of his confusion, he was unaware he was making the noise. "Arthur, please stop making noises and start thinking." (mbarrassed and not knowing "uite what to do, he looked down at his desk. #hen out of the corner of his eye he noticed that the little girl ne t to him was staring at the ceiling. ")aybe that's the way you start thinking," he guessed. !e decided the others had probably learned how to do it last year, that time he was home with the measles. *o he stared at the ceiling. As he progressed through grade school and high school, he heard that same direction hundreds of times. "No, that's not the answer, you're not thinking + now think!" And occasionally, form a particularly self&pitying teacher given to talking to himself aloud, "What did I do to deserve this- .on't they teach them anything in the grades anymore- .on't you people care about ideas- #hink, dammit, #!IN/." *o Arthur learned to feel somewhat guilty about the whole matter. 0bviously this thinking was an important activity that he'd failed to learn. )aybe he lacked the brain power. 'ut he was resourceful enough. !e watched the other students and did what they did. Whenever a teacher started in about thinking, the screwed up his face, furrowed his brow, stretched his head, stroked his chin, stared off into space or up at the ceiling, and repeated silently to himself, "$et's see now, I've got to think about that, think, think 1I hope he doesn't call on me2, think." #hough Arthur didn't know it, that's 3ust what the other students were saying to themselves. 'ecause Arthur's situation is not all that uncommon, your e perience may have been similar. #hat is, probably many people have gold you to think, but no one ever e plained what thinking is, how many kinds of thinking there are, and what "ualities a good thinker has that a poor thinker lacks. #hinking is a general term covering numerous activities from day&dreaming to reflection and analysis. !ere are 3ust some of the verbs 4oget's Thesaurus includes for the word think, appreciate believe cerebrate cogitate conceive consider consult contemplate deliberate digest discuss dream fancy imagine meditate muse ponder reali5e reason reflect ruminate speculate suppose weigh

!owever, all of those are 3ust he names that thinking goes under. #hey really don't e plain it. #he fact is after thousands of years of humans' e periencing thought and talking and writing about it, it remains in many respects one of the great mysteries of human e istence. 'ut though much is yet to be learned, a great deal is already known.

67&89:&7

CHAPTER TWO

WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?

ONE BRAIN OR TWO?

'rain function research has revealed the importance of a small bundle of nerves found between the left and right sides of the brain. ;ntil recently that bundle, the corpus callosum, was thought to have no significant function. Now, however, scientists know that the brain is not one center of thought and learning but two. (ach side has control over certain skills. When the corpus callosum is intact, the two sides work in harmony 1although one may dominate2. 'ut when the corpus is cut or damaged, the left side of the brain is no longer aware of what the right side is doing and vice versa. ( periments performed with patients in this condition reveal hand controlled by the "blind" eye cannot later identify the ob3ect by touch. It is a familiar ob3ect to one part of the brain but totally unfamiliar to the other.7 We now know, too, that each half of the brain has its own memories and its own train of thought. #he left half deals mainly in words and is associated with analysis and logical thinking. #he right half deals mainly in sensory images and is associated with intuition and creative thinking.: .espite the separateness of the hemispheres, however, the brain's functions are profoundly integrated. *ome researchers regard the brain as synonymous with the mind. Western philosophy, however, has traditionally held that there is an important difference. According to this view, the brain is a physical reality whereas the mind is metaphysical + that is, nonmaterial. CRITICAL THINKING DEFINED

#he word critical often carries negative connotation, implying e cessive faultfinding. #hat connotation does not apply to the term critical thinking, which refers to the process of evaluating ideas. When we think critically, we 3udge the accuracy of statements and the soundness of the reasoning that leads to conclusions. 8ritical thinking helps us interpret comple ideas, appraise the evidence offered in support of arguments, and distinguish between reasonableness and unreasonableness. 'oth problem solving and decision making depend on critical thinking, as does the meaningful discussion of controversial issues. 0ne of the keys to proficiency in critical thinking is skill in asking relevant "uestions. Where the uncritical accept their first thoughts and others' statements at face value, critical thinkers challenge all ideas in the following manner, Thought 6rofessor %ile cheated me in my composition grade. !e weighted some themes more heavily than others 'efore women entered the work force, there were fewer divorces. #hat show that a woman's place is in the home. A college education isn't worth what you pay for it. *ome
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Question .id he grade everyone on the same standard- Were the different weightings 3ustified!ow do you know that this factor, and not some other one1s2, is responsible for the increase in divorcesIs money the only measure of the worth of an education- What

)aya 6ines, "We Are $eft&'rained or 4ight&'rained," New York Times Magazine, *eptember <, 7<=>, pp>:ff. : #homas 4. 'lakeslee, The Right Brain 1?arden 8ity, N.@., Anchor 6ressA.oubleday, 7<B92. 67&89:&:

CHAPTER TWO

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about increased understanding of self and life and increased ability to cope with challenges-

people never reach a salary level appreciably higher than the level they would have reached without the degree.

8ritical thinkers also use "uestions philosophicallyC in other words, to wonder about issues, probe them more deeply than is customary, and look for new insights. 8onsider, for e ample, the term values. We hear it fre"uently today in statements like "0ur country has lost its traditional values" and "#here would be less crime, especially violent crime, if parents and teachers emphasi5ed moral values." !ere are some of the "uestions a critical thinker would ask, o o o o o o What is the relationship between values and beliefs- 'etween values and convictionsAre all values valuable!ow aware is the average person of his or her values- Is it possible that many people deceive themselves about their real valuesWhere do one's values originate- Within the individual or outside- In thought or in feeling.oes education change a person's values- If so, is this change always for the better*hould parents and teachers attempt to shape children's values-

CHARACTERISTICS OF CRITICAL THINKERS

#here are a number of misconceptions about critical thinking. 0ne is that being able to support beliefs with reasons makes one a critical thinker. %irtually everyone has reasons, however pathetic they may be. #he test of critical thinking is whether the reasons are good and sufficient. Another misconception is that critical thinkers never imitate others in thought or action. If that were the case, then every pigheaded person would be a critical thinker. 8ritical thinking means making wise decisions, regardless of how common those decisions are. A third misconception is that critical thinking is synonymous with having a lot of right answers in one's head. #here's nothing wrong with having right answers, of course. 'ut critical thinking is the process of finding answers when they are not so readily available. @et another misconception is that critical thinking cannot be learned, that one either "has it" or does not. 0ne the contrary, critical thinking is a matter of habit. #he most careless, sloppy thinker can become a critical thinker by developing the characteristics of a critical thinker. We have already noted one characteristic of critical thinkers + skill in asking appropriate "uestions. Another is control of their mental activities. American philosopher Dohn .ewey once observed that more of our time than most of us care to admit is spent "trifling with mental pictures, random recollections, pleasant but unfounded hopes, flitting, half&developed impressions." > ?ood thinkers are no e ception. !owever, they have learned better than poor thinkers how to stop that casual, semiconscious drift of images when they wish and how to fi their minds on one specific matter, e amine it carefully, and form a 3udgment about it. #hey have learned, in other words, how to take charge of their thoughts, to use their minds actively as well as passively.
>

Dohn .ewey, How We Think 1$e ington, )ass., ..8. !eath, 7<>>2, p.E. 67&89:&>

CHAPTER TWO

WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?

!ere are some additional characteristics of critical thinkers, as contrasted with those of uncritical thinkers, Critical Thinkers Are honest with themselves, acknowledging what they don't know, recogni5ing their limitations, and being watchful of their own errors. 4egard problems and controversial issues as e citing challenges. *trive for understanding, keep curiosity alive, remain patient with comple ity and ready to invest time to overcome confusion. *et aside personal preferences and base 3udgments on evidence, deferring 3udgment whenever evidence is insufficient. #hey revise 3udgments when new evidence reveal error. are interested in other people's ideas, so are willing to read and listen attentively, even when they tend to disagree with the other person. 4ecogni5e that e treme views 1whether conservative or liberal2 are seldom correct, so they avoid them, practice fair& mindedness, and seek a balanced view. 6ractice restraint, controlling their feelings rather than being controlled by them, and thinking before acting. ncritical Thinkers 6retend they know more than they do, ignore their limitations, and assume their views are error&free. 4egard problems and controversial issues as nuisances or threats to their ego. Are impatient with comple ity and thus would rather remain confused than make the effort to understand. 'ase 3udgments on first impressions and gut reactions. #hey are unconcerned about the amount or "uality of evidence and cling to earlier views steadfastly. Are preoccupied with self and their own opinions, and so are unwilling to pay attention to other's views. At the first sign of disagreement they tend to think, "!ow can I refute this-" Ignore the need for balance and give preference to views that support their established views.

#end to follow their feelings and act impulsively.

As the desirable "ualities suggested, critical thinking depends on mental discipline. (ffective thinkers e ert control over their mental life, direct their thoughts rather than being directed by them, and withhold their endorsement of any idea + even their own + until they have tested and proved it. Dohn .ewey considered this mental discipline to be identical with freedom. #hat is, he argued that people who do not have it are not free persons but slaves. !ere his words, If a man's actions are not guided by thoughtful conclusions, then they are guided by inconsiderate impulse, unbalanced appetite, caprice, or the circumstances of the moment. To cultivate unhindered, unreflective external activity is to foster enslavement, for it leaves the person at the mercy of appetite, sense, and circumstance.4

Ibid., pp.BB&<9. 67&89:&E

CHAPTER TWO

WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?

THE ROLE OF INTUITION

Intuition is instinctive knowing or perception without reference to the rational process. 0f all aspects of thinking, it is perhaps the most dramatic and therefore the most fascinating. !istory records many cases of important discoveries 3ust "occurring" to people. #hey may not even be consciously considering the matter. #hen all of a sudden the answer comes to them, seemingly out of nowhere. #he ?erman chemist /ekule found the solution to a difficult chemical problem that way. !e was very tired when he slipped into a daydream. #he image of a snake swallowing his tail came to him + and that provided the clue to the structure of the ben5ene molecule, which is a ring, rather than a chain, of atoms. F #he ?erman writer ?oethe had e perienced great difficulty organi5ing a large mass of material for one of his works. #hen he learned of the tragic suicide of a close friend. At that very instant the plan for organi5ing his material occurred to him in detail.G #he (nglish writer 8oleridge 1you may have read his "4ime of the Ancient )ariner" in high school2 awoke from a dream with between two and three hundred lines of a new and comple poem clearly in mind. Intuition is not restricted to famous men and women. )ost of us have had similar though less momentous e periences with it. And two facts are common to all these e periences, great and small alike. #he first is that intuition cannot be controlledC the second is that intuition is not completely trustworthy. (ven the strongest intuition can prove wrong. Hor both reasons, though intuition is always a welcome companion to critical thinking, it is never a substitute for it. #his, of course, is no cause for concern because many other skills of thinking can be controlled and developed. CRITICAL THINKING AND WRITING

Writing may be used for either of two broad purposes + to discover ideas or to communicate ideas. )ost of the writing you have done in school is undoubtedly the latter kind. 'ut the former can be very helpful, not only in sorting out ideas you've already produced, but in stimulating the flow of ideas. Hor some reason, the very act of writing down one idea has a way of producing additional ideas. Whenever you write to discover ideas, focus on the issue you are e amining and record all your thoughts, "uestions as well as assertions. .on't worry about organi5ation or correctness. If ideas come slowly, be patient. If they suddenly come in a rush, don't try to slow the process down and develop any one of them, but 3ot them all down. 1#here will be time for elaboration, and for correction, later.2 .irect your mind's effort, but be sensitive to ideas on the fringes of consciousness. 0ften they, too, will prove valuable. If you have done your discovery writing well and have thought critically about the ideas you have produced, the task of writing to communicate will be easier and more en3oyable. @ou will have many more ideas + tested and proven ideas + to develop and organi5e. APPLICATIONS

4. W. ?erard, "#he 'iological 'asis of Imagination," The !cienti"ic Monthl#, Dune 7<EG, p. E==. G Ibid., p.E=B. 67&89:&F

CHAPTER TWO

WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?

7. !ow closely has your e perience with thinking in school matched Arthur's:. .o you find it difficult to ponder important matters- Are you able to prevent the casual, semiconscious drift of images form interrupting your thoughts- .o you have less control in some situations than in others- ( plain. >. 4ate yourself on each of the seven characteristics of good thinkers that are listed above. Which are you strongest in- Which weakest- If you behavior varies form situation to situation, try to determine what kinds of issues or circumstances bring out your best and worst mental "ualities. E. Is there any pattern to the way you think about a problem or issue.oes an image come to mind first- 0r perhaps a word- What comes ne t- And what after that- If you can't answer these "uestions completely, do this e ercise, Hlip half a do5en pages ahead in this book, pick a sentence at random, read it, and note how your mind deals with it. 1*uch thinking about your thinking may be a little awkward at first. If it is, try the e ercise two or three times.2 F. 4ead each of the following statements carefully. #hen decide what "uestion1s2, if any, a good critical thinker would find it appropriate to ask. a. #elevision news is sensational in its treatment of war because it gives us pictures only of in3ury, death, and destruction. b. )y parents were too strict + they wouldn't let me date until I was si teen. c. It's clear to me that 4alph doesn't care for me + he never spoke when we passed in the ball. d. Hrom a commercial for a new network, "#he news is changing every minute of the day, so you constantly need updating to keep you informed." e. #he statement of an Alabama public elementary school teacher who had students recite the $ord's 6rayer and say grace before meals, "I feel part of my 3ob as a teacher is to instill values children need to have a good life."= G. *tate and e plain your position on each of the following controversial issues, applying what you leaned in this chapter. a. #he rape laws in some states re"uire that the force used in the act be sufficient to produce a fear in the victim of serious physical in3ury or death. *ome laws also re"uire that the victim earnestly resist the assault. Where those conditions are not present, a rapist will not be prosecuted. b. In what was believed to be the first national attempt to bring economic pressure to make a television network tone down the se and violence in its programming, the 8oalition for 'etter #elevision urged the public to boycott products made by 48A because the network owned by that company, N'8, had "e cluded 8hristian characters, 8hristian values, and 8hristian culture from their programming." N'8 denounced the move as "an obvious attempt at intimidation."B c. #he increase in violent crimes by teenagers and even young children in recent years has prompted many people to urge that the criminal 3ustice system treat 3uvenile offenders as adults.

= B

"#eacher ;ses 6rayer," Binghamton 1New @ork2 $ress, November 7G, 7<B:, p.7. "4eligious ?roup Aims #% 'oycott at N'8," The 10neonta2 !tar, )arch F, 7<B:, p.7. 67&89:&G

CHAPTER TWO

WHAT IS CRITICAL THINKING?

*ome even argue that the most serious offenders should receive the death penalty. d. In 7<B< 6resident ?eorge 'ush publicly re3ected a proposal to ban assault rifles. !is view supported the National 4ifle Association's position that the right to bear arms should not be abridged. )any police organi5ations strongly disagree with this position. e. #he ;.*. *upreme 8ourt has considered the cases of two teenagers who committed heinous crimes. In one seventeen& year&old raped and then murdered a gas station attendant. In the other a si teen&year&old stabbed a li"uor store owner eight times, killing her. )any believe the death penalty is appropriate in such cases. 0thers believe that the death penalty is always inappropriate for minors regardless of the crime.< f. An unstable man called an Alabama television newsroom and threatened to kill himself. #he station notified the police and then dispatched a camera crew to the scene. #he crew reportedly stood by, filming, while the man doused himself with lighter fluid and lit two matches in an unsuccessful attempt to ignite himself. #hey moved in to stop him only after his third, successful attempt. #he television station subse"uently ran the film footage on the air. 0ne member of the crew e plained later, ")y 3ob is to record events as they happen." )any people find fault with the television crew's response to the situation. 79

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Binghamton 1New @ork2 %ress, march :=, 7<B<, p.7A. "When 'News' Is Almost a 8rime," Time, )arch :7, 7<B>, p.BE. 67&89:&=