Critical thinking is simply reasoning out whether a claim is true, partly true, sometimes true, or false. Logic is applied by the critical thinker to understand character, motivation, point of view and expression. All decision-making involves critical thinking, from the most mundane activities, such as choosing what to buy at the grocery after seeing advertisements on similar product types, to the subject of professional investigation, such as determining whether the insurance company will honor claims after a house fire where arson is suspected. Whichever the case, critical thinking follows the same basic strategies:
1. Think for yourself.
It seems like such a simple thing, but thinking for yourself – rather than blindly accepting the beliefs of other people – is the first step of critical thinking. Take what is said under consideration, but do not automatically accept what others tell you, nor be unduly influenced by the language they use, or the opinions they give. Introduce doubt. Entertain unpopular ideas. Be mindful of what “authorities” say, insofar as their track record shows fair-mindedness, objectivity and truthfulness; however, always double-check. (Remember, even doctors advise getting a second opinion. Consult as many trustworthy people as possible.) In the end, discover things and work out a conclusion for yourself.
2. Do not take things out of context.
The circumstances that surround an incident, the background of the person speaking, the vantage point of a particular witness – all these have an impact on the veracity of the claim. To think critically, you must be able to put yourself “in other people’s shoes” or to see their perspective. You will find that each person has his own weakness and strength in terms of judgment and observation. It could be that two viewpoints are contradictory, and you will have to rely on your judgment to determine what is valid, what is mistaken, or what is partially true but incomplete.
3. Do not presume the familiar. Do not dismiss the unfamiliar.
Every critical thinker will have his own set of prejudices; however, you must not allow these prejudices to color your thinking. In fact, it will serve you better if you challenge your own presuppositions. If something seems familiar, or typical, then look at it from a fresh point of view. Test each assumption you make. Do not automatically suppose that you already possess the truth. If you come across something unfamiliar, you have to understand exactly what it is and where it comes from and how it works, before you make a judgment call. Ask yourself whether your assumptions are based on evidence, and whether you are interpreting the situation in a way that makes sense.
4. Be intellectually humble.
Be aware of your own weaknesses, your own preconditioning, and your own context (social, cultural, personal). Know your own limitations. Acknowledge your sensitive points. Suspend judgment whenever possible. Never take off from a place of “knowing,” but instead come to a place of “questioning.” Be open. Rethink previous conclusions in light of new evidence or experience. Do not be pretentious and arrogant. You are not privy to all information. Listen. Observe. Learn.
5. Hone your cognitive reasoning: meditate.
The benefits of meditation allow for clarity of mind and stable emotions, even some detachment. You will be in a better position to conduct critical thinking if you are calm, contemplative, and able to discern the points of logic with increased focus and mindfulness. Those who practice meditation are not bedeviled by unruly or obsessive thoughts. Nor are they sleep-deprived, anxious and stressed. They are able to delve deep into meaning, and become more analytical.