What is Critical Thinking and why does it matter?
Updated: Oct 5
In today's dynamic professional landscape, the significance of critical thinking cannot be overstated. However, delving into the realm of critical thinking requires a clear understanding of its essence and purpose. To grasp this concept, it helps to look at its opposite – uncritical thinking. Uncritical thinking involves accepting information without examining its integrity, accuracy, or depth.
Let me share a story to explain:
Imagine receiving an email from an old friend. It says: “Please help me. I’m on holiday and I’ve been robbed, I’ve lost my passport and all my money! I urgently need you to send some cash to this address. Please help!’’
An Uncritical response would be – To respond to the message by instantly giving your friend what they needed. But, of course, what I needed to do was to PAUSE and to think twice… Was this really the kind of thing my friend, who was an experienced editor, writer, and thinker, would send in an emergency? Was I the first person he would contact? Was he even on holiday?
If I typed the first few lines of the email into Google, I would have instantly discovered that it was a common scam.
This form of critical thinking is a skill that many of us apply daily, often unconsciously. Through exposure to numerous emails and their patterns, we have become skilled at recognizing scams like this. However, for those unfamiliar with these tactics, vulnerability to rash and uncritical emotional reactions is heightened.
Critical thinking closely aligns with skepticism and objectivity. Skepticism involves avoiding blind acceptance, while objectivity requires exploring beyond apparent impressions to discover the underlying truths. Notably, critical thinking is not a persistent search but rather a precious tool for situations in which information is scarce, or expertise is lacking, enabling us to go beyond instinctual reactions.
In an age saturated with information, when immediate responses are suspect or when information is insufficient, a strategic pause, thinking twice, and searching for additional insights from varied sources all contribute to becoming an engaged evaluator and generator of ideas and knowledge.
In today’s information saturated world, we’re hearing more and more about critical thinking and its importance, but why does it matter quite so much?
Let me share a story about artificial intelligence to explain:
Machine vision is becoming better and better at identifying objects and it does this by training on vast amounts of data. There’s a famous story about a machine vision program that was learning to recognise various kinds of dogs, different breeds of dogs. It was fed lots and lots of photographs and gradually it learned to tell the difference between dachshunds and retrievers and so on. The machine was particularly good at recognising huskies, sled dogs, the dogs that famously pull people across the Arctic ice.
In fact, it was SO good at recognising huskies that it got around 100% right when looking at the photographs. Now, the people running this machine thought about this and realised something important, which was that, in fact, the algorithm hadn’t learned to recognise huskies at all. What it was doing was correctly identifying snow, because every single picture of a husky that it was being trained with had been taken against a background containing snow. The machine knew nothing whatsoever about what a husky looked like. It was just exceptionally good at spotting white backgrounds.
What’s the point of this story?
It underscores the power of critical thinking as a defining trait. Among the technological wonders that surround us, the power of human perception remains unparalleled. In an era defined by digital innovation, critical thinking stands as a testament not only to the value we bring but also to our capacity to enhance and challenge existing systems. It highlights our ability to question unexamined presumptions in our environment.
In conclusion, critical thinking stands as a cornerstone skill in navigating modern complexities. As we navigate a world saturated with information and innovation, this intellectual tool empowers us to discern, question, and contribute meaningfully. It defines our ability to flourish in an era where human insight and wisdom remain our most potent assets.
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