The Essence of Critical Thinking?

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

–Rudyard Kipling

What is Critical Thinking?

A clear and succinct definition of what critical thinking really is seems to be elusive in some respects. There are many definitions from many sources. Even though these definitions do not seem to contradict each other, it appears that sometimes these definitions are too technical for the novice, in that they even go so far as to seem to cover different concepts. So I went searching for the simplest definitions that made the most sense to, assuming that I do not really understand what critical thinking is. Thus it makes sense to me to note down some varying sources of information and then draw my own conclusions:

  • Critical thinking implies that a person should approach issues intellectually and rationally, without emotional responses such as prejudice or unsubstantiated belief systems.
  • A critical thinker must be aware of their own limitations, including the effects of normal emotional responses (The Critical Thinking Community).
  • Critical thinkers are active, skeptical and open to ideas, which sums up the approach of modern applied science in assuming that something is false until it is proven to be true (Kurland).
  • Two types of critical thinking exist:
    • Self centered low level critical thinking that is intellectually flawed because it is not altruistic, even if it is pragmatic.
    • High level critical thinking is altruistic in that it considers the needs of others to the point of idealism (a low level thinker will see collective altruism as idealism). However, the high level critical thinker is more fair-minded given that they practice critical thinking at a higher level of intellectual integrity and a sense of empathy (being sensitive to the needs of others as well as their own needs).
  • Critical thinking includes creativity and innovation, with some very advanced innovative techniques demonstrated even in a book called The Medici Effect, which is interesting given that Machiavelli was a narcissistic the end justifies the means pragmatic leader; but I do not recall the phrase critical thinking mentioned anywhere in the Medici Effect text so far. To me the type of creativity described so far in the Medici Effect does not seem to exactly fit into the critical thinking process, unless critical thinking becomes more a part of the validation of usefulness of ideas, as opposed to the actual initial generation of those ideas.
  • The description of critical thinking that I like the most is from an online philosophical source (Lau & Chan), which is as follows:

“Critical thinking is not a matter of accumulating information. A person with a good memory and who knows a lot of facts is not necessarily good at critical thinking. A critical thinker is able to deduce consequences from what he knows, and he knows how to make use of information to solve problems, and to seek relevant sources of information to inform himself.”

What this means that one has to be able to use the knowledge one has in a usefully applicable manner. Also one must be able to know how to find information (research), figure out what is useful (applicable to the task at hand), and finally, one has to be able to apply facts to creatively and innovatively generate solutions to problems, even sometimes possibly intelligently inferring a solution without being in possession of all the relevant facts.

Demonstrating Critical Thinking

A classic case of critical thinking, to some people, would be to be open-minded when trying to dissimilate between low level and high level critical thinking. A low critical thinker does not really think there is anything wrong with thinking selfishly, even though psychopathic personality disorders and mental illnesses focus often on self centric, self centered and non-empathetic behavioral patterns. And again being open minded myself, people who do not practice a selfish approach can appear both idealistic and self righteous, which is relatively foolhardy and arrogant in the eyes of someone who thinks that a little bit of selfish behavior is good for the whole if the person who takes more care of themselves succeeds in contributing to the community in the long run. I myself find it interesting to consider both opinions, and I sometimes battle with myself to remain politically and religiously impartial; only to conclude that the more extremes that I encounter, then the more that I resist and rebel in the opposite direction; perhaps I am trying to see all opinions and thus I am perhaps a competent high level critical thinker. Does the simple used of the perhaps reinforce that? In that I am self aware enough to know that I definitely do not know everything, and that I can always look around me and find someone else who is more intelligent than I am, or has better insight about something that I may be too focused on to see.

There is a part of Japanese culture where it is assumed that when a person has learned everything, that one must then start the learning process right from the beginning with no rank at all, starting from the beginning all over again. The assumption is that one has not and can never really learn everything. Is this critical thinking in practice as well because it is open-minded?