Shortly after booting up the laptop this morning, its software began a “critical update”. This was unusual and unexpected, so my mind was thrown for a loop. My morning routine had been interrupted. My thoughts had been shifted away from contemplating today’s blog topic and towards considering whether the software update was legitimate or not.
The update turned out to be an authentic one, so I didn’t need to worry if the laptop had been hacked. It occurred to me that the interruption of my routine caused me to analyze and think about something I never think about at this time of the day. My observation of the software update turned out to be a “thought event”. That is, I automatically began evaluating, reviewing, and revising what I knew about something.
Sometimes even a slight shift in routine or point of view reveals something going on in the background of our minds. In this case, my mindfulness revealed that I had tapped into the ability to think with critical objectivity. The beauty of developing the skill of critical thinking is understanding the difference between what one thinks from how one thinks. This is a skill that must be cultivated and maintained throughout a person’s life.
Too often, I have trouble with my critical thinking skills. I get caught up in subjectively thinking about the events of the day regarding the state of the world. Those thoughts are about what I want the world to be like and that the real world falls short of my expectations. I’m having similar thoughts as I write these words, except the thoughts are not about the world, they are about my idealized version of how I’d like the act of thinking to be for me. I think about a lot of things, but I don’t pay as close attention to how I think as I wish. This paragraph is probably one of the most subjective paragraphs I’ve written this week. (Notice how often I wrote first person singular pronouns.)
Generally speaking, most folks don’t have problems with thinking for ourselves, just so long as our conclusions conform to or are compatible with our preconceived beliefs or with socially acceptable opinions. It’s easy for us to interpret or confuse critical thinking with criticism. It’s important to remember that contrary thought doesn’t always equate to rational thought even though contrary thought often initiates the process of critical thinking.
It’s very important to take a few steps away from our point of view and consider scenarios from other points of view. When we are able to engage critical thinking, we unlock the potential to become deeply creative. Instead of shoehorning scenarios into our preconceived notions about how they “should” conform to our beliefs, we open our minds to unlimited possibilities. This is one way we can more fully realize that critical thinking is not necessarily criticism.
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.”–Henry Ford
It’s easy to parrot opinions and talking points, especially if we agree with them. To analyze and objectively think about the ramifications of the current Zeitgeist is tricky and requires the effort of setting our own preferences and beliefs aside. This might be part of what Mr. Ford was getting at. It is this mindful effort that can be the hardest mental work of all. In other words we can believe what we like, but don’t believe everything you read without critically analyzing it. That includes what I’ve written today. The purpose of this paragraph is to engage your own critical thinking skills.
There is a profound beauty about curiosity and critical thinking. It is an attitude about observing the Universe in an inquiring yet playful manner. If you want to truly think outside of the box, critical thinking is an effective way to do so.
Something came to mind yesterday while preparing lunch. It seemed to me that the attack on critical thinking going on these days, could be the most fundamental attack on freedom. If critically thinking about the state of whatever subject one wishes to analyze and expressing our conclusions are forbidden, then our thinking and speech are not free. This is one of the dangers of aligning oneself with ideologies and belief systems.
The 18th century German physicist and satirist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote, “Nothing is more conductive to peace of mind than not having any opinions at all.” I find the combination of physicist and satirist to be both odd, yet logical. This gave Lichtenberg the ability to use the scientific method and to reinforce it with the ability to ridicule. This combined his critical thinking skills with his contrarian nature in productive ways. Although he was aware that he held opinions, he understood that letting go of his opinions could bring him more peace of mind. Lichtenberg was a very interesting person because of his thinking skills.
I hope that these few thoughts about thinking have been catalysts to help engage your own critical thinking skills.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Aristotle. “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”