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How to Improve Critical Thinking

Critical thinking...

...doesn’t happen because you’ve studied some abstract logical form and come to valid deductions.

 It happens because you know enough about how the world works to rule out certain possibilities as being unlikely or impossible.


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How to Improve Critical Thinking

How to Improve Critical Thinking


Key Ideas

The right way to improve critical thinking

  • Create contexts that enable smart decisions: recognize what you’re actually doing when you’re reasoning about things and use this knowledge to try to avoid making common mistakes
  • Absorb lots and lots of knowledge about the world and integrate it through practice making decisions:  more you know about things, the better you can reason about them.
  • Debating problems

    Many well-known problems of human reasoning disappear once you get a group of people together and let them talk about it.

    It's a good way to see your ideas refuted or let stronger ideas win the day. Although there’s a risk of group think and conformity pressures, if you take a large and diverse enough group, you’re more likely to be exposed to the best reasoning, which will tend to win out over the majority opinion.



    Six levels of critical thinkers
    Six levels of critical thinkers

    Researchers identified six predictable levels of critical thinkers:

    • The unreflective thinker
    • The challenged thinker
    • The beginner thinker
    • The practicing think...
    The Unreflective Thinker

    These are people who don't reflect on thinking nor consider the consequences of not thinking. Their prejudices and misconceptions lead them.

    They do not consistently apply standards like accuracy, relevance, precision, and logic.

    The Challenged Thinker

    People at this intellectual stage are aware of the importance of thinking and know that the lack of thinking can result in major issues.

    • They acknowledge that their own mental processes might have many flaws but are unable to identify all the weaknesses.
    • They may spot some instances of their own self-deception.
    • They may have a sense that proper thinking involves navigating assumptions, inferences, and points of view, but only on a basic level.

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    We’re swayed by anecdotes
    We’re swayed by anecdotes
    Most of us are influenced more powerfully by personal testimony from a single person than by impersonal ratings or outcomes averaged across many people. This is the power of anecdote to dull our criti...
    We’re overconfident

    We overestimate our comprehension of the science. 

    Part of the problem seems to be that we infer our understanding of scientific text based on how well we have comprehended the language used. This “fluency bias” can also apply to science lectures when it is delivered by an engaging speaker.

    We’re seduced by graphs
    It doesn’t take a lot to dazzle the average newspaper or magazine reader using the superficial props of science, be that formulas, graphics or jargon. 

    One study found that participants were far more likely to support new evidence when it had a graphic visualisation of the correlational evidence than if they had read the same evidence without a graphic.

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    Bruce Lee

    “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.”

    Bruce Lee
    Making mistakes

    Mistakes are opportunities for learning and for creating something truly new.

    And the trick for making good mistakes is not trying to hide them. Be honest with yourself and really know your own mistakes, so that you learn from them and that you'll never repeat them.

    Reductio ad absurdum

    It's a mode of argumentation or a form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications logically to an absurd conclusion. 

    Take an assertion and see if you can inquire about any contradictions out of it. If you can, that proposition has to be discarded.

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