Are You A Critical Thinker?

I posted a poll in my Facebook group a couple of weeks ago asking which topics people would be most interested in having me write about, and critical thinking within the context of spirituality came out on top by far. I think it’s an especially important topic in this day and age when there’s so much misinformation swirling about on the internet. Consider this your crash course in the foundations of critical thinking.

Critical thinking: the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.

Critical thinking is our weapon of discernment against a lack of self-awareness and unconscious behavior both within ourselves and the world around us.

We can define unconscious behavior in the world around us as:

Herd mentality: the inclination for individuals within a group to follow along with what the group at large thinks or does. It is also known as mob behavior, group mind, group think, crowd psychology, and other similar terms.

Groupthink: the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.

Simply having the same beliefs as another group of people isn’t bad, and it doesn’t mean you’re a sheep. Holding those beliefs without having any self-awareness about why, where they came from, and having spent little or no time engaging in the exploration of opposing beliefs (from unbiased sources), is what makes people sheep.

We make the assumption that critical thinking is about evaluating and judging the world around us, but it’s just as much about, if not more, evaluating and judging the way we SEE the world around us – that’s where we develop objectivity. Critical thinking and self-awareness aren’t necessarily the same thing, but critical thinkers tend to have self-awareness as a prerequisite.

Example: If you still hold the same political beliefs as your parents did before you, as well as the majority of the people who live in the region where you grew up and/or currently reside, or if you still see yourself as the same person now that you were when you were 20, or if you still maintain the same religious ideologies that you were taught as a child – that might be a red flag that some self-examination is required.

Spirituality catalyzes evolution. If you haven’t evolved in the most deeply rooted, fundamental ways that you perceive the world around you, something’s not clicking.

Only when you’ve developed the ability to be self-critical can you truly think critically about the world around you.

That’s what real spirituality–specifically shadow work–teaches us to do.

Attempting to deconstruct the world around you before deconstructing the world within you will not bear any meaningful fruit, because everything will still be a projection of the unexamined internal self.

I’ve often touted the notion that humans are not logical beings, but rather, rational beings. We create rationales for what we believe, but those rationales are not always logical, nor will they ever be if we have yet to examine ourselves deeply.

If you trust everything you see around you–question yourself.

If you are suspicious of everything you see around you–question yourself.

No one should ever always be on one end of a spectrum. Ironically, conspiratorial thinking is a prime example of herd mentality and groupthink. It’s just one that’s dressed itself up in a facade of faux critical thinking (that doesn’t actually think critically). It values the perception of critical thinking, but embodies few, if any, of the actual practices involved. Why?

Critical thinking requires taking in a multitude of perspectives. It requires doing research AND trusting experts. It requires observing all possibilities and making a sound judgement based on factual evidence.

A fact is defined as: a thing that is known or proved to be true. In science, a fact is a repeatable careful observation or measurement (by experimentation or other means), also called empirical evidence. In the most basic sense, a scientific fact is an objective and verifiable observation, in contrast with a hypothesis or theory, which is intended to explain or interpret facts.

Critical thinking underpins the scientific process. The scientific process accepts nothing that can’t be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. It withholds judgement until there is enough evidence to support a conclusion, and it literally offers up its hypothesis to a community of experts to be picked apart, critiqued, and dismantled in every way possible, until the majority of experts agree that it stands up to scrutiny well enough.

That’s exactly how you think critically.

A critical thinker is not:

  • A  lone wolf (because critical thinkers value the perspectives of others, especially those of experts).
  • Simply someone who has different ideas than everyone else (because who think logically often arrive at the same conclusions).
  • Someone who thinks differently than what is popular (because sometimes what makes the most logical sense is also widely accepted among groups of critical thinkers).
  • Simply someone who does their own research (because critical thinkers recognize when other people know more than them about a given topic).
  • Someone who only accepts the ideas and opinions of a single group (because critical thinkers evaluate all perspectives within reason).
  • Someone who denies factual evidence (because factual evidence is how we measure the world objectively).
  • Someone who dismisses expert opinions (because critical thinkers know that experts know more about a subject than they do).
  • And most importantly, a critical thinker is not someone who refuses to accept new information once it’s been presented (because critical thinkers measure their opinions objectively, and objectivity requires the acceptance of factual evidence, especially new factual evidence).

Conspiratorial thinking has a tendency to dismiss factual evidence in favor of conjecture, and will constantly shift and change its theories and hypothesis to fit the narrative (i.e. coming up with excuses as to why something didn’t play out as predicted) or deny evidence altogether as being false. Unlike a real criminal investigation, which looks at factual evidence first and then pieces together a story based on the evidence, conspiracy theory begins with a narrative and finds circumstantial evidence to support the theory while ignoring anything that discredits it. It’s the exact opposite of a criminal investigation, and the exact opposite of critical thinking, because it’s attached to an internal belief rather than an objective observation.

But, you say, spirituality teaches us to question everything and believe nothing! It tells us to find our own truth! How can spirituality and critical thinking co-exist?

Like I said–spirituality tells us to first examine OURSELVES above all else. And until we think critically about ourselves, we will never be able to think critically (or objectively) about the world around us. It is only after questioning yourself first, and then the world around you, can you see things objectively enough to find your own truth.

Xo, 

 

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