Think, pose questions, have an open mind for life's answers

One can be both open-minded and sceptical. It is closed-mindedness that is the barrier to CT, so please note that closed-mindedness and scepticism are distinct dispositions.

By Christopher Dwyer (The Shrink)

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Published: Sat 19 Jan 2019, 10:05 PM

Last updated: Sun 20 Jan 2019, 12:08 AM

Often, discussion of critical thinking (CT) revolves around tips for what you should be doing to enhance CT ability. However, it seems that there's substantially less discussion on what you 'shouldn't be doing'; that is, barriers to CT. I've compiled a list of five major barriers to CT. Of course, these are not the only barriers rather they are five that may have the most impact on how one applies critical thinking.
1. Trusting your gut: Trust your gut is a piece of advice often thrown around in the context of being in doubt.
The concept of using intuitive judgement is actually the last thing you want to be doing if critical thinking is your goal.
In the past, intuitive judgement has been described as 'the absence of analysis'; and automatic cognitive processing which generally lacks effort, intention, awareness or voluntary control - usually experienced as perceptions or feelings. Given that intuitive judgement operates automatically and cannot be voluntarily 'turned off', associated errors and unsupported biases are difficult to prevent, largely because reflective judgment has not been consulted. Even when errors appear obvious in hindsight, they can only be prevented through the careful, self-regulated monitoring and control afforded by reflective judgement. Such errors and flawed reasoning include cognitive biases and logical fallacies. Going with your gut - experienced as perceptions or feelings, generally leads the thinker to favour perspectives consistent with their own personal biases and experiences.
2. Lack of knowledge: CT skills are key components of what CT is and, in order to conduct it, one must know how to use these skills.
Not knowing the skills of CT-analysis, evaluation and inference (i.e. what they are or how to use them) is, of course, a major barrier to its application. However, consideration of 'lack of knowledge' does not end with knowledge of CT skills. Let's say you know what analysis, evaluation and inference are, as well as how to apply them. The question then becomes: Are you knowledgeable in the topic area you have been asked to apply the CT? If not, intellectual honesty and reflective judgement should be engaged to allow you to consider the nature, limits and certainty of what knowledge you do have, so that you can evaluate what is required of you to gain the knowledge necessary to make a critically thought out judgement.
3. Lack of willingness: Disposition towards thinking is also key to CT.
Disposition towards thinking refers to the extent to which an individual is willing or inclined to perform a given thinking skill; and is essential for understanding how we think and how we can make our thinking better, in both academic settings and everyday circumstances. Dispositions can't be taught, per se, but they do play a large role in determining whether or not CT will be performed. Simply, it doesn't matter how skilled one is at analysis, evaluation and inference - if they're not willing to think critically, CT is not likely occur.
4. Misunderstanding of truth: Truth-seeking is one such disposition towards thinking, which refers to: a desire for knowledge; to seek and offer both reasons and objections in an effort to inform and to be well-informed; a willingness to challenge popular beliefs and social norms by asking questions (of oneself and others); to be honest and objective about pursuing the truth even if the findings do not support one's self-interest or pre-conceived beliefs or opinions; and to change one's mind about an idea as a result of the desire for truth. Though this is something many of us strive or even just assume we do, the truth is that we all succumb to unwarranted assumptions from time to time. When using CT, it's important to distinguish facts from beliefs and, also, to dig a little deeper by evaluating 'facts' with respect to how much empirical support they have to validate them as fact.
5. Closed-mindedness: Closed-mindedness is a significant barrier to CT.
By this stage, you have probably identified the inherent nature of bias in our thinking. The first step of CT is always going to be to evaluate this bias. H
However, one's bias may be so strong that it leads them to become closed-minded and renders them unwilling to consider any other perspectives. Being open-minded is a valuable disposition, but so is scepticism. However, one can be both open-minded and sceptical. It is closed-mindedness that is the barrier to critical thinking, so please note that closed-mindedness and scepticism are distinct dispositions.
-Psychology Today
Christopher Dwyer is a post-doctoral research at the National University of Ireland, Galway

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