Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Art of Critical Thinking

 

Just finished reading The Art of Critical Thinking by Vincent Ruggiero.

Summary Notes follow.

Thinking is production of ideas and judgment of ideas.

Read problems fully then decide how to begin attacking them.

Check assumptions for validity.

Think on paper for clarity: freewrite, brainstorm.

Good thinkers accept the following foundational beliefs:

1. Strict determinism and strict free-will are both false. Our ideas and actions are heavily influenced and constrained by nature/nuture but we have a strong measure of free will that we exercise to determine our course of actions.

2.There is objective truth, although we may not always be able to discern it.

3. We approach truth from direct experience, from directly observing others’ experiences, and from report by others. We are biased by our own senses, our attitudes and beliefs and the reliability of reporting.

4. Memory recall is frequently flawed.

5. Opinions can be expressions of taste/preference (which are not based on reason and cannot be argued successfully) or expressions of judgment (which should be questioned to verify solid reasoning).

6. Almost every moral system of judgment shares the following principles: relationships with other people create obligations of various kinds that should be honored unless there is a compelling reason not to; certain ideals enhance human life and assist people in fulfilling their obligations and should be served whenever possible (these are tolerance, compassion, loyalty, forgiveness, peace, brotherhood, justice, fairness); the consequences of some actions benefit people whole those of other actions harm people and the former actions should be preferred over the latter; circumstances alter cases and while generalizations have a place they should not be used as a substitute for careful judgment. When two or more obligations are in conflict, decide on action by which is the more serious obligation or which existed first. When two or more ideals are in conflict ask which is the more important ideal. When multiple consequences exist ask which are most significant and weigh them against each other.

Avoid thinking traps: the mine-is-better kneejerk prejudice (my ideas, my people, my kind), the face saving pride (blaming and rationalizing after we have exhibited poor judgment), resistance to change, desire to conform, stereotyping, self-deception.

Exercise creative thinking: be diligent in observation, look for the imperfect (opportunities for improvement!), adopt an attitude of ‘dissatisfaction is simply a challenge to improve’, search for root causes of problems, be sensitive to implications of newly revealed facts or newly adopted judgments, recognize the opportunity in controversies to find truth on both sides.

Sharpen analytical/judgment skills by increasing our reading, actively thinking and questioning while reading, discerning between ideas and the character of the people expressing them, discerning between matters of taste and judgment, learn to read sarcasm and irony, discern between fact and interpretation, discerning between the validity of ideas and the quality of their expression, learning to break down arguments into assumptions, essential arguments, conclusions and evidence. For every argument presented, summarize it, evaluate it then judge it.

Creativity does not require high IQ.

Drugs hinder creativity.

Successful creative people are dynamic (active and playful), daring in their risk taking, resourceful, hardworking, willing to show independence.

The creative process: identify problem or issue (restate the problem in multiple ways to change perspectives and give insight), investigate and further research problem or issue, brainstorm solutions.

The analytic process: critique the brainstormed solutions, narrow down and refine the best solutions (Examine solutions for clarity, safety, convenience, efficiency, economy, simplicity, comfort, durability, beauty, compatibility; find imperfections and complications and resolve; compare with market competitors; make improvements) and prepare them for dissemination.

Reasoning errors: invalid logic in the chain from assumptions to conclusion, either/or thinking, avoiding the issue, overgeneralizing, oversimplifying, double standards, shifting burden of proof to the listener, irrelevant appeals to common practice, fear, or tradition.

When communicating your ideas or solutions, be proactive and anticipate objections and negative reactions that are likely to be made (this is similar to sales principle of anticipating objectives to closing the sale so that you can prepare to overcome them). Common objections include: impractical, expensive, illegal, immoral, inefficient, unworkable, disruptive, unaesthetic, radical, unappealing, unfair. Negative reactions may stem from lack of understanding of your solution/idea, bad thinking, or because your idea has serious flaws. We want to think through the potential negative reactions to find any valid criticism of our idea as well as discover potential points of misunderstanding or bad thinking in audience in order to compensate for them.

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