critical thinking

In case you hadn’t already guessed, I have a bad habit of procrastinating.  In fact, I’ve devised probably hundreds of ways of avoiding doing what needs to be done.

Case in point: every time I open a physics text, rather than diving right in to the meat of what I should be studying, instead I go for the preface and/or introduction every time.  (I attribute this to the lack of maths – plain prose is always easier to understand than scientific jargon interlaid with equations aplenty.)

I did come across something interesting the other day in doing so though, which reminded me of one of fundamentals in good studying that I’d kinda lost sight of.  It went something like this:

“Be critical of everything you read – every concept, every explanation, every theory.  Approach everything skeptically, and spend some time satisfying yourself that what you read is plausible.”

The last part is clearly most applicable to hard sciences and maths, where it’s reasonable to assume that no matter how skeptical you might be, there’s a good chance what you read is correct.  I think the rest of the idea though can and should be applied to all the information we come into contact with, especially given the vast array of information that is output from sources with varying agendas.[1]

Blindingly obvious as this all is, I thought it was nice to be reminded that there’s ultimately no reason to listen to anyone or read anything without ever asking “why?” or “what’s in it for you?” – or even “so what?”.  Occasionally I forget to be critical of other people’s ideas, for whatever reason (newspapers, blogs, politics – you name it) – and it’s to nobody’s advantage if they were wrong and their words went unquestioned.  (An obvious “truth” I accepted without really thinking was the idea that language learners shouldn’t to speak until they were “ready” – but I think I got a lot out of considering other approaches.)

Anyway, all of this is pretty vague (and did I mention obvious?), so I apologise in advance – although there may be more to say on the subject some other time.  The bottom line is that it’s really important to always be questioning what comes our way – after all, the ability to ask questions is something uniquely human.  A monkey doesn’t really care why bananas grow on trees – he just knows that he likes eating them!

[1] Something that struck me most recently was that of the Mexican Gulf oil catastrophe – there’s a sizeable amount of media coverage debating whether BP or Transocean is at fault.  Clearly some blame does lie with the drillers, both for not doing enough to prevent disasters and for not making preparations for such an eventuality – but it seems obvious that at least some of the rap should be taken by end-consumers who insist on burning petrol in their cars every day.[2]

[2] And yes, I’m well aware that oil is used for other things too (plastics, pharmaceuticals etc.), but that doesn’t change the fact that something like 2/3 of American oil consumption goes into private transport.


2 thoughts on “critical thinking

  1. Pingback: All Cantonese All The Time « thousand mile journey

  2. Pingback: All Cantonese All The Time « thousand mile journey

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