Critical Thinking Skills

Seeking, Evaluating and Assimilating New Knowledge

Motivated, Open Minded, Understand Why and How

 

American children are trained in school classrooms to sit still for many years, and lead mostly sedentary lives, whereas our ancestors’ bodies evolved to be constantly moving around while they were awake. Mental activity is linked to physical activity. Lazy minds are often found in lazy bodies. Look at the high-energy and imagination of preschool children, and then go visit them in a sadly boring American classroom a few years later.

 

In an era when the extremely simplistic book “Fun With Dick and Jane” ruled America's mindless mediocre schoolrooms, Albert Cullum allowed Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Shaw to reign in his fifth grade public school classroom. Through the use of poetry, drama and imaginative (out of your seat) play acting, Cullum championed an unorthodox educational philosophy of entertaining fun and critical thinking that spoke directly to his students' innermost being.

 

Most of Cullum’s students developed superior minds and healthy bodies. They had extensive vocabularies and problem solving abilities. Decades later, our modern schools are producing inferior, non-competitive, lazy, obese graduates who can barely read, write, communicate, or do basic arithmetic. Poor nutrition, exercise and mental aerobic training are largely to blame.

 

Humans are born energetic geniuses – Busy working parents lazily allow others to train their offspring to be satisfied with sedentary compliance to unhealthy normalcy - imposed by underpaid schoolteachers with mediocre minds and low community expectations. Middle-of-the-road classroom conformance is rewarded. Dissatisfaction and creative problem solving skill are punished.

 

Dilbert cartoons point out that everyone is aware that we are surrounded by galloping stupidity, yet we will wake up tomorrow and follow the same uncritical bad habits of mediocrity that created yesterday’s unfulfilling life.

 

Critical Thinking Skills

 

1. Motivated to learn – The desire to understand a complex, controversial topic more fully. The process of learning involves changing our thoughts about a subject. This often involves long-held mental images, incomplete abstractions, and inaccurate elements of logic, reasoning, emotions and subconscious intuition.

 

The beliefs that (a) the earth is flat, and (b) the earth is the center of the universe were sufficient for human existence for thousands of years. But eventually, there was sufficient motivation to go beyond conventional thinking and investigate controversial mental images that led to many innovative possibilities. These cognitive changes cannot take place without some type of driving force that compels us to improve our knowledge about the topic. Quite often, the people with the best knowledge of a topic find themselves in a small minority (but that does NOT imply that all minority opinions are accurate). Mental habits and peer pressure frequently inhibit the significant effort required to understand a topic more fully.

 

Without internal motivation, learning cannot take place effectively. There are major personality differences between: (a) those who continually thirst for truth and knowledge, (b) those dependant personalities who wait to be spoon fed by the flawed fountain of knowledge flowing from the front of the forum, and (c) closed minded, biased individuals who reject almost everything that disagrees with their own narrow view of the world.

 

Some people lack the motivation to change their way of thinking until after they find themselves in great pain or suffering. Joyful Aging feels that a superior alternative is to consistently pursue: Lifelong learning in an ever-expending universe of endless possibilities.

 

Those who practice open minded lifelong learning tend to exhibit much better mental and physical health and happiness well into their advanced years. Our mind is a use-it-or-lose-it mechanism that will atrophy if not continually presented with learning opportunities.

 

2. Open minded – Be objective, unbiased, impartial and ready to gather new evidence and research important topics. We have to be prepared to listen to conflicting opinions and viewpoints that are different from our own, in order to understand the good and valid arguments on all sides of a controversial issue.

 

Almost everyone pays lip service to being open minded, but very few can be objective about changing their long-held beliefs, even when “business as usual” thinking is not working effectively for them.

 

Einstein said that: “The thinking which created today’s problems is insufficient to solve them.” If we continue to evaluate new material about a subject in the same way that we have always done before, then an unconventional idea that has the potential to improve our understanding of a subject (such as the shape of the earth) will always appear to be stupid (and we will continue to believe that the earth is flat, when it isn’t).

 

Preconceptions, inaccurate stereotypes, personal and cultural bias, flawed logic, intellectual bad habits and emotions are much stronger than most people realize. To be objective, we must proactively gather information from divergent sources and allow the best available evidence, (not our incorrect preconceptions), guide our information gathering, reasoning and inferences. Even the most outrageously “stupid” ideas must contain something that appeals to those who embrace the concept. If we reject the criticism of others who disagree with us, we will lose many excellent opportunities to improve our own thinking on a subject. All of us should solicit continual constructive criticism, listen, and learn from those who disagree with us. Joyful Aging editors will certainly appreciate your comments about anything that appears on this website. Email us at: JoyfulAging@AOL.com

 

3. Understand why we feel the way we do – Much of what humans “know to be true” is based on inferences made over a lifetime of observations and experiences. None of us can possibly know everything about everything – We all use incomplete mental abstractions that omit complex levels of detail. We don’t have to understand the internal working of an engine or a computer to drive a car or access the Internet, but the closer our mental abstractions are to reality, the better decisions we may be able to make.

 

Most humans have had little formal training in scientific “cause and effect” research. If we always see firemen at a fire, we might incorrectly infer that the firemen are causing the fires. There are a few documented rare cases of a demented fireman who started a fire, but it is amazing how many of our mental images are based on inaccurate or obsolete cause and effect inferences.

 

When we were 8 years old, a 10 year old may have taught us an important intellectual lesson. We may not even remember the moment when it happened, but it is still buried deep within our subconscious mind. As adults, we may still be using the logic of a 10 year old to make some of our intuitive decisions.

 

The process of learning new information often involves these fundamental questions:

 

4. Draw conclusions on the basis of the best available evidence - This important skill is more difficult to master than most people realize. It requires insight and knowledge into: (a) the subject matter, and (b) the process of critical thinking, so we can evaluate diverse sources of input and determine the source(s) that constitute the “best” evidence.

 

Sometimes, no single source has the completely correct solution and we must integrate the best elements from a series of partial truths from diverse conflicting controversial sources. Many successful innovations begin by taking a truth from one domain of human knowledge and applying it to another in a novel way.

 

Conventional knowledge, logic and reasoning by the best experts in the field are sometimes flawed about often-overlooked details. Revolutionary innovations frequently come from people who have NOT been brainwashed by conventional non-inquisitive “expert” subject matter conformists.

 

In general, the best new evidence is often that which has been collected by the most reliable open-minded methods. But, throughout history the conventional approach (even to “scientific methods”) has periodically proven to be insufficient for dealing with complex topics, especially where the body of knowledge about a topic is rapidly expanding.

 

We also have a problem with the fact that much of our input is provided to us by people with a very strong (often profit motivated) subject matter bias. Critical thinking involves much more than simple sales resistance. We need to understand the underlying motivation and bias that is inherit in all of our information sources.

 

For example, pharmaceutical companies cannot patent natural products. Blueberries may help improve the health of many people, but a drug company (prescription or over-the-counter) has no motivation to advertise the value of eating any natural food.

 

The irrefutable goal of modern prescription medicine is to produce unnatural products that can be patented and sold for many times more than what it costs to produce them. The U.S. Federal Drug Administration regulates the process of evaluating unnatural drugs (which adds significant expense and time delays), but FDA-approved medications regularly kill many people every day. The most popular new millennium FDA-approved prescription drug has been directly responsible for killing thousands of consumers within a few hours of taking it, but in 2003, it remains on the market and will continue to kill countless others. The pharmaceutical companies feel that your risk is worth their reward.

 

Medical doctors have two basic modes of operation: (a) prescribe a drug, or (b) perform surgery. They receive very little training in natural food nutrition, which in many cases may be far superior and much safer than either unnatural patented pills or surgery.

 

Medical doctors receive much of their knowledge from extremely-biased pharmaceutical sales people. Licensed physicians are for the most part good people. If we have a serious infection that can be dealt with effectively with a patented antibiotic, then by all means consider the risks and potential benefits of what a licensed physician recommends. But, critical thinkers must at least try to understand the motives, methods, sources of information and track record used by anyone who offers advice.  (See Pervasive Pill Pushing Quacks vs. Iatrogenic Deaths Caused By M.D.s)

 

Humans normally learn quickly about things that have a short feedback cycle (unless it kills them). Mother says: “Don’t touch that stove - It is HOT!” When we violate mom’s wisdom, we quickly learn what HOT means. But, all humans do an extremely poor job of learning about subjects with long feedback cycles. Consider the hundreds of years and millions of lives lost to untimely death, before society learned the “truth” about why smoking is bad.

 

By the time the best scientific evidence is presented to the masses, many otherwise intelligent people will continue to reject the “truth” and mindlessly practice their long-held bad lifestyle habits, until they either die or suffer enough pain to motivate them to change their way of thinking. If irrefutable scientific evidence is available that suggests that obese people should avoid sugar and bread, will the mediocre masses pay any attention to it?

 

5. The Good News - Experts at critical thinking skills can learn from the best available modern evidence and significantly improve their lifestyle, longevity, health and happiness (even if new information flies in the face of conventional wisdom that has long been accepted as “truth” for many decades by the mediocre masses).

 

Joyful Aging discusses a number of highly controversial subjects and often presents counterintuitive thinking about complex issues that have long feedback cycles. We are sometimes critical of the conventional thinking of organizations that continue to propagate obsolete misinformation, despite well-documented new research. In this respect, we are proud when we are called “confrontational innovators.”

 

Our goal is to inform intelligent people about our own topical research and our multiple-source information integration. We seek to educate open-minded individuals about alternative points of view, based on the best modern (rapidly evolving) scientific evidence. We make no attempt to diagnose or treat any particular individual. But, we offer interesting information that you can discuss with your medical professionals, financial planners, friends and family. We encourage you to develop your own critical thinking skills, in the pursuit of:

 

Lifelong learning in an ever-expending universe of endless possibilities

 

Return to Joyful Aging Home Page