Before beginning the third installation of his critical thinking webinar series, Dr. Jim White took a moment to reflect on the Memorial Day holiday, on those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, on the critical state of the U.S. and its economy, and on all our coming challenges and opportunities.
Critical Thinking, Part III.
Then, Dr. Jim White reiterated his objectives for this series:
1. Understand components of critical thinking
2. Utilize non-linear thinking
3. Recognize what it means to be a critical thinker
4. Evaluate the information used in critical thinking skills
5. Identify the benefits of critical thinking
6. Revise perspective when necessary
7. Comprehend problem-solving abilities
“I don’t recall a time when as citizens it was more critical to be a logical thinker..”
Today’s session will focus on logical thinking, that is, checking the components of an argument or discussion, and making connections between them – the strategy called “reasoning.”
As an example, the opening up of businesses and the economy around the U.S. is a double-edged sword, Dr. White opined. To evaluate this process, or any other, we must employ reasoning and critical thinking.
There are four major steps involved:
1. Ask many questions
2. Organize the data
3. Evaluate the information
4. Draw conclusions
Step one means that the logical thinker should ask many questions rather than immediately jump to conclusions. Because some people may take offense to being asked questions if they feel they are doubted or being cross-examined, it is important to ask questions in the right way.
A logical thinker’s first question should be, What are the premises of an argument? If we are confused about the premise of what we are hearing or reading, we might make mistakes further along in the logical thinking process.
And, as part of understanding the premise, we should ask, Is any information missing? No conclusion can be made without fully understanding the premise of an argument.
Once we have mastered this first step of asking the right questions (“mastery” by definition requiring a journey of some 10,000 hours before becoming completely fluid in a subject) we find ourselves with answers – feedback or data. We organize the data, which is the second step in the logic process.
Organizing the information means making connections. That is done by breaking down the data into manageable pieces. Dr. White finds it helpful to diagram the premise and all the data on a white board, which makes it visual for him. In real life, in a casual conversation, for instance, this is done by practice! Eventually, it becomes a natural skill.
Once organized, we evaluate the data. We must distinguish if a statement is a fact or a value. The logical thinker must determine whether or not the information is valid. Dr. White notes that when listening to the news, he often wants to pick up the phone and ask questions of the pundits to gather data and determine what is valid!
Then, conclusions can be drawn… but only once the logical thinker makes a distinction between truth and the validity of the information. People often have trouble separating what is valid from what is true because of ingrained beliefs, which we all have. This “belief bias” occurs when our individual belief system interferes with our ability to think logically.
Once the data has been collected, organized, and evaluated, we can then draw conclusions.
Back in the session on deductive reasoning, Dr. White explained that conclusions are inferred based on valid premises or solid themes. We must:
• Use observation to make hypotheses and draw evidence. The logical thinker should be sure not to draw more conclusions than what is implied – that is, we must avoid the tendency to interpret more than what the sender suggests. We must make decisions based only on what the data implies.
• Check that the emphasis is consistent
• Identify underlying assumptions.
• Be wary of “confirmation of biases,” which is the tendency to use information to support our positions. It prevents us from making a solid decision.
More examples: In our conclusion we ask, Who do I believe and Who do I not believe when it comes to this virus? Or, Who do I want to be the next leader of the free world?
Dr. White doesn’t recall a time when as citizens it was more critical to be a logical thinker.
As a sidebar, Dr. White brought up the recently released Society of Civil Engineers Report Card (a rating and evaluation of the state of infrastructure around the country.) Dr. White urges us to look at the data in our respective states and talk with our local representatives to make an infrastructure funding bill an absolute priority.
This will help put people back to work, as the stimulus the government has put forth isn’t enough.
Dr. White remembers working in the past with different agencies on engineering projects, where the information wasn’t taken seriously and he’d been given flawed data.
Hearkening back to the 1970s, when he was a young sales engineer at Ingersoll Rand, Dr. White worked with a contractor to try to fix a dam in West Virginia. It eventually burst.
Note: Dr. White refers to a disaster that occurred on February 26, 1972, when a coal slurry impoundment dam on a hillside in West Virginia, burst, four days after having been declared “satisfactory” by a federal mine inspector. The resulting flood unleashed approximately 132 million gallons of black waste water, cresting over 30 feet high, upon the residents of sixteen coal towns along Buffalo Creek Hollow. Out of a population of 5,000 people, 125 were killed, 1,121 were injured, and over 4,000 were left homeless, with several hundred homes and businesses destroyed.
Getting behind an infrastructure bill will help ease unemployment and will go a long way to helping the country. If not addressed, crumbling infrastructure will continue to take lives.
“These tools of logical thinking help reduce stress, help make better decisions in our personal life, our career, and especially when we go to the polls in November,” Dr. White says.
Next week, the series continues with the fourth installment, a discussion of critical thinking: what are some characteristics of critical thinkers? Do they have innate abilities that make them better at thinking critically? Dr. White will highlight Active Listening, Curiosity, Self-Discipline, and Humility.
Dr. White is hosting his regular Webinar Series. His next webinar goes live on June 2 at 6:30 PM EST. The topic of the webinar is “Critical Thinkers, Part IV.” Dr. White’s objective is to teach you the skills to evaluate, identify, and distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information. It will lead you to be more productive in your career, and provide a great skill in your everyday life during and post COVID-19.