We are always asked the question what is critical thinking?
In general, critical thinking is about looking at the world in a new way.
A way where we don’t just accept dogmatically, blindly and without questioning what we are told. We don’t just accept what we are told, but we question everything. We mean everything.
Is that a good idea to question everything? Doesn’t it take longer and make us look bad?
Well, the question is then are you willing to think for yourself or do you want your thoughts and beliefs to be put in your head by others? And the answer is of course up to you.
One question you should definitely ask yourself is can you trust what you hear, can you accept it as true?
Think of it: common thinking is just that: common. Average. Mediocre. Ordinary. Second-rate. One of the things that makes you into a better person compared to the average and mediocre, is your ability to think for yourself and this implies your ability to question.
When you were a child and asked the question “why” you were told: “just because”! and eventually you gave up asking. But here is the problem: If you think you can accept all of what you see, hear and feel as being “the only and absolute true” just because others tell you so, then there is no need to think critically. Don’t worry about it. All is well. Just listen to what they say, and act based on that “truth”.
There are a lot of “truths” out there that have changed over time. What used to be “the absolute rule and truth” 100 years ago is not necessarily true today. We even laugh now at what we used to believe then. What used to be true 15 years ago is not necessarily true today. Trends change in society. How many trends can you think of that were “the absolute truth” in the history you know that disappeared and now we laugh at them? Here is an obvious one: it used to be common knowledge that the earth was flat. Everybody believed it and to question this was forbidden. Then what absolute truths are in vogue today that you’re forbidden to question and the generation of tomorrow will laugh at?
There are a lot of “memes” introduced into society purposefully to engineer the general thinking of the large masses of people and these memes are not necessarily for your benefit. A “meme” is a self-replicating package of information propagating through society from person to person. An “urban myth” is an example of a meme.
Then internet has given us the ability to read different points of view, alternative thinking points – many are valuable and many are just pure garbage. But at least we can notice people who think differently VS the one and only way of thinking, the common and the unchallenged.
But if you look at the world and, like Neo in the movie, “The Matrix”, you think, “There is something wrong!” Then you need to start questioning. Questioning what? Everything. As the hit TV series, “the X-Files” said, “question everything.” And continue to question until you know you know the truth.
Think about this for a moment: What if there was a way to know if you were or were not being manipulated by somebody else taking control over your mind? What if you could install an alarm bell that could tell you that you weren’t being told the truth.
There is a way, and it involves getting your head around the issue of the structure of the message you receive (as opposed to the content of the message). Let’s look at a simple example. The example is probably overly simple, but makes learning easier.
The issue we will explore is dichotomy. A dichotomy is a situation where there are two seemingly opposite choices that we can make. For example, are you a Republican or a Democrat? Are you a meat eater or a vegetarian?
If you are one or the other then I can think I know enough about you to somehow predict your behavior to some extent. The reason I could think I know something is because the choice of one or the other can put constraints on the thinking forcing him/her into one or the other.
But wait. There’s more. Because is that all we can think? Democrat or Republican? Vegetarian VS meat eater? Are there no other choices?
The great linguist, Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at MIT gave a great example of this pattern. In one interview several years ago he said that people on the left are like gate keepers who determined how far left you could think. He also said that there were conservative gate keepers to determine how far right you could think. So imagine this: now you have a barrier to the left and a barrier to the right – and do not get confused: this is not about democrat VS republican. This is about all other examples where your mind gets caught between two seemingly opposite choices. In NLP this is called a double bind. Two choices, both given to you, and whichever you choose the result is predictable.
If you find yourself in a dichotomy which has a forced choice like that, then look out. A forced choice dichotomy is almost always going to cut off your options and move your thinking in a direction you do not necessarily want to go.
The problem with dichotomous thinking is that it cuts off options, and forces thinking to become more narrow or more rigid and restricted. It cuts you out of finding solutions to your life problems. It restricts the range in which you can think and the more restrictions like this, the smaller you thinking box until your mind is reduced to the level of a 6th grader. Be careful when you notice one of these patterns, and avoid the easy dichotomous choice. Look for the structure and ask yourself , what else could be here that I don’t notice. Why only these two choices? What else am I not supposed to notice that is there?
NLP is about recognizing the structure of the communication you receive, by being aware of the pattern behind the content. Dichotomy is just one of 99 patterns we teach. I bet one of them will kick-start your critical thinking.
Until next time, be well