Critical Thinking


Critical Thinking

You can read books about critical thinking. It seems complex. However I’m not so sure. I believe critical thinking could be related to common sense.

The term, in its simplest form, means that when you think, you also don’t accept your thoughts on face value. You tear them apart, look at all aspects of the thought, and then, after considering all sides of the story, you come to a conclusion based on what you have determined.

Let’s use as an example perhaps the most famous of all parking statistics, attributed to Don Shoup, that 30% of all traffic in a given area is searching for parking. Nearly one car in three. The idea being that if we get them off the street, quickly to a parking space, we would reduce the traffic by a third. Seems reasonable. Until you think about it.

One could posit that ALL cars in a given area are looking for parking, in one way or another. With the advent of expressways and freeways, you could hold the position that few cars are just “passing through.”

On the other hand, you could say that few cars, except those that had reached their destination, were ‘looking for parking.’ Then one must consider the definition of ‘destination.’ Is that within one block, two blocks, half a mile, of the club, restaurant, hotel, office building, or apartment you are seeking.

The purpose isn’t to unleash the dogs of war on Don Shoup (who has commented that it’s ‘simply a number in a book,’) but to question the thought processes that one goes through when considering one fact or another. Remember, many laws, much money, a tremendous amount of technology have been passed, spent, or invested in due to the “30% factor.” It is simply accepted as fact. A critical thinker would perhaps rethink the entire concept and hold a position strongly in one direction of another.

We blindly accept as fact things we hear, read, or see. How often have you heard ‘it’s in the New York Times It must be true,” or “I saw it on the internet, so there you go.” The Venerable Atlantic Monthly published a 9000 word article a few years ago accusing members the Duke University Lacrosse team of rape. Turns out it was completely untrue. One wonders how much critical thinking on the part of the magazine’s editors went into approving that article.

Without applying critical thinking, we can accept things as fact because we WANT them to be fact. Rather than questioning our own conclusions, we blunder on, and in doing so, make decisions based on assumptions rather than facts.

But critical thinking takes practice. How often to we say “hold it” and then actually tear apart a ‘fact’ or statistic. Stats are the worst. Simply by altering the numbers on the x/y axes of a graph, not changing them, but placing them different distances apart, one can make the results ‘look’ different. In doing so, the graph misrepresents what is purports to show, without actually lying. A critical thinker would look at the graph, then based on their personal experience, apply that thinking to ensure that what the graph shows is reality, not just a PR stunt.

One can simply check if the statement is plausible:

 In the 35 years since marijuana laws stopped being enforced in California, the number of marijuana smokers doubled every year.

If one starts with ‘1’ and doubles it annually, the result after 35 years would be more than 17 billion. Try it – 1,2,4,8,16,32, etc. Probably a tad more than the number of pot heads in the golden state. Critical thinking enabled us to see through the claim.

See you can do it. But it takes practice. Challenge your thoughts and assumptions. No need to have Google or Wikipedia at your fingertips (although they sometimes help,) challenge your thoughts, think it through, and even if your don’t like the outcome, consider that the results of your critical thoughts plausible. Who knows, you may just be right.


Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

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