If our current Covid-19 affected world has demonstrated anything to us, it’s the need to have a well-developed Critical Thinking ability. Is the pandemic real, or is it a ‘plandemic’? Is the government doing a good job dealing with a difficult situation or are they floundering in a sea of incompetence? Are the restrictions too severe or not severe enough? Is there a magic money tree to pay for all the furlough money, or do we need to severely raise taxes? Is it more important to work than to socialise? Will having a vaccine be safe or not? How do we even get out of these virus restrictions? And what does all of this mean for humanity moving forward? It is at times like these that we do need to utilise our critical thinking. But as you can maybe tell from a quick tour of social media, one person’s critical thinking is another person’s fake news. So how do we decide what to think, when we have tricky decisions to make in the labyrinth that is our current Covid-19 world.
The first place we need to start is to recognise that each person has their own unique model of the world. This is based upon the summation of their life experiences and their current relationship to them. We all have our own values, beliefs, preferences, and memories which act as filters to the world that we experience. All of us do this all of the time. What that means is that we all have our own unique way to perceive the world. In this sense there is no objective reality for us to access, because what we think of as the objective truth is filtered by us. Fundamentally, it’s just our truth. What this also means is that our truth is no more valid, and certainly no less valid than anyone else’s.
There are also a couple of ideas from psychology that we need to carry with us to enhance our critical thinking faculties. The first one is Cognitive Dissonance. This is the idea that when we are presented with contradictory information it causes within us a form of psychological stress. The result of this stress is that we attempt to reconcile the contradiction. I will use the idea of liking animals but still eating meat as an example to illustrate the strategies that we employ to deal with this cognitive dissonance –
- Actually change our behaviour or our thinking to resolve the contradiction. Stop eating meat.
- Justify the contradiction. My body needs the meat. Or the animals I eat have had a good life beforehand.
- Ignore any information that contradicts what you believe. What has eating meat got to do with liking animals. It’s not like I eat dogs or cats.
Quite often we will employ the last of these tactics and simply ignore any information that seems to contradict what we already believe or that we were told. I am sure you will know people that it would be pointless having a discussion with, because no matter how good the evidence is that you present them with, they will just ignore it.
The second idea from psychology that is particularly relevant today is the Dunning–Kruger effect. This is someone’s inability to identify their lack of expertise in a particular subject. We tend to be overconfident about our competence when our actual competence is quite low. Everybody today is a virologist. As our competence does rise our confidence falls, because we have then acquired enough competence to properly evaluate our actual level of competence. We know that we don’t know. Then as we become experts our confidence in our competence again rises. We know that we know.
So now we understand that everyone has their own unique way of experiencing the world, because we all have our own filters. We know that people, ourselves included, can simply ignore information that contradicts existing beliefs or behaviours, because that’s easier than changing them. And we know that with a little bit of knowledge about a subject we tend to think that we are more competent to make pronouncements about that than we necessarily are. How does all of this help us comprehend the world that we find ourselves in today? Well my recommendation so that you use the complex, contradictory world that you see today to improve your critical thinking ability. Start by doing these things –
- Become aware of your own views and judgements and ask yourself what are these based on? Can you trace them back?
- Be curious and read broadly about the world.
- Travel, maybe not right now of course, but when you can, travel and see the world from different perspectives.
- Read or listen to information from people that you disagree with. You might still disagree with them, but you might then understand more about why you do disagree with them.
- Expand your capacity for holding cognitive dissonance in your mind. Consider new information rather than simply ignoring it. This may well allow you to re-evaluate what you do believe and that might lead to personal growth.
- Allow other people to be who they are. Do not insist that other people agree with you, you might not be right anyway. Remember that if you are allowed to choose what you believe, then other people are allowed to choose what they believe too.
Over time improve your ability to filter information, grow your critical thinking muscles. Because my guess is that 2020 isn’t done with us yet, and who knows what excitement 2021 will bring too.
“We find comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t.” Frank A Clark