Critical thinking is akin to the scientific method of solving problems in that objectivity is very prominent in the fact collecting and theorizing aspects of both. Critical thinking has six coherent steps.
The first step of critical thinking is restraining emotions. As wonderful as emotions are, they often cloud our judgment, interfere with our perceptions, and enable us to do things and say things that are not necessarily rational. In order to view a situation, or a piece of data, as it truly is we must control our emotions to ensure we are seeing things as they actually are and not just 'feeling' them. If we allow emotions to dictate something we are hearing, seeing, or reading we risk arriving at an erroneous judgment.
Looking at things differently is the second step of critical thinking. A good example of this is if someone said there's this great house with a blue roof over there. You happened to approach the house from the other side where the roof was painted red; if you don't walk around to the other side, look at things differently, you miss the point. So many things in life are like this, if we don't allow our minds to 'stretch' we find many problems are insurmountable, but if we let things go (our emotions, past experiences dictating that what we see is actually something we remember rather than what is actually in front of us) we often find in understanding the answers we seek.
The third step of critical thinking is vey important: analyzing information. So many subjects when taken as a whole seem to be so huge that understanding them can seem impossible. However if we break the information down into understandable parts, often times by looking at things differently, we can more easily understand the whole. A great example of this is any equation. Trying to solve the entire thing is often impossible with some equations, but if you break it down into pieces that are easily solved you can then unravel the entire problem.
A crucial step of critical thinking is the fourth step; that of asking questions. Only by asking open ended, unbiased questions can we hope to understand a subject, a statement, or even an opinion. By asking questions we learn something we didn't previously understand. Our curiosity is one of our species greatest strengths, allowing as it does understanding, discovery, and even invention. Will this work? Why not? How do I make it work?
Solving problems is the fifth step of critical thinking. One of the most important things to remember is that every problem has a solution. Often times we can only arrive at that solution by breaking it down into easily understood pieces, and looking at the problem with an open mind. It's absolutely important to sort through as many different solutions as possible - discarding those that are irrational or influenced by opinion - to arrive at solutions that are solidly based on viable facts.
It is incredibly important through out every step of critical thinking to distinguish fact from opinion, which is the sixth step in critical thinking. Research based on opinions only yields more opinions, truly having very little to do with finding solutions to problems. In order to fully grasp a statement, discussion, subject, or even an opinion we have to be able to sift through what is actual and what is 'felt'. Too often emotions overwhelm the fact collecting and decision making processes, giving us results that are merely opinions rather than facts. In order to actually be able to solve problems rationally we must be able to differentiate between the two.
All aspects of the critical thinking process work together to allow us to learn, solve, and reach solid conclusions to problems. By restraining our emotions, looking at things differently, analyzing the information we gather through asking questions we are able to solve problems with answers that are facts versus opinions.
© 2009 D A Moore