Pattern #15


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Critical Thinking Card - version 1


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Critical Thinking

Every failure or distortion of intelligence is rich with potential lessons. False information and logic, fragmented intelligence, manipulated emotions all generate failures or distortions of intelligence. So use critical thinking to understand and correct such failures and distortions while balancing it with appreciative and possibility thinking to generate wisdom.

Related: 2 Appreciative Thinking, 13 Constraints on Concentrated Power, 31 Healthy Polarity Dynamics, 37 Multi-Modal Intelligence, 43 Possibility Thinking, 60 Systems Thinking, 69 Wise Use of Uncertainty

Going deeper …

This is an edited version of the video on this page.

When we make a mistake, we didn’t take something into account. Sometimes it was preventable, we could have taken it into account if we had paid attention. Sometimes it isn’t, the world changes all the time and you can’t always know ahead of time what you need to know. Sometimes it is a matter of propaganda or other manipulation.  Whenever a mistake, error, failure or manipulation shows up, there is a chance to learn something, and we need to be open to learning what’s there to be learned. And critical thinking is an essential part of that.

Critical thinking asks “What went wrong? What isn’t right about what’s going on?”  False information, lies, bad logic – these are things that need to be critiqued.

It is important to know that a person’s technical qualifications to speak on a technical subject are more relevant to discussions of that subject than whether they had an affair with somebody.  The former is relevant, while the latter is irrelevant, at least in terms of logic.  Making a big deal about it in a debate is a failure of logic.

So false information, false logic, and failure of logic are things which need to be critiqued. You need to find out where the lies are, where the fallacies are, where the manipulation is, and make these known to yourself or to the larger public so that you can be more accurately intelligent and wise.

But this is nuanced territory.  Seeking wise democracy, we don’t want to get stuck in fragmented forms of intelligence, like when you have battles between your reason and your heart. You may think of it in terms of a battle when you are making a decision.  Your head leads you one way, your heart leads you another. There are articles that say, “Your heart misleads, your empathy misleads you, you should always be logical, not empathic.” That’s an example of asserting a fragmented intelligence. The fact is, you need to have your heart engaged, you need to have your empathy engaged, AND you need your logic engaged. You need to have your emotions there in order to decide what you want at all. There is a limit to how far rational intelligence can take you. You can do a lot of analysis about what’s going on, but that can’t tell you what you want. If you don’t know what you want you can’t make a decision. You need to have emotions involved and for emotional things like feelings, needs, and values to come into truly high-quality decision-making.

So you need to critically think about the fact that critical thinking may sometimes be taking up too much of our intelligence capacity. It is an interesting thing, that critical thinking can critique itself.

But critical thinking can help us deal with manipulated emotions. Just look at the use of PR and propaganda in politics and advertising, a world that specializes in manipulating emotions. Part of what they say about media literacy is that you recognize when you’re being manipulated. And sometimes it’s okay, you’re watching a movie and it’s okay to have your emotions manipulated for the purpose of that movie. But if that movie is a video to get you to hate somebody, it is probably good to be able to put aside that manipulation. Using your critical thinking, you think, “Wait a minute, somebody’s got an agenda here and they’re messing with my mind and my heart.” Critical thinking is necessary there, too.

In this pattern I talk about “seeking to understand”.  Critical thinking is a very important piece of understanding what’s going on and particularly if it involves taking corrective action.

Critical thinking can also be trapped in itself. You stop at your critique and leave it at that.  There’s no correction, there is no effort to try and connect up with the person, group or ideology where the lies or the manipulation came from. There’s no asking, “What’s going on there and how do I relate to that?” You need to move beyond critical thinking in order to do that. That’s why I say, to generate wisdom it needs to be balanced with appreciative and possibility thinking, so it doesn’t end up in its own cynical, righteous black hole.

Video Introduction (6 min)

Examples and Resources

Citizens Juries and debates both use critical thinking. Debates are merely pro and con, though, and thus are not particularly wisdom generating – although they may be for the people viewing a debate. But the debate itself seldom generates wisdom, since it is adversarial, looking for a win rather than greater integrated understanding.

In cost-benefit analysis, part of what you do is critical thinking to clarify the costs and benefits.

And of course investigative journalism is an archetypal democratic mode for our collective critical thinking, exposing lies, illogic, and deception that often hide malfeasance and impede the general welfare.