Consider these Thoughts:
  • We all encounter many situations throughout the day that require a decision to be made about how to act or what to believe.

  • We either make a decision to take some specific action or we choose inaction.

  • We then live with the outcomes and consequences of our decision and the resulting actions or inactions of our choices.

  • Our decisions and resulting action (or inaction) can affect us and/or others and can have a wide range of consequences:
    • Most decisions are minor and choices will cause small, limited consequences.

    • Other decisions are moderately important with consequences that can noticeably (or significantly) affect health, finances, relationships and other important aspects of life.

    • Some decisions can result in choices with serious, even life or death, consequences.
  • Some decisions must be made quickly with little thought – these reflexes (instinctive or learned) provide an almost immediate response to a situation.  There is no time to evaluate the situation.  No Critical Thinking is involved – except, perhaps, in the training process required to develop learned reflexes.

  • It is impractical and impossible to critically analyze all choices and possible outcomes from most decisions that need to be made during our lives - there would be no time to actually do anything.  Our brains are designed to make quick decisions and take short cuts in most situations using all of our prior knowledge, experiences, beliefs and biases to come up with a best guess on how to act.  This normal decision-making process does NOT employ Critical Thinking.

  • This process usually works well enough to make decisions that enable us to function 'normally'.  However, our normal thinking processes can lead to trouble in situations where our prior knowledge, experiences, beliefs and biases are based on faulty or incomplete information.

  • Scam artists are called artists for a reason - those who are successful have mastered the art of creating illusions that hijack our normal, non-critical thinking processes and direct our decision-making process to make choices that mostly benefit them.  Magicians successfully use many of the same tools to create illusions to entertain us.

  • Critical Thinking can (and should always) be employed when a significant decision must be made and there is enough time to evaluate the situation using all available information, consciously suppress our biases and make a well informed decision about which choice is best in that circumstance.

  • Of course, there can be no guarantee that all decisions made using Critical Thinking will lead to beneficial outcomes – poor outcomes can always result from even the best intentioned, well researched decisions that it was possible to make at the time.  Critical thinking will, however, increase the odds that our decisions will result in beneficial outcomes.

In order to fully understand Critical Thinking, it is important to recognize several concepts about how our Knowledge, Experiences, Beliefs and Biases (KEBBs) influence our decision making process:

  1. Everyone has a set of fundamental KEBBs that has evolved over their lifetime based on everything they have been taught and everything they have learned from all life’s experiences.  Another name for our KEBBs is our World View.

  2. Our KEBBs create a filter through which we view and understand the world.  They determine how any information to which we are exposed is interpreted, and they mold the resulting decisions (large and small) that we make throughout the day and the subsequent choices that govern our actions or inactions.

    As noted above, our normal decision making process for most ordinary choices employ mental short cuts - a rule of thumb, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, or common sense.  Our fundamental KEBBs enable these normal decisions to be made very quickly without investing significant time or effort in serious consideration of the consequences.

    There are three possible problems with our KEBBs that will impact the evaluation and processing of new information (and eventual decision making outcomes) that need to be understood before Critical Thinking can be successfully implemented.

    1. If there are gaps in our knowledge or understanding of the situation in which we need to make a decision it will be difficult to make a optimal choices.   

    2. If there are inaccuracies in our presumed knowledge or understanding about a situation in which we need to make a decision we can easily make choices that are not optimal.

    3. If our fundamental beliefs contain bias, preconceptions and prejudice that we are not aware of (and do not correct for) they will inevitably skew our decisions.  One of the most dangerous biases is the belief that points a., b. and c. do not apply to us.

  3. It is safe to say that everyone’s fundamental KEBBs contain some gaps, inaccuracies and biases.  It is also safe to say that it can be extremely difficult to know whether (or admit that) these gaps or inaccuracies exist in our own knowledge and understanding.

    Likewise, it can be difficult to see how our own deeply-held personal biases, preconceptions and prejudices might interfere with our decision making – although it is usually perfectly clear how these characteristics influence the decisions of others.

  4. It is important to understand the various types of biases that can subconsciously influence (even dictate) our decision making process.  These biases are a result of our existing knowledge, experiences and beliefs.

    One of the main components of Critical Thinking is to recognize these biases in our own thinking and attempting to minimize their effect in our decision making process.

  5. A very important bias that immediately shuts down the Critical Thinking process is Confirmation Bias - "the tendency to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms one's existing beliefs or hypotheses.

    If you only look for and accept information that confirms your existing beliefs, you will have no chance of even considering the possibility that new information which seems to conflict with your existing KEBBs might be accurate and valuable for making a good decision.

  6. As noted above, those who market products, services &/or ideas for which there is no legitimate evidence of effectiveness (i.e. scam artists) are masters at manipulating your KEBBs and deflecting Critical Thinking.

If you did not open this information from the Critical Thinking page, you can read additional material on the process of Critical Thinking here.