Critical thinking is the art of taking a topic or position no matter how controversial (in this case "The bombing of Syria is creating freedom"), acknowledging this may only be an assumption (not a fact), and then showing our ability to find fact-based information to investigate that topic or position to discover what the facts actually are.
Lee Spiegel, writer and researcher of controversial topics for Huffington Post, states in the documentary film Travis, “No matter what your perception of something is, or your belief, or your opinion, or your speculation, … just follow where the evidence takes you, and no matter where it leads you to, no matter what kind of an outcome or result, whether you like the outcome of not, you will always stay credible if you follow the evidence”.
Almost every important topic today is controversial - poverty, food security, climate change, sweat shops, social benefits, privatisation, refugees, Donald Trump - we all have opinions about these topics, but if we are not willing to look at the facts surrounding these topics, our opinions are based on ideas that are given to us, but not on objective analysis (critical thought).
Being able to critically think about controversial topics is essential because, when we do, we are forced into the important process of cognitive dissonance.
Encyclopedia Britannica defines cognitive dissonance as: “the mental conflict that occurs when beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. The unease or tension that the conflict arouses in people is relieved by one of several defensive maneuvers: they reject, explain away, or avoid the new information”.
Thus, being presented with reliable data that strongly challenges our worldview, we are directly challenging our preconceived beliefs and assumptions.
These preconceived ideas are the result of our conditioning, and our conditioning is the mainstream narrative, which we have been educated to accept as fact through the systematic repetition of a given message, particularly through the medium of television.
But if we are developing and mastering the ability to form objective opinions and make informed decisions (The Art of Critical Thinking), we cannot “reject, explain away, or avoid the new information”. Instead, we explore the topic with open-minded examination, and accept reliable evidence as a possible new truth – a new narrative.
These moments raise our awareness (or our consciousness). We experience firsthand to what extent our conditioning is shaping our decision-making and our perception of reality. They expand our minds, and open our world to new possibilities.
As we practice, cognitive dissonance occurs less and less, enabling us to progressively spend less time focused on the mainstream narrative which endless studies show is having an incredibly detrimental effect on personal and global wellness.
In this case, the evidence clearly demonstrates that the argument "The bombing of Syria is creating freedom" is indeed an assumption not based on facts.
The final stage of critical thinking is to then be able to make a conclusion based on the facts and not on our own pre-conditioned assumptions.
This is the hardest part because cognitive dissonance means people are more likely to argue black is white rather than hold a view that goes against their previous conditioning/assumptions.
This talk on The Art of Critical Thinking delivered at Reading University, England, in 2016 is challenging because it delves deep into the facts that show us the extent to which we are being conditioned, thus creating significant cognitive dissonance, and it does this to present the most important skill - understanding that every assumption is conditioning - not reality.
This is the ability to critically think (leaving conditioning behind) and it is very hard, which is why a plethora of scientific studies show that few people can do it.
This talk concludes that instead of accepting our given reality unquestioningly, we can instead take back control of reality by choosing a new narrative that is solutions-focused and promotes personal and global wellness.
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