At the start of my PhD journey, I was asked to define critical thinking. Seemed like an easy enough topic at the time… I went all over the place and believed that the only thing you had to do is ask questions and keep an open mind. Yes, those are pieces of the puzzle. But to simply label and leave it at that is the sheer opposite of critical thinking. This essay re-evaluates my definition, an assignment which has developed over the span of this course. Specifically, it has grown to welcome alternative ideas and accept the process of consideration in order to form a rightful opinion.
Critical thinking is a skill developed through the practice of remaining “fair and open-minded while thinking carefully about what to do or believe” (Dowden, 2002). Without an earnest acknowledgement of being even a little bit ignorant, I cannot begin the process of critical thinking. It is a state of mental maturation that is responsible for all of our choices, or lack there of. Rational decision making becomes the end result of this process and is versatile enough to be used in both personal and professional settings. As a result, my use and consumption of media now considers both target and objective. All media production has a market and intention. To ignore both in forming an opinion would be negligent thinking, opposite of what notable leader in the critical thinking community Richard Paul calls for. Paul notes that the two legs in which critical thinking stands on is “practice and improvement” (Paul, 2013). By evoking this stance, I can greatly increase my own trade as a new media professional and future media psychologist. I have realized that critical thinking and the concept of belief have a close, intersecting relationship with each other. Well-known skeptic Michael Shermer has the idea that belief is the brain’s default option. And by linking this concept with that of Paul’s depiction of critical thinking, I can assuredly proceed in any endeavor knowing that my opinions and choices are sound and founded in fairness.
Belief is defined by Shermer as the “natural state of things… Belief is natural while disbelief, skepticism, and science are unnatural because it’s uncomfortable to not believe things” (Shermer, 2010). We believe in all types of things (aliens, horoscopes, pro wrestling, etc.) because it is easier than applying critical thinking. These dots logically connect with Paul’s assertion that critical thinking requires “an extended period of development” (Paul, 2013) because both ideas are dependent upon each other. Believing something should come from a process of critical thinking, while to think critically is to maintain an open mind when considering what we believe. By bringing these tools together, I can look at media in a clear, uninfluenced manner.
Whenever I encountered something in the media that irked me (an event that happened more the older I got…), I used to dismiss it and it’s purpose. Critical thinking is a process of growth, something that matures not only the beliefs but also the person willing to commit to the practice. Applying this science to my consumption and use of media reveals the necessity of considering the target audience and intention (Brizee, 2013) . Not everything is meant for everyone. Cartoons are not made to intellectually stimulate adults, so why should one label it stupid? They were intended for children. Similarly, soap operas are deliberately targeted towards women ages 18-49 (Kondolojy, 2013) with an intent of providing entertainment. Therefore if a 30 year old man says that General Hospital looks boring, this is a gross dismissal of something that was not created for him to begin with, showing a lack of critical thinking. The next time that something appears to be on the verge of being called various expletives, I will bite my tongue and instead use critical thinking to determine both my and the product’s intent. And if the two do not match, then I can move on and acknowledge that it is of no use to me – but might be to someone else.
The last several years spent as a performer and new media strategist has blessed me with opportunities to work as a video editor, writer, and stand up comedian. Prior to gaining a thorough understanding of what critical thinking entails, I can use hindsight to see that I settled to believe that my videos, scripts, and performances were enough to suffice. Now by using the “practice and improve” critical thinking tools that Paul highlights, I can move forward in my profession knowing that I could make any good video – great. Any script – tighter. Any funny bit – hilarious.
Coming into Fielding, I already had ideas and beliefs that were firmly planted. Although some concepts I have might be altered after further research, others can remain where they are. And that is okay. I believe that critical thinking allows for opinion, as long as the conclusions were founded through a fair examination of all other possibilities. I do not want to believe something simply because it was easy to come to that decision, an angle Shermer would likely consider to be a misuse of the mind. Challenging what I deem to be facts or evidence is giving critical thinking it’s due process. And from that I can be assured of it’s validity, maximizing both my personal and professional life.
Brad Dowden, “The definition of critical thinking.” http://www.csus.edu/indiv/d/dowdenb/4/ct-def/def-of-ct.htm
Richard Paul ‘Professional and personal development” http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/professional-and-personal-development/800
Michael Shermer, “The Pattern behind self-deception” http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_shermer_the_pattern_behind_self_deception.html
Richard Paul “critical thinking in everyday life: 9 strategies” http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/critical-thinking-in-everyday-life-9-strategies/512
Allen Brizee and Dana Lynn Driscoll. Purdue Online Writing Lab. “Evaluation during reading” http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/553/3/
Kondolojy, Amanda. “Soap Opera Ratings: ‘General Hospital’ up in women 18-49 viewers and total viewers” http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2013/08/23/soap-opera-ratings-general-hospital-up-in-women-18-49-viewers-total-viewers/198982/