Assumptions

Consider this scenario…

The stillness of the morning air was broken. The women headed down to the track.

What do you think they are doing?  What assumptions have you made? Do you think they are going for a run? Do you think they are heading for a train?  Did you want to ask questions about the situation? What if I told you “the track” is a music store?  Did your narrow thinking get you into trouble?

In order to become better thinkers, we must be willing to actively analyze the extent to which we objectively judge information that doesn’t agree with what we already think. Critical thinkers want to change their view when they discover a better way of thinking.

We probably all believe we’re reasonable people… that we can make intelligent decisions. The truth is… many of us make decisions based upon opinion and biases.  What have you actually learned about how you think in your life? Could you write a precise answer to these questions?

  • What steps do you take to clarify your thinking?
  • Do you consistently stay on topic?
  • Do you ask the right questions?
  • Do you change your mind when another point of view makes more sense?

Thinking about thinking means that we must be able to systematically evaluate our own thinking processes using some form of standards. We need to examine the parts of thinking, reasoning, and the importance of questioning.

Critically Analyze News

Do you want to make better decisions in your life? You can take responsibility for your life and learning by becoming intellectually engaged in the world around you. You can improve your life by thinking for yourself, asking the right questions and verifying the reliability of the information you’re receiving.

As critical thinkers, we must acknowledge the power of the information that is thrown at us every day through billboards, magazines, newspapers, signs, television, the internet, and social media. It’s up to us to question what we read, watch or hear.

Have you ever… based your voting decisions on what you saw in the media?

Proposition 1 takes away teachers’ freedom to speak up on behalf of Idaho’s students. It makes it illegal for our teachers to discuss classroom funding issues with their own school administrators and it bans them from talking about overcrowding in their classrooms or school safety issues during contract negotiations. Proposition 1 puts control in the hands of locally elected school boards in our communities where it belongs. Negotiations are in open meetings so taxpayers can observe and participate. No longer are new teachers laid off first in tough budget times just because they were hired last. Any layoffs must be based on job performance, not hiring date.

We must… challenge assumptions, claims, and viewpoints instead of just accepting them as fact. We must learn to recognize logical fallacies and biases. We must also accept that we are just as responsible for the information we duplicate and share with others. Ask yourself, “How often have I bought into what was sold through media and advertisers? Am I perpetuating the problem or am I part of the solution?

Groupthink

Have you ever been in a group decision making process where everyone agreed with that one guy who spoke the loudest? What about your friend Sheila? Do you have a tendency to go along with what she wants regardless of your own ideas? Have you chosen a view in current affairs simply because a lot of people you know have this view? If you have ever been in a group where the main goal was to make a decision as quick and painless as possible, chances are you have been victim of groupthink.

In 1972, Janis Irving coined the term groupthink to describe the phenomenon of not wanting to “rock the boat” while in a group decision-making process. Suppose a member of the group expresses an opposing view and the group “gangs up” on them. Each member might begin to censor their own opinions as not to get penalized for a different view. Eventually, no one speaks up or presents any other alternatives and the group feels they have come to a unanimous decision. This is extreme faulty decision making. When large corporations such as Enron make costly decisions, it is often traced back to groupthink. Here’s another example of how groupthink led to tragic results…

So, what can we do to avoid groupthink? Be the devil’s advocate. Don’t allow the loud guy to monopolize the meeting. Make decisions for yourself. Don’t allow your friends to use peer pressure to influence your choices. Be an individual. Don’t choose a view simply because it’s popular. Research the topics you are interested in and become your own decision maker.

For more information about groupthink and how to avoid it, check out these videos:

GroupTHINK: The Death of Independent Thought

Sociology101: GroupThink

Assumptions

Making assumptions is something we do all the time. We just need to make sure that we are making the best possible assumptions we can. We don’t need to be building a story based on vague evidence. We need to fill in a gap or two with a most educated guess possible. What happens when we hold our assumptions as 100% correct? Take a quick look…

Assumptions are an evolutionary necessity; we simply cannot function without them. However, we need a strategy to help make better decisions with our assumptions. Things we can do:

  • Ask questions
  • Listen without judging
  • Never hold your assumptions as truths
  • Don’t be blindsided by your assumptions
  • Remember the past
  • Update your understanding

Say to yourself, “I will not hold my assumptions as 100% correct. I will continue to use assumptions as learning tools only.”

The Standards

Let’s foucs on the intellectual standards. These are the standards we will apply to our own thinking and the thinking of others. The standards will help us determime the quality of the reasoning in our own work and the work of others. Check them out…

Now, consider these statements…

  • Poinsettias are highly toxic to humans or cats.
  • Microwave ovens cook food from the inside out.
  • Mount Everest is the Earth’s highest mountain.

Are they accurate or inaccurate? Ask yourself… is this really true;
do I simply believe this because it sounds right; and how can I find out if it’s true? How about if you were asked to write an assignment or report with many words? This is an example of imprecision. Asking you to write 500 words is more precise.

Egocentricity

Do you believe everyone sees the world the way you do?  Do you often believe the first thing you learn about something?  Do you hate to be wrong? When someone gives you feedback, do you get defensive?  If you can say yes to any of these questions, you may have egocentric tendencies.  This isn’t the same as being egotistical, it simply means you have natural tendencies to think one way and probably don’t think you have a problem.

The truth is that many of us probably have at least a little egocentric thinking. The first step in any improvement plan is identifying the problem.  Start by taking the egocentricity quiz.  This will help you determine your tendencies and give you suggestions on how to become more open and fair-minded.

Fair Mindedness

Test the idea… of your intellectual humility.  Think of a situation you were in recently wherein you stated something to be true which you in fact were not sure of. Analyze the situation using this format:

  • The situation was as follows…
  • In the situation I said…
  • What I really should have said (which would have been more accurate) is…

As we become more aware of the thinking that is shaping our lives, we might notice that we: make questionable assumptions; reason with prejudice; use incomplete  or misleading information; or think egocentrically.

What is a fair-minded thinker.  Have you ever felt like you were talking to a brick wall? You were probably dealing with a closed-minded thinker. However, being open, or fair-minded doesn’t  mean accepting all other points of view. The critical thinker must be willing to investigate viewpoints different from his or her own, but at the same time  recognize when to doubt claims that do not merit such investigation.

Our aim as critical thinkers is to cultivate ourselves as fair-minded, intellectually responsible persons. To achieve this goal, we strive to develop intellectual traits.  These attributes are essential to excellence of thought. They determine with what insight and integrity we think. Take the intellectual traits inventory to see what your strengths and areas needing improving in being fair-minded.

Mindtrap

Our minds are not to be trusted! Take a look at the image below. What do you see?

tree

Our brain simply looks for a recognizable pattern, gives us an answer and moves on. Do you see a tree? What if I told you it was the logo for the Pittsburgh Zoo©? Do you see the animals? Click here for a better view. For another chance to think creatively, check out the Roger von Oech’s Coffee Cup exercise. It’s amazing what we can see once we start asking the right questions.