Critical thinking is a tool that is often underused in our society. The process allows people to look beyond societal norms and trends. This makes figuring out the hidden motivations and making educated assessments in order to change our actions. Society progresses in the right way when we take the time to step back and think about the problems that plague our society is the best way to it.
Before I came to Santa Clara, I had attended a very regimented school. This comes with its perks and downsides but one of the things that stuck out to me was our writing department. Overflowing with people who had taught for decades, this group of great educators was a well oiled machine when it came to pumping out textbook essays.
When we would write, a range of possible topics that are all connected together would be given to us. However, between different assignments, these papers never led into one another. The papers would be on the technical level of a graduate student. However, there was still something obviously missing. It took me until college to notice that having group discussions about a topic stemming from a book or presentation is such a good way to spark creativity in our minds. Instead of just putting together crafty sentences that flow, I have become accustomed to taking a theme that we have gone through in depth. Almost more important are the many ways and viewpoints by which we would approach our talks. This has not just made my works undoubtedly more interesting for my professors, but I have grown accustomed and come to rather enjoy many of the effects that this style has on me.
For one, I enjoy my research more. While I did enjoy learning new things while researching poems from England, I could only take so much before I was bored. One example of this was my final research paper. For this specific assignment, we were simply given the idea about what we would be writing about. However, when it came down to specific subjects, we picked out of a hat. This is harmful due to the lack of connection that I felt to my paper.
In my Critical Writing and Thinking class, things went a little differently. We would regularly circle up and talk about more than just the characters and plot of a book. People were encouraged to state and backup their opinions. One of the major books we talked about was Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. This work does not just provide a dynamic backdrop on which to write about; the very work is hinged on flowing arguments. This intention of Foer to keep the argument open is seen through the structure of the book. Throughout the novel, he has undoubtedly presented facts and evidence with a sense of bias. However, he nevertheless holds true to the belief that a person should not have their opinions read to them. He regularly brings up counter positions that can be seen as motivated by good intentions of the opposition. This tone is set in the very beginning of the book in which he provides the story of his Grandmother (Foer). As a war survivor, she regularly ate food that wasn’t kosher in order to preserve survive. While this is a very inherent decision by his Grandmother, Foer takes a leap by challenging his mothers beliefs, a person with whom many people see as unquestionable, much like the majority in an argument. Foer takes the situation that his grandmother was in and picks it apart. Taking such an instinctual situation as this one, Foer criticizes it by bringing up morality and the ideas of right and wrong.
Dan Ariely takes a different route when it comes to providing the necessary tools for an informed public within his book, The (Honesty) Truth about Dishonesty – how we lie to everyone – especially ourselves. Instead of presenting both sides to the argument, Ariely focuses more on using evidence to support the less talked about position. He avoids chalking up beliefs to other beliefs; he works to support arguments that are not normally talked about objectively with scientific evidence. One example of this is the connection that a person who lies more is more commonly linked to greater creativity due to specific brain matter makeups (Ariely).
In the present day, this technique can be very dangerous. instead of informing the public on the other side of an important issue, many times social media and rampant news often works to just pander to one side and alienate that side. In order to avoid this and provide clear and useful information, Ariely never ceases to in some way or another take note this is not the popular opinion by bringing up evidence for the other side. Instead of being a “yes” man, Ariely is being a “maybe” man for all those people who might not have made their opinions on their own volition.
History has gifted us many forms of critical thinking throughout history. The philosophers of Ancient Greek took on what it means to be “us” while the scientists that challenged our beliefs about the universe were seeking detailed understanding about our place in the universe. However naive this may sound, these upcoming times seem to be the most trying on our ways of thinking. Social media and the politics of right versus left have opened unforeseen holes that people can take advantage of. Fake news is just one offset of this problem that we are facing. This uneasy climate has made it even more easy for people to deny facts by simply purporting that they don’t trust the other source. This is not just on one set of people. In order to make informed decisions about our future, we as humans need to give credit to those ideas that result from rational effort, patience, and time. If we just keep coming up with conspiracy theories, we will be talking about the moon landing for another century.
Ariely, Dan. The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves. HarperCollins, 2013.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. Access and Diversity, Crane Library, University of British Columbia, 2013.