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30 Prying and Probing Questions To Bolster Critical Thinking

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Sunday, October 23, 2016

The mind is a terrible thing to waste. Some people don’t like to put it to much use because it’s just too hard. A critical thinker is very disciplined and honest in attempting to evaluate and arrive at a valid and intelligent conclusion on any and every matter. He/she is not afraid of a change of mind if the contrary reasoning is logical and persuasive.

On their web site, The Critical Thinking Community states:  

“The world is swiftly changing and with each day the pace quickens. The pressure to respond intensifies. New global realities are rapidly working their way into the deepest structures of our lives: economic, social, cultural, political, and environmental realities — realities with profound implications for thinking and learning, business and politics, human rights and human conflicts. These realities are becoming increasingly complex; many represent significant dangers and threats. And they all turn on the powerful dynamic of accelerating change.

“We cannot deal with incessant and accelerating change and complexity without revolutionizing our thinking. Traditionally our thinking has been designed for routine, for habit, for automation and fixed procedure. We learned how to do our job once, and then we used what we learned over and over. But the problems we now face, and will increasingly face, require a radically different form of thinking, thinking that is more complex, more adaptable, more sensitive to divergent points of view.   The world in which we now live requires that we continually relearn, that we routinely rethink our decisions, that we regularly re-evaluate the way we work and live.   In short, there is a new world facing us, one in which the power of the mind to command itself, to regularly engage in self-analysis, will increasingly determine the quality of our work, the quality of our lives, and perhaps even, our very survival.”

The American and Canadian educational systems are failing miserably in preparing youth for the challenges ahead. They consider it more important for kids and teens to know how a volcano works than personal finance and critical thinking. Writing on this topic for The Huffington Post, retired high school teacher and critical thinker Frank Breslin asserts:

“It is a rare high-school graduate who can pinpoint 20 different kinds of fallacies in a line of argumentation while reading or listening; who knows how to distinguish between fact and opinion, objective account and specious polemic; who can tell the difference between value judgments, explanatory theories, and metaphysical claims, and knows how these three kinds of statement can or cannot be proven or disproven; who can argue both sides of a question, anticipate objections, and rebut them; and who can undermine arguments in various ways ……

“The school owes its students to teach them how to think, not what to think; to question whatever they read, and never to accept any claim blindly; to suspend judgment until they’ve heard all sides of a question, and interrogate whatever claims to be true, since the truth can withstand any scrutiny. Critical thinking is life’s indispensable survival skill, compared to which everything else is an educational frill!”

Here are 30 challenging questions to help bolster critical thinking:

1) Could you elaborate further? Could you give me an example?

2) How could we verify or test that?

3) How does that relate to the problem? How does that help us with the issue?

4) What are some of the complexities of this question?

5) Do we need to consider another point of view?

6) Does what you say follow from the evidence?

7) Is this the central idea to focus on? Which of these facts are most important?

8) Do I have any vested interest in this issue?

9) Is my ego preventing me from accepting information that disproves my views? Is it possible for me to be wrong?

10) Am I taking a position on a controversial issue because all my family / friends believe a certain way and I don’t want to fall out of favor with them?

11) Do I fall for a common fallacy like the Straw Man Fallacy: Inability to counter a point and in desperation, attack and argue against a straw man – a position or point that my opponent never stated?

12) Do I fall for a widespread fallacy like the Confirmation Bias Fallacy – only spending time with people and sources that confirm my already held beliefs? In other words, if I were to sit down for an hour with an expert for the other position, would I be surprised and shocked as to the strength of the arguments?

13) Do I fall for certain pundit’s position because of their good looks, celebrity, and winsome smile, or do I honestly grapple with the issues in spite of their charm, appearance and coolness?  

14) When I hear or read unsubstantiated hysteria and paranoia – like anti-vaccine or anti-GMO spin – do I suddenly run around like a chicken with its head cut off, or do I calmly, honestly, and intelligently gather all the facts to form a valid and informed opinion? Do I think on issues with my emotions or with my brain?

15) Do I elevate mere mortals to the point of near infallibility because they offer me exactly what I want or need?

16) If a situation seems dire and hopeless, am I so desperate to believe in something – like snake-oil cancer cures – that I set aside my mind and all the contrary evidence?  

17) Am I so outraged by a real or perceived injustice that I absolutely will not entertain even the slightest counter-argument?

18) Is my self-esteem so weak that admitting to being wrong about something would be emotionally and existentially devastating?

19) In any discussion or debate, when I encounter a point I can’t answer, do I panic and reply with the first useless thought that comes to mind? Or do I logically and intelligently answer – “Good point. Let me get back to you on that one”?

20) When coming to a conclusion, have I spent 2 hours learning and evaluating the points for one side, and 2 minutes the other side?

21) Are my perceptions based on a bird’s-eye view of the circumstances or do I superficially and hastily only focus on what is directly in front of me?

22) Do I lift up the rock to observe the crawling vermin beneath or am I mesmerized and bedazzled by the color and smoothness of its surface?

23) If I’m sitting patiently in a waiting room, pick up a random magazine, randomly read an entire article espousing a particular viewpoint I previously knew nothing about, do I suddenly adopt that point of view as my own?

24) No medical professional is infallible, but are my medical opinions often the equivalent of barging into the surgery room of my local hospital, pushing the busy surgeon out of the way, and saying: “Beat it! I’m taking over!”

25) Do I believe in and espouse an opinion on a relatively insignificant issue because it gives meaning and purpose to my spiritually and emotionally bankrupt life?  

26) Have I circumvented my intellect and adopted a position on any important issue based primarily on the near-orgasmic feeling of righteous indignation?

27) Do I easily fall for conspiracy theories in spite of overwhelming contrary evidence? Do I like to take the easy way out and believe “It’s a conspiracy!” instead of taking the time and work to rationally evaluate the info?

28) Do I choose anxiety and hysteria when watching the latest sensational, tragic and disturbing story leading the 24 hour news cycle? Or am I prudent enough to realize that every day in the US there are 43 murders, 117 suicides, 129 deaths from drug overdoses, 96 car accident deaths, 1,315 deaths due to smoking, 890 deaths related to obesity, etc, etc, etc?

29) Do I check myself when I realize that a certain position or opinion I’ve adopted has led me to hate certain individuals themselves, rather than only their views?

30) Following the above question, have I segregated myself in my own group-think world to the degree that should I accidently meet and discuss issues with someone from the other side, that I suddenly have the epiphany: “Wow! These people are not evil saliva-drippers after all! They’re strangely human!”?   

Bonus thorny question: Do I believe and obey some magic law that tells me I have to form an opinion on something, even though I honestly know I don’t have or properly evaluated all the pertinent information? 

Frank Breslin, Why Public Schools Don’t Teach Critical Thinking – Part 1  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-breslin/why-public-schools-dont-t_b_7956518.html

Primer on Critical Thinking   (First 8 questions taken from this site, the rest are original.) http://www.bellarmine.edu/docs/default-source/faculty-development-docs/TLC_19_A_Primer_on_Critical_Thinking.pdf?sfvrsn=0

Teaching Children Critical Thinking  http://www.parentingscience.com/teaching-critical-thinking.html   

Liars! How Snake-Oil Doctors Use 5 Logical Fallacies http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2015/11/liars-how-snake-oil-doctors-shrewdly.html

Pseudo-Health & Snake-Oil: 14 Examples of Faulty Thinking …… http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2016/06/pseudo-health-snake-oil-14-concise_22.html  

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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