After spending a few years on a LinkedIn Group called “Critical Thinking in the Workplace,” it became clear to me that there was no universally accepted definition of critical thinking. As a career engineering consultant, I obviously had, like most engineers in general, long thought I had better critical thinking skills than the average person. In fact, I had already been studying critical and creative thinking skills for many years before I even joined that LinkedIn Group.

David Levy’s book Tools of Critical Thinking: Metathoughts for Psychology had just been released when I started practicing critical thinking. This book is divided into sections. The first one is about how “phenomena” may be “conceptualized.” Today, after working with the book for 25 years, many of the techniques have become second nature to me and how I think about the world and myself. But the content seems like a hodge-podge of rules. The second section is on “explaining phenomena.” This is basically an exploration of five ways that people can learn to avoid misinterpreting causation. One that has made it into the common discussions of regular people is “correlation doesn’t prove causation.”

The third section is generally geared to understanding causation, but it is focused on common mistakes people make by virtue of the shortcuts we take in evaluating the data that comes into our awareness. The next section is about investigating phenomena.

Since my work usually involves helping people figure something out that they are unable to figure out on their own, many of these seven chapters have also become second nature for me as I go about doing my engineering investigations. This section includes a chapter on inductive and deductive reasoning, another on the confirmation bias and one on the “Belief Perseverance Effect.” There are several useful sections on how our existing worldview – our “mental filters” – affect how and even whether we are able to see certain facts and factors. The book has a total of 30 chapters, all relating to different aspects of critical thinking for psychology.

We will continue this discussion next time.