We talked about David Levy’s book Tools of Critical Thinking: Metathoughts for Psychology in part 1. There is no similar book for people involved in failure analysis, although that will change if I ever finish the book I have been working on since 2003. There is no similar book for people in heat treating or manufacturing. It’s taken me 25 years to find my own examples that relate to my daily life, rather than examples that are geared to help psychologists.

The work has paid off. At least I FEEL and THINK that the work has paid off. And one of the major things that I have realized is that there is no hard boundary between critical thinking and creative thinking. Both of these, supposedly distinct activities originating on different sides of our brains, are based on rational thinking. Rational thinking (my definition) is thinking based on RATIOS, which are basically comparisons. A ratio of 1 to 2 is a number, and rational thinking is comparing the number 1 to the number 2 or comparing any other pair of things, ideas, concepts, events, phenomena, etc.  And when we compare, we look for similarities and automatically see differences. It’s how our brains are wired. When we practice rational thinking, or comparing (seeing similarities) and contrasting (noticing differences), we automatically build up our ability to put new pairs of things together in our minds, which is the first step of creativity.

To me, critical thinking is something more challenging. It’s not part of the natural way that the human brain works. Like learning to recognize the thinking errors that David Levy points out in his book, critical thinking has to be cultivated. Critical thinking has to do with figuring out the frame of reference in which our knowledge has been developed. Critical thinking has to do with figuring out whether there are enough similarities between the frame of reference in which we find ourselves and the frame of reference in which the knowledge on which we are basing our decisions was developed. I am sorry for how long the sentence before this one is, but I am very happy with this definition of critical thinking.

The world is going through a lot of challenging situations right now. The difficulties of the human condition result from the basic conflicts each of us has between living to our values and doing what we feel we need to do to meet our physical needs for food, shelter and security. Simple food and basic shelter are relatively easy. Of course most of us don’t want to eat nothing but cooked grains and lentils, supplemented with dandelion leaves and other “weeds,” even if that might meet our nutritional requirements. And mere basic security tends to feel like insecurity to modern people because most of us outlive our ability or desire to keep working for pay. So our needs become elastic and, in some, insatiable.

If we are going to have a chance at resolving the large conflicts related to peace and justice and surviving on planet Earth as a civilization, we are going to need to develop this specific type of critical thinking. The deep thinking where we can question whether what we think we know is really correct. Only then will we be able to clearly see ways through the current conflicts.


Listen to Reed Miller interview Debbie Aliya about critical thinking here.