A related topic is critical thinking. Over the years, I have come to define critical thinking as the ability to confirm that the proper context has been defined. In more technical language, critical thinking is the process of selecting the most appropriate and useful boundary conditions.

A short excursion to the internet reveals an appealing translation of the Greek word that evolved to become the “Critical” in “Critical Thinking.” It doesn’t mean disapproving! Although I think most people use it loosely this way to “criticize” others who don’t do it! But what the phrase had come to mean a few thousand years ago is discerning or skilled in judgement. 

Many sources say critical thinking refers to logical thinking. Other sources say it’s “unemotional” thinking. Both are incorrect. Logic always assumes its premises are correct. So logic on its own has no way to avoid the GIGO (“garbage in-garbage out”) problem. Furthermore, logic can’t tell us what we should do. Logic can’t help us with ethics! Ethics are primarily about values, not facts. Pure logic is a poor decision tool for value and ethical decisions. Another way to say this is that “’is’ is not equal to should.” 

How can we go a little deeper to increase our ability to discern the appropriate use of our bits of knowledge? Let’s backtrack a bit.

As we said, using only logic, there’s no formal way to correct incorrect starting points, except when you run slam-bang into a wall that is recognizably wrong, distasteful or not to the liking of the one who is using the logic. In a way, logic is the opposite of critical thinking. 

Computers do logic.  For now, humans are needed to perform critical thinking. You may object, so I will clarify that computers can make use of the previously performed critical thinking of humans, when they are given the needed data. But the essence of critical thinking is doubt. Doubt about the definition of the situation, problem or issue. Properly programmed computers can’t experience doubt. They are always forced to the point of a binary decision – 1s and 0s. 

More next time.