Murder of Critical Thinking

Public discourse in Pakistan is replete with biases, irrationality, personalization, egocentrism, inattention, and distortion of facts.

By S. Zulfiqar Gilani | August 2023

Public and everyday discourse is symptomatic of the critical condition of critical thinking in Pakistan. Critical thinking was never common or robust, even in the so-called intelligentsia of the country, let alone ordinary citizens. However, the phrase› critical thinking’ is heard occasionally, which, like so many other words and phrases used in the country, has become vacuous and meaningless. Therefore, a brief detour into the basics of thinking and critical thinking is necessary.

Thinking is part of the human genetic endowment, which, however, evolves through cognitive development stages, which start at birth and continue through infancy, childhood, and adolescence. As children develop intellectually, their thinking becomes increasingly sophisticated, peaking roughly around age 12 and upwards, when, ideally, the potential to think critically develops. That is, there is an increase in the use of logic, deductive and abstract reasoning, thinking scientifically, and seeing multiple potential solutions to problems. Such thinking starts by examining personal, moral, philosophical, social, or political problems.

In theory, by the last stage of cognitive development, the individual can think critically. However, reaching that stage of cognitive development is not wired in, and some may never achieve it, which seems to be the case for most people visible in public discourse, and by projection, one can conclude that that is also true for most of our adult population.

Even if critical thinking abilities remain undeveloped, everyone nevertheless does think. However, most such thinking tends to be egocentric, not necessarily logical, biased, partial, uninformed, prejudiced, or not fully based on facts and evidence. Yet the decisions we make, the actions we take, the things we produce, and the overall quality of our life are a function of the quality of our thought. And shoddy and flawed thinking is costly in societal progress.

Critical thinking, on the other hand, is founded on globally accepted intellectual canons like being evidence-based, logical, and rational. It is the intellectually disciplined process of conceptualizing, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information, which can guide belief, help in decision-making, and strategies feasible action. The outcomes of critical thought have clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, depth, breadth, and fairness. Further, critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective. In short, critical thinking is the cross-cutting factor for progress in the fields of knowledge in particular and individual and human progress in general.

Thinking critically is a personality disposition. Exemplary critical thinkers are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human and their thinking. They strive to diminish the power of their irrationality, prejudices, biases, uncritical acceptance of social rules and taboos, egocentric and socio-centric tendencies, and thinking simplistically about complicated issues. They recognize that critical thinking requires life-long practice and ongoing self-improvement. Most critical thinkers demonstrate intellectual integrity, humility, civility, empathy, and a sense of justice. They embody the Socratic principle that “An unexamined life is not worth living” because they realize that, as in Pakistan, many unexamined lives result in an unjust and dangerous world and impede progress.

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