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What critical thinking really is

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I asked a friend from the world of academia what critical thinking really means.
He tried to sell me the idea that universities develop students' critical thinking and open mindedness.
Critical thinking, he added, is to consider other "truths," to challenge common knowledge.
Truth according to whom, I asked?
The government, books, the media, studies, he replied.
So, what kind of truth do we have to challenge?
"You are a smart guy," he continued, "you know, for example, that 9-11 was an inside job. It gave the U.S. an excuse to start a war to control the oil in the Middle East."
What do you mean? I asked. He described a documentary that stated the Twin Towers had dynamite in all their floors, which caused them to collapse. It had nothing to do with airplane fuel flowing from floor to floor.
He explained his conspiracy theory, arguing how terrorists couldn't plan something so sophisticated. That is why the object hitting the Pentagon looked like a rocket, not a plane.
For him, critical thinking is valuing all sorts of crazy, foolish ideas. He continued, while I rolled my eyes in disbelief.
Critical thinking is not just saying that 9-11 was an inside job. Critical thinkers go further.
How did the U.S. government do it, without the supposed thousands of operatives blowing the whistle or bystanders noticing something different? How did the government place so many explosives without anybody noticing?
Was 9-11 was a "masterplan?" Hardly, I thought.
Anyone with a little creativity, any first-year university student, can figure it out. Three planes, full of fuel, took off from the country's less-guarded airports at almost the same time. We all know what happened next.
Delusional thinking is not critical thinking. Critical thinking should critique all aspects of all theories and understand Occam's razor: that the simplest explanation is usually the right one.
Occam tells us the U.S. wasn't ready for the attack and the CIA and the FBI are not infallible. They screwed up by ignoring early warnings of an attack.
Critical thinking doesn't mean giving room to stupid theories that make no sense. Critical thinking is re-evaluating what you know, what you think, every time credible data comes in to play.
For centuries, people thought the Earth was flat until Galileo proved it was round. Today, there is still a Flat Earth Society.
Critical thinkers should always consider the source and the sponsors of studies bringing new data or knowledge, like the Canadian professor who found that marijuana has health benefits. His work was sponsored by marijuana advocates.
To question this sort of research is critical thinking.
Consider different sides, who sponsored the knowledge, and who benefits from it - all with common sense. People like to call themselves open-minded or critical-thinkers. The reality is they are often only indoctrinated with these terms.
A real critical thinker will criticize his own knowledge and ideology, ground her analysis in common sense, not giving much credit to government agencies or conspiracy theory organizations. made thousands of dollars selling merchandise and soliciting donations from foolish people who fell for an illogical theory.
Do you really want to think outside the box? First of all, find out where the box is, and, second, be ready for the consequences of stepping outside it.
Salomon Rayek is a Kelowna resident and former executive editor of the Jewish Tribune.
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