Critical Thinking: Using the Power of Knowledge

Knowledge is a wonderful thing.  I love knowledge.  I love learning new things.  As you can tell from the title of this blog, I think learning new things is fun.  But knowing something isn’t enough.  You have to know how to use the knowledge.

Encyclopaedia_Britannica

One thing my education in Canada has taught me is how to interpret the knowledge I have gained and apply it.  That’s what university has taught me, as well.  As you may know, I’m doing some courses through Coursera, and I have noticed that they are very interactive.  Not only do they teach you the information you need to know, they also teach you how to use it (for example, I’ve already put together a Tyrannosaurus skeleton).

As an English teacher, I not only teach students what words and grammar mean, but also how and when to use it.  It’s not only important to know what it means, but you need to be able to use it in practical situations.  This is a problem with the education system in Japan.  Their focus is on test-taking.  Everyone studies very hard to memorise everything, but the public school system fails to teach their students practical uses and how to use the knowledge., especially in English.  High school students may know the grammar very well, but they have no clue about how to use it.  They can read and understand, but they can’t speak.  Even the main English testing system, TOEIC, tests only knowledge and comprehension, not communicative ability.  Seems kind of useless, doesn’t it?

Now, this doesn’t mean that only having knowledge is useless.  Knowledge is a great base.  Knowing facts can help you make decisions.  Sometimes facts are just fun to know.  I will be starting something called “Encyclopedia Entries” this week, giving a weekly look at different topics in science, geography, and more.  They will coincide with major news topics, so you can get a little extra information about what’s happening or learn something interesting about the place or topic.  This is meant for fun.

Critical thinking allows us to decide the best course of action based on the knowledge we have.  Without critical thinking, the knowledge is simply facts.  We don’t know how to use it.  A lot of people make decisions without thinking critically, only using blind faith.  This may not be a popular opinion for some people, but I believe that those who follow and support conspiracy theories do not effectively use critical thinking.  They are doing the same thing they accuse others of doing, being sheep and believing what they’re fed.

I’m not going to give you facts here, but I suggest you look them up for yourselves.  In fact, I strongly encourage it.  With my science background in university, I was always told that we can’t just believe what we hear, we have to look into it ourselves and investigate.  The work of other scientists is a great source for facts, but the system that science uses encourages other scientists to try the same experiments to either duplicate or falsify the results.  That’s how science works.  The research isn’t done by a single person, then published for all to see and everyone believes it. No.  It’s done again and again to see if it holds up.  This is how scientific theories are strengthened.  They’re tested so often and from many different angles that theories can be taken as fact.  That means cell theory, evolution, plate tectonics, gravity, relativity, and many more are taken as a fact.  There are people who dispute some of these (such as evolution and plate tectonics) because of religion or some other reason, but they’ve been tested so many times without any failures.  Sometimes there’s something unexpected, but those tend to fill in blanks of our knowledge, and the theory is able to explain it.

Scientific theories are not guesses.  They are the best explanation for the facts that we have, and they are testable and falsifiable.  If they are falsified, then the scientist may win a Nobel Prize.  Scientists are excited about new discoveries like this and gives them a lot more work to do.  Conspiracy theories, on the other hand, are not scientific.  They are guesses that use hearsay, coincidence, and belief.  For example, a lot of people think global warming is a conspiracy.  One thing I’ve heard many times is this: “It’s very cold out!  Global warming is a lie!”  A cold day or week doesn’t mean global warming isn’t happening.  Weather isn’t climate.  Weather happens in a short period of time.  Climate is long term.  The long term facts are that the average temperature of the world is rising, the polar ice caps are melting, glaciers are melting, hurricanes are becoming more common, and extreme weather is becoming more extreme (this includes colder weather in winter).  Those are the facts.  Facts are observed, numbers are recorded.  They don’t lie.  However, what you do with this knowledge is important.

The problem with conspiracy theories is that they often ignore facts and focus on a single problem area that is usually quite easy to explain.  The reason why I think conspiracy theorists don’t use critical thinking is that they have a single-minded focus on that one problem, and don’t look at the whole picture.  They often think of rather implausible explanations that aren’t supported by the evidence.  They often discount more plausible explanations.  They hear someone say that something must be true because of this little bit of information they dug up.  The information may actually be unrelated or it could be that they’re only looking at a small part of the information, rather than the whole.  They convince others that this partial information falsifies everyone else, and many people will latch onto it without actually doing their own fact checking.  I say this to people:  Think before you blindly believe in what someone says.

Believing a conspiracy theory could potentially be dangerous.  Ignoring the warming climate can result in mass extinctions, food shortages, flooding of coastal cities, and more.  Ignoring vaccinations can result in loss of herd immunity, increased preventable deaths of children, and more.  Conspiracy theorists often say people need to be open-minded, but they themselves are often close-minded.

In the end, everyone should learn how to think for themselves, investigate, and don’t be so damned stubborn.  Open your mind, gather knowledge, a lot of knowledge, and figure things out with that very useful tool in your skull.  Don’t come to conclusions based on a little knowledge.  That’s just stupid.  Get the whole picture first, then think about it.  Knowledge is power, but critical thinking enables that power.

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