People ignorant of the concept often ask me: What is critical thinking?
And the thing is, it’s a very good question; one that is difficult to answer. Most of usÂ who regularly risk our jobs because we’re too busy surfing skeptical websites know what it means to think critically, because it’s what we do all day. But we’d be hard pressed to set down a good definition, if charged to do so.
CriticalÂ thinking isÂ not justÂ about looking into things. It’s not just about gathering information.
That’s certainly part of it. But in addition to searching for information, weÂ must investigate and analyze. We have to apply a good measure of intelligence to determine the efficacy of the information we’ve collected. We must decipher meanings, apply common sense, detect trash data, weigh theÂ importance of certain aspects, and be very very careful not to jump to conclusions.
It’s not an easy concept to relate, and it’s not an easy skill to learn.
I think that many people the world over consider themselves good critical thinkers, but the truth is they are not. The proliferation of crackpot ideas, religion, pseudoscience, and reality TV would suggest that most people are not only sub-standard critical thinkers, but may in fact be incapable of applying a critical eye to the most basic elements of their everyday lives.
To illustrate this point, I want toÂ relate an example of an investigation from my own life, and have you grade me on my critical thinking skills.
I want to talk to you about frog sex.
No, this post is not going to be about French people making love. Hopefully itÂ will beÂ way more interesting (and less odorous) than that. We’ll see.
At any rate, it goes like this:
Recently I had a conversation with one of my favorite people on Earth. (Okay, so all the people I know are on Earth. I admit I don’t have any favorites that aren’t on Earth. My therapist has convinced me that thoseÂ other onesÂ are not real and that I shouldn’t talk about them, so forget I said anything.)
Anyway, this person and I usually talk about many subjects, and I’m always fascinated with the course of the conversation. And this particular conversation was no exception. We touched on everything from music to literature to dimply ass cheeks.
At one point, however, the topic of discussion somehow turned to frog sex, and where I feel one can never examine too closely the steamy intricacies of sex between two frogs (or more than two, if that’s their particular kink), it occurred to me that there was something about amphibians that I didn’t know. Indeed there was something about our watertight friends that I had never even considered.
Now you all no doubt know me as a man of the world by now. After all, I’ve posted all ofÂ six or sevenÂ entries on this blog; a number I deem sufficient for anyone to grasp the true nature of my character. If you can’t tell by now that I’m always out there on the scene, you’re just not paying attention.
Plus, as a kid, I would ride my bike through the woods all day, play in the bayous for hours, terrorize insects and small animals, and pretend I was a ballerina named Sasha (another gem my therapist and I are working on), so I was surprised that this particular aspect of sweet froggy love had never crossed my mind.
Baby frogs are tadpoles, but are baby toads tadpoles?
Incredibly, I wasn’t sure. So I thought I would ask my buddies down at the bar and maybe do some research on the Internet. And the information I found was absolutely remarkable.
The answer is No. Baby toads are not tadpoles. At least according to the mind-bogglingly brilliant sources I found at the bar and among the throng of forums and websites I found.
Some of these sourcesÂ didn’t seem to beÂ dedicated to the science of amphibious creatures, as much as they were into heckling new members, but so many people had opinions about this subject, I figured they must know what they’re talking about. So I asked for more information. Could anyone tell me what baby toads actually are?
The response was overwhelming.
Apparently, toads arise spontaneously from certain fungi. Yes, toadstools. So named because early researchers erroneously thought they were the product of the toads’ stools. That is, the “stools” were not so much bowel movements as a release of spores.
Of course I thought this odd, and a fellow at the barÂ who told me his name wasÂ Frank confirmed that it is indeed the other way around. The fungi actually release the spores.
So applying my good critical thinking skills, I realizedÂ that we can say conclusively which came first in this arena (the stool or the toad), where the chicken and egg debate unfortunately rages on to this day.
And, did you know, toads are not technically amphibians at all? They’re not,Â but due to the specifics of their abiogenesis, they are mushrooms. When you pick them up, they “urinate” a form of sap (ok, not sap technically, because they are not plants, but more of a slimy mold) all over your hand.
The amazing thing is this slimy mold is perfectly edible, and tastes like ripe strawberries.
Trust me. You should try it sometime.
In fact, it is the traditional French basis for hollandaise sauce, although in the US, misguided animal rights advocates have forced a recipe change.
And here’s yet another interesting bit of froggy trivia: Toad DNA does not replicate, but is passed psychokinetically from organism to organism, through the use of zero-point energy technology.
It is reliably claimed that we will all be powering our automobiles by toad-DNA technology within our lifetime, assuming we live that long.
Fascinating, amazing stuff, isn’t it?
Well, you can see that thisÂ post has been a bit silly, but haven’t we all run across people who spout things that are just as ridiculous? And haven’t those people been cocksure of the truth behind their nonsense? The 9/11 conspiracy theorists we run into these days immediately spring to mind.
James RandiÂ often comments on the ease at which even the smartest people can be fooled. And I took his words to heart a long time ago. I know that I am subject toÂ accepting bad information at times and to drawingÂ erroneous conclusions when I’m not careful. But I think knowing this and admitting it makes me a better critical thinker. I’m never satisfied that I know anything absolutely, and more often than not, that concept helps me to make good decisions about things. But more importantly, it keeps me curious.
And being curious is the best foundation for learning.
At any rate, I’d love to stick around and talk about this more, but I’ve got to run.
I’m off to do some groundbreaking research on geckos.