Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking is defined as a subset of three types of thinking: reasoning, making judgments and decisions, and problem solving.

According to Willingham, you can do any of those three without it being critical thinking, but critical reasoning and so on correspond to critical thinking.

It has three key features:

Original Paper

One typical pitfall of the thinking process is people focus on the overt details of a problem without noticing how its underlying structure relates it to other problems they know how to solve. E.g. two math problems with the same kind of solution but worded differently can confuse students.

After 20 years of policy centered on teaching critical thinking skills, there doesn’t seem to be an improvement in test results.

“Cognitive scientists refer to these maxims as metacognitive strategies. They are little chunks of knowledge —like “look for a problem’s deep structure” or “consider both sides of an issue”— that students can learn and then use to steer their thoughts in more productive directions.”

He also refers to metacognition as “regulating one’s thoughts”.

As the main article explains, the ability to think critically depends on having adequate content knowledge; you can’t think critically about topics you know little about or solve problems that you don’t know well enough to recognize and execute the type of solutions they call for.

The main thesis is that you need to be able to think about a problem and be familiar with it before you can think critically about it. This makes sense. It doesn’t seem likely that a transferable, generic ‘critical thinking’ skillset can be taught in a standalone fashion.

This emphasizes to me the importance of mastering any particular domain, as getting knowledge in one topic would allow you to think critically about it, which would then let you at least recognize when you’re not thinking critically about a different subject you are not as deeply acquainted with.

Critical thinking does not have certain characteristics normally associated with skills—in particular, being able to use that skill at any time. [(unlike, for instance, reading music)]. (…) As we saw in the discussion of conditional probabilities, people can engage in some types of critical thinking without training, but even with extensive training, they will sometimes fail to think critically. This understanding that critical thinking is not a skill is vital. It tells us that teaching students to think critically probably lies in small part in showing them new ways of thinking, and in large part in enabling them to deploy the right type of thinking at the right time.

Other studies have found (…) that anomalous, or unexpected, outcomes may be particularly important in creating new knowledge—and particularly dependent upon prior knowledge. Data that seem odd because they don’t fit one’s mental model of the phenomenon under investigation are highly informative.

Can’t backpropagate if your error is 0. This also gives one ideas about which interactions would be most fruitful to train models like ChatGPT in the future.

Final Takeaways

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05 Feb 2023 - importance: 4