Being critical and thinking independently is a challenge, no matter how old you are or how much you’ve accomplished. But it’s one of the most important things you can ever learn how to do.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Emma: Hi, Brittany.

Brittany: Hi, Emma.

Emma: So, today I want to talk about something called critical thinking. this is something that a lot of you guys have probably heard us mention on this show before, and chances are you’ve heard adults, maybe your parents or your teachers mention this as well. And this is a concept that ties in really closely with the ideas of personal responsibility and individualism and even biases that we’ve talked about. but it’s a really important concept, so I wanted to dedicate an entire show to it. so to start us off, I’m gonna read us just a quick definition of what critical thinking is. it is the I, or sorry, I’m reading this thing wrong. Critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment. So that sounds pretty straightforward, but the more you learn, the more you start to realize how challenging it is to actually think critically in spite of your own biases, in spite of your own experiences. And maybe your blind spots are things that you don’t think about. So being critical and thinking independently is a challenge no matter how old you are or how smart you are or how much you’ve accomplished. But it’s one of the most important things you can ever learn how to do because it gives you the ability to think clearly, to make good decisions, and to stand up for the truth, even if it’s not the most popular thing.

Brittany: I think that’s exactly right. And as our listeners are probably sick of hearing about by now, and, no, well by now I’m a big Jordan Peterson fan. Shocking, and he talks a lot about critical thinking and he has a quote that I really love. Not that I don’t love all his quotes, but here’s one of them that I love. So I’m gonna read it for you guys. People think I almost thought about doing a Peterson imitation and I held back. Right? People think they think, but it’s not true. It’s mostly self-criticism that passes for thinking. True thinking is rare. Just like true listening thinking is listening to yourself. It’s difficult to think you have to at least, or to be at least two people at the same time. Then you have to let those two people disagree. Thinking is an internal dialogue between two or more different views of the world. So let’s unpack this for a little bit. one thing that kind of comes to mind. So I love to play chess, but I’m not good at chess. And part of the reason I love it, and it’s funny because I’m always like playing on an app, and like people know how easy it is to beat me cause I’m just not good. But, so this reminds me of chess, and that’s because to get really good at chess, you have to be able to understand your opponent’s moves. In fact, the people who get really good at chess play against themselves because they can see the board from both angles. And that’s always been fascinating to me. The same is true with critical thinking. So to be a really good critical thinker, you have to not only, and this kind of goes along with our logical fallacies too. You have to go into a debate, you have to go into critical thinking. knowing the other side. So like Peterson says, you have to kind of be two people and he’s right cuz you have to go into this saying, all right, this is what I believe right now, but wait for a second. What is this new point of view or this new idea conveying? And how does that contrast, how is that different from the way I was thinking before? So you have to kind of go back and forth in your brain and think, okay, like, do I disagree with this? Do I believe in this? But that’s critical thinking. it’s not just believing something right away, it’s really sitting and debating it with yourself in your brain.

Emma: It is. Exactly. And, it’s, this whole process of thinking, what are my biases? Where do I have a blind spot where I might not be thinking about something super clearly? And emotions can have a huge part to play in this. We talk a lot about how, you know, people talk about the greater good and all of these, you know, we need to care about people. And a lot of times that can cloud critical thinking and it can stop you from actually examining facts about stuff. And this is something that we’ve even seen with COVID and with, you know, COVID cases and COVID deaths and all of that stuff. when you allow your biases to cloud your thinking, it gives you a very difficult time to actually think about things critically and look at the facts and look at the evidence. Because that’s what critical thinking is really all about. it’s about looking at what is really true. What can we verify is true, and how can I take away my own, you know, biases, my own preconceived notions and really think about this as reality? So that’s, kind of like,  how I think about critical thinking. But there’s someone who is, is very influential in sort of this concept, and his name is Socrates. You might have heard of him before. He was an ancient Greek philosopher, a great thinker. He came up with so many amazing things. And one of the things that he is known for is his idea of critical thinking. And when you research critical thinking, he is like the number one person that you’ll run across because he did so much work,  to help people learn how to think. And he was one of the first people to really do this. And this was way, way, way, way back in ancient Greece. And if you’ve ever seen like the sculptures of people wearing togas and stuff like that, it’s like all the way back in that time. So Socrates was a philosopher, a very influential guy, and he encouraged people to think rationally and use facts to inform their views through seeking evidence, closely examining reasoning and assumptions, analyzing basic concepts and tracing out implications, not of only what is said, but of what is done as well. So let’s, unpack that for a little bit. Yeah, he just listed a bunch of things there. That’s a direct quote from him, by the way. So seeking evidence, that’s like looking for, facts, looking for truth. Evidence could be numbers, it could be, you know, things that have been documented. It could be primary sources if you’re looking at history,  looking at what is real and what is verifiable, and then closely examining reasoning and assumptions. So basically that is like looking at what are you already assuming. What are you already, you know, saying is the truth, but maybe it might not be. Or what are you, what are you thinking that maybe could be a potential bias or looking at why you think of things a certain way? And then another thing he says is analyzing basic concepts. So think about, you know, basic concepts of verifying facts and think about basic concepts of how you form your opinions. And then the other one is tracing out implications, not only of what is said but of what is done as well. And that’s the one that I really like because there’s a huge difference between what is said and what is done. And I think when you look at the government especially, you see that the government says a lot of really nice things. They say a lot of,  they say a lot of stuff that sounds very good. I have this program for you guys. I have these awesome things I’m gonna do to help my community, but what is done is not always the same. So you have to look at what’s being said, but also what’s being done. And now this whole line of reasoning that I just kind of went through there, that’s called the Socratic method. And Socrates really encouraged people to not just trust authority figures, to think for them, but for every man to think for himself. And I think that’s something that is always going to be important throughout the ages. All of these different, you know, the Greek Empire and, America, it’s always going to be important for people to think about things rationally and reasonably, and look at facts, look at the evidence, think about themselves, think about their own biases, rather than trusting what someone else says. Because it’s important to think for yourself, to think freely. And I think, again, not to keep going back to COVID, but that’s something that has become really clear is people need to, think for themselves, they need to do their research, look at the facts, and figure out how they feel rather than just trusting what someone else tells them that they should feel.

Brittany: I’m really glad you brought this up because I’m actually trained in teaching the Socratic method, like teaching in that style, so that’s awesome. Yeah. So I know Potter taught.

Emma: You were a teacher, right?

Brittany: I was a teacher. So the school I taught at, we only were allowed to teach in the Socratic method. And it’s very, it’s actually very difficult because it’s not the natural way of things. So that one of the mottos at the school I taught at was that we teach children how to think, not what to think. I love that. And that was very, very important. So the best way that you can kind of explain the Socratic method to people is that you, a if somebody asks you a question, you answer with a question. So if one of my students were to say, you know, why is taxation wrong? And I would say, why do you think taxation is wrong? And let’s assume that at this point they know what taxation is. So like you’ve taught them the baseline. And then they would say something and I would respond with, how do you know? Notice I don’t say, how do you feel? We never said, how do you feel? It’s, how do you know? So when I pressed a kid on, you know, making sure they, got a concept, it was always that follow-up on how do you know. So one thing of my favorite things that I, did, and this is, it’s funny because people’s natural inclination is not to question you know, people like you and I, Emma were probably born a little bit more feisty where we question things just given where we’ve ended up in life. But that’s my parents not Yeah. I’m sure that the teacher you had, I’m sure, me too. but so it’s funny to me because I appreciated students that would not necessarily fight back with me. We’ve talked about decorum on the show before and, and how to do this politely, but you know, that would challenge me. And so I pulled a little stunt on them once where I wrote the wrong date on the board, knowing very well it was the wrong date. And we’re starting the day and I said, all right, it’s, here’s the date, blah, blah, blah. And you know, somebody raised their hand and said, you know, miss Brittany,  that’s not the date. And I said, well, why do you think it’s not the date? And they said, well, cuz I know that that’s not the date. I said, well, am I the teacher? And they said, yes. I said, well then I’m always right. Right? like, I’m, the teacher, I’m up here. And a lot of kids were getting very confused. They’re like, no, but it’s not right. And then I had one, student raise his hand and he goes, she’s the teacher. Anything she says is right. I know. And I’m like, oh dear. And the funny thing was, this is a student who never listened to any of the rules or obeyed ever. So I was like, now you’re choosing to be on my side. but, it was funny because a lot of the other students, and eventually they knew that I did this as an exercise. Right. And this was not planned. It was just a little thing I, you know, fun experiment I wanted to do. But it was crazy to me because I had the one student who was so willing to go along with what I said was the right day, even though he knew it wasn’t because he trusted that I was in a position of authority over him and therefore I was Right. Yeah. And I really appreciated that I had students that were willing to say like, no, I know that you’re the teacher, but I also know that that’s not the date. So that’s critical thinking. Right. I was teaching them how to question everything. Yeah. So I think you’re right, Emma. I think it’s just as relevant. The Socratic method is just as relevant today as it was in ancient Greece. And I mean, just look at how many people have turned to the government or to the media to teach them what to think about covid, about lockdowns, about spending and foreign wars. It’s just like the kid relying on me to tell him the date, even though I know that I’m telling him the wrong date. So the Socratic method is fascinating. I actually recommend all of you look up, , I think they even have some websites on like Socratic method for kids, but tri, so Tri Socratic Methoding your Kids and Tri Socratic Methoding your,  parents. Totally. It’s a really fun dialogue to have and it’s really, really hard. So I’d give you guys that challenge.

Emma: It Is. it’s fun. I remember I showed up one time I went to public school, so I didn’t have a lot of stuff like this that was happening, but I had a few really great teachers who cared enough to think about what might be the most beneficial for kids rather than just kind of going along with the norm. And one of those teachers actually set up, one day we came to class, and I don’t know Brittany if your class did this, but, he set up our class in a Big U shape. So all of the desks made a Big U and basically, we were all facing each other at the same time. And he was like, this is going to be a Socratic method class, so you’re only allowed to ask questions in response to questions, and you’re gonna get to the bottom of stuff and figure out what you believe. And it was relevant to a certain book that we had been reading. It was an English literature class, but it was really fun because we all got to engage with each other a lot more. It was a class where not a lot of people would talk to each other. And it really encouraged this really interesting debate about some very old book that maybe a lot of high schoolers would not have cared about otherwise. Do you remember what the book was? I do not. I wish I did. But we read some really great classics in that class. so I think it was probably one of the like, great American novels Yeah. Or something like that, and probably Gatsby. But,  yeah, we, talked about stuff and it got people really engaged in thinking, actually thinking about what,  you know, what their views were on this book or what they thought the author was trying to say. And it was really fun because it, actually had people engaging with the ideas rather than just kind of accepting things as they were, or saying, this is what Spark Notes told me. So I’m just gonna come into class and say this and turn in my paper and try to get, you know, get a passing grade. So I think there’s a lot of wisdom that can be gleaned from this idea of critical thinking and this idea of finding out what’s true and knowing why you believe it’s true and, and having facts and having things to back, back you up. Like there is always going to be a purpose for that to serve in your life. Whether it’s, you know, you’re at work or you’re at school or you’re interacting with people, understanding why you believe what you believe and having facts to back that up is super important and it’s never going to not come in handy. So, can’t recommend that enough. And maybe we’ll need to do a follow-up episode on Socrates or on the Yeah, the ancient Greek philosophers because they had a lot of interesting stuff to say and I think a lot of it’s super relevant, but we’re gonna wrap this one up here today. my, encouragement to all of you would be to try to think critically as you go about your day and you go about your week and maybe do some research on, how you can think critically and some tangible stuff that you can try to apply and really think about how do you know, what do you know, what are the facts? So that’s, that’s what I’ll leave you guys with. we’re gonna wrap it up here, but thank you for listening and we’ll talk to you all again soon.

Brittany: Talk to you later.