The Richard Nicholls Podcast

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Episode 133: Critical Thinking

If you have young children then you’re probably familiar with this one word that crops up every few hours.


Children are curious and have a lot to learn and so will question everything they come across.

But for some reason we get to an age where questioning things becomes less important, we develop trust in our peers and no longer question whether something we are being taught is true.
We believe what we’re being told and form opinions based on external influences.

As adults we need to be aware that this happens so that we can question our understanding of the world, our political beliefs, our morals, ethics and judgements.
Once the EU referendum was announced I heard scores of people offering their opinion on whether IN or OUT is the best thing for the country, people had already made their mind up and anything that they watched or listened to since either confirmed their belief or it was ignored. That’s Cognitive Bias at work.
But we cannot form an opinion on anything at all unless we look at both sides first.
I think that the best way to do that, is to spend some time deliberately looking at the opposing viewpoint.
With regards to the referendum on 23rd, if your knee-jerk reaction was to stay in, then spend some time listening to the reasons to leave, and vice versa if your knee-jerk reaction was vote leave then listen to the reasons to stay.
Deliberately considering the opposite to your original view means that you can make your mind up yourself, you can put a cross in the box knowing that it was done so with some genuine consideration of what you think is best.

I urge everyone to live their life like this, not just about big things like the EU referendum, but even smaller things.

It’s called Critical Thinking and has allowed us to learn that the earth isn’t flat after all, and that it’s definitely older than 4000 years.
It’s meant that Doctors no longer use chicken poo to try and cure baldness or blow tobacco smoke up someones bum in an attempt to cure a hernia.

If we don’t check the facts then we’re never going to challenge ourselves. We won’t override inaccurate beliefs about ourselves and the world.
Critical thinking allows us to sit on the fence for a while, look at both sides of something and make our own mind up. We need to be open to the idea that we might be wrong about something.

It means that we can challenge whether we’re stupid or not, whether we’re a bad person, whether we’re lazy or fat.
If we don’t challenge our thinking we can end up making all the wrong decisions based on facts that are nothing more than a story we tell ourselves.

Because if we only look for evidence to backup that story then that’s all we’ll see and the story becomes real.
If you already have the story in your head that markings on the pavement outside houses are to tell burglars whether or not there’s a vulnerable old lady in the house then you’ll get that story reinforced, unless of course you work in civil engineering and you already know that the markings are to tell road workers that there’s an underground water pipe.

That’s why it’s important to sit on the fence sometimes and question both your beliefs and the beliefs of others.
Learn to think for yourself.