Barriers to Critical Thinking & The 7 Essential Questions for ReflectionBy Denis Korn
This is a site that primarily focuses on the process of emergency
preparedness planning, and it is essential that one develops an
effective foundation and skill set for critical evaluation and
assessment of facts and circumstances that lead to actions that are
effectual, appropriate and beneficial. My philosophical
background can't help but guide me to the two core aspects of the
critical thinking process: freedom and choice.
Between stimulus and response, there is a space.
In that space lies our freedom and our power to chose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our happiness.
Viktor Frankl, MD, PhD 1905 - 1997 Psychologist, Philosopher, Author and Survivor of 4 Nazi Concentration Camps
As an expanded Cherokee Proverb states so well:
There Is A Battle Of Two Wolves Inside Us All
is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, greed, sorrow, regret,
self-pity, guilt, false pride, resentment, lies, inferiority, elitist
superiority and ego.
other is good. It is joy, peace, serenity, generosity, compassion,
love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, faith and truth.
The one who wins? The one you feed.
we cultivate and nurture will determine our result and experience.
This applies to building a preparedness program and to all aspects of
our encounter with life and our perception of reality. Do we choose
freedom and being responsible for our choices and the rewards that
follow, or are we going to thoughtlessly and recklessly react without
engaging in a critical thinking process?
As an observer of the
current events in our society, it is blatantly obvious that those in
positions of leadership and influence - government, commerce, media and
education - are suffering from "serious delusion and self-interest
syndrome." The polarization, manipulation and deterioration of our
society is so insidious and pervasive that I continue to pray and yearn
for our citizens, educators and leaders to embrace and embody the skills
of critical thinking, truthful evaluation, selflessness and
discernment. The lying and deception being imposed upon the people by
the government, media and the self-serving has reached epidemic
proportions - so many folks are reacting not thinking - fear,
selfishness and confusion has robed our populace of the basic
fundamentals of thoughtful reasoning.
most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think
things out... without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos.
Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he
lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable."
-- H. L. Mencken
"The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it." -- George Orwell
decades of incompetent, agenda driven and indoctrinating education
finally taken its toll on common sense and judicious thinking?
following list of the barriers to critical thinking, common sense and
rational judgment is overwhelming and intimidating to many - so in your
quest to be a skilled thinker you are encouraged to overcome obstacles
that will appear in your path. Be dedicated, competent and persistent -
and be willing to help others to be successful and effective thinkers.
are the Seven Essential Questions that must be reflected upon and
honestly answered to begin the process of developing critical thinking
- What is the truth? Can you
differentiate the difference between truth and opinion? (hint: truth is
discovered - it is what is -- opinion is created by people - it is
opinion that is relative not truth)
- Who do you trust? Why?
- From where do you obtain the information that forms your worldview? Why?
you discern the truth from the lie - the real from the false? How do
you discern? - Try logic, reason, reliable intuition, common sense,
anecdotal evidence, nonjudgmental observation and selfless reflection.
you recognize "what really is" from what you believe "ought to be." -
It has been said that strife and discord in life arise from the struggle
between "what is" and "what ought to be." What do you do when you
discover this conflict?
- Can you formulate
conclusions and judgments based upon the ability to access, evaluate and
determine the relevancy and reliability of facts and evidence.
- Which barriers are the most prevalent in your critical thinking process, and which ones do you experience most prevalent in others.
have decided to post this article on the barriers to critical thinking,
which I use in teaching, as the 3rd in a series of posts dealing with
the psychological, emotional and spiritual components of emergency and
disaster preparedness planning.
Normalcy Bias - Why People are attached to Inaction
The Emotional and Spiritual Components of Preparedness
I have stated before, there is more to preparing for emergencies than
the physical "stuff" you surround yourself with. Evaluating,
understanding and acknowledging all aspects of the planning process is
essential for a proper and complete preparedness program.
article, which I wrote, was an important part of the college course I
taught on Critical Thinking - a class I believe to be an important part
of a college experience. I have not changed it for this post - this is
what the students read, reflected upon and discussed in class. Most
struggle with its implications and accuracy. It not only applies to
preparedness planning - but to all aspects of human deliberation.
BARRIERS TO CRITICAL THINKING - from my college course on Critical Thinking
responsibility as a critical thinker is to be aware of the barriers,
acknowledge the challenges they present, and overcome them to the best
of your ability.
“If critical thinking is so important, why is it that uncritical
thinking is so common? Why is it that so many people – including many
highly educated and intelligent people – find critical thinking so
difficult?” And I [Denis] might add – impossible!
the answers to these questions is crucial to the understanding of what
is required to be a true critical thinker, and the reasons you will
encounter from those who resist embodying critical thinking skills are
often quite complex, and can be both subtle and blatant. The following
list of barriers to critical thinking will help guide you to recognizing
the challenges that await you and was compiled from Critical Thinking: A Student’s Introduction, our text Beyond Feelings: A Guide to Critical Thinking, and personal observation.
- egocentrism (self-centered thinking)
- sociocentrism or ethnocentrism (group/society/cultural-centered thinking)
- an over-reliance on feelings
- the erroneous belief of personal infallible intuition
- unconscious reaction
in self defense – fear of personal attack – believing one’s ideas and
beliefs are an extension of one’s self and must be defended at all costs
- fear of change or an unwillingness to change
- a pathological inability to evaluate, recognize, or accept an idea or point of view that differs from one’s own
- a less than honorable agenda
- lack of relevant background information or ignorance
- inappropriate bias
- unwarranted assumptions
- overpowering or addictive emotions
- fear of being wrong or face-saving
- selective perception and selective memory
- peer pressure
- conformism (mindless conformity)
- indoctrination initiated by uncritical thinkers with malicious and selfish intent
- provincialism (restricted and unsophisticated thinking)
- narrow-mindedness or close-mindedness
- lack of discernment
- distrust in reason
- relativism (relativistic thinking)
- absolutism (there are no exceptions)
- scapegoating (blaming others)
- wishful thinking
- short-term thinking
- political correctness
- being influenced by drugs
- excessive anger, hate, or bitterness
- disturbing one’s comfort
- lack of personal honesty
- poor reading and comprehension skills
- poor or dysfunctional communication skills
- excessive addiction
- a mental disorder
- cognitive dissonance (psychological conflict resulting from incompatible beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously)
- lack of humility
- the effects of radiation and man-made atmospheric chemicals
- debilitating fear and uncertainty
- reliance on main stream television, newspapers and other media for information
- the effects of television and electronic media on memory, cognition and brain function
general – the older one becomes the more well-established and rooted
these barriers are in the thought process, and the harder it is to
overcome them – they become part of you like a scar. It is suggested to
triumph over them as soon as possible.
Questions for reflection:
- What is the purpose and value in gaining critical thinking skills? - Is it really necessary?
- What are the rewards? - What are the challenges?
- Am I willing to do what it takes? - How important is it for me? - Can I do it?
Do I realize that demonstrating, sharing, and embodying wisdom and
discernment requires exemplifying critical thinking skills and
overcoming its barriers? - Are all these barriers overwhelming?
- Do I realize this is a life long process? - What is the difference between intelligence and wisdom?
- What are the steps required for developing critical thinking skills?
How do I communicate with others who are not critical thinkers and have
embodied these barriers to such an extent that they are unwilling to
engage in a meaningful dialogue or acknowledge any responsibility in the
communication breakdown? - Or do I bother at all?
- How am I to
react or respond when I experience a lack of critical thinking in the
media, among friends and family, at the work place, and in my academic
courses and studies?
While many think developing critical thinking
skills are for the beginning philosophy student, they are in fact vital
for everyone. Recognizing and overcoming the barriers to critical
thinking listed above is essential in creating and maintaining genuine,
honest, and nurturing relationships – developing leadership skills for
both family and vocational choices – fulfilling the goals and missions
of businesses and organizations – and discovering and achieving purpose
and fulfillment in all aspects of one’s life. Many of the barriers to
critical thinking are barriers to joyfulness, selflessness, and
Do not be discouraged by the enormity of the task of
reflecting upon, acknowledging, and overcoming these barriers. Have
confidence that you will recognize the hold these barriers have on your
thought process, and I encourage you to be committed to achieving the
obtainable rewards awaiting you when you have accomplished the goal of
prevailing over these barriers one by one.
denominator of these barriers is that the individual has no control over
their effects. They are held captive by defective responses and
impressions. One “reacts” to a situation, idea, or challenge, whereas
the critical thinker “chooses” the process of thoughtful evaluation –
embracing – and embodiment. The critical thinker has the freedom to
rightly assess circumstances and concepts, and the result is to arrive
at an appropriate and insightful conclusion and reasonable outcome.
and embracing an idea, information, knowledge, guideline, doctrine or
theology is a mental exercise and is the just the beginning of the
process - embodiment is the goal and requires diligent and persistent
action for true fulfillment and success.
In the pursuit of
the embodiment of critical thinking skills always be mindful of the
value and necessity of honesty, wisdom, discernment, and the need to
distinguish the truth from the lie. We live in an unprecedented time of
media, institutional, educational, and political self-interest that
will not hesitate to use any means possible to achieve its objectives
including deceptive indoctrination techniques, propaganda,
deceitfulness, fallacious argumentation, and fraud.
Life is like riding a bicycle.
To keep your balance you must keep moving.
Albert Einstein, in a letter to his son Eduard, February 5, 1930
The Problem of Egocentric Thinking
thinking results from the unfortunate fact that humans do not naturally
consider the rights and needs of others. We do not naturally
appreciate the point of view of others nor the limitations in our own
point of view. We become explicitly aware or our egocentric thinking
only if trained to do so. We do not naturally recognize our egocentric
assumptions, the egocentric way we use information, the egocentric way
we interpret data, the source of our egocentric concepts and ideas, the
implications of our egocentric thought. We do not naturally recognize
our self-serving perspective.
As humans we live with the
unrealistic but confident sense that we have fundamentally figured out
the way things actually are, and that we have done this objectively. We
naturally believe in our intuitive perceptions – however inaccurate
[Denis - I personally believe that intuitive perceptions are vital to
critical thinking - providing one possesses the required discernment
skills]. Instead of using intellectual standards in thinking, we often
use self-centered psychological standards to determine what to believe
and what to reject. Here are the most commonly used psychological
standards in human thinking.
“IT’S TRUE BECAUSE I BELIEVE IT.”
Innate egocentrism: I assume that what I believe is true even though I
have never questioned the basis for many of my beliefs.
BECAUSE WE BELIEVE IT.” Innate sociocentrism: I assume that the
dominant beliefs of the groups to which I belong are true even though I
have never questioned the basis for those beliefs.
BECAUSE I WANT TO BELIEVE IT.” Innate wish fulfillment: I belief in
whatever puts me (or the groups to which I belong) in a positive light.
I believe what “feels good,” what does not require me to change my
thinking in any significant way, what does not require me to admit I
have been wrong.
“IT’S TRUE BECAUSE I HAVE ALWAYS BELIEVED IT.”
Innate self-validation: I have a strong desire to maintain beliefs I
have long held, even though I have not seriously considered the extent
to which those beliefs are justified by the evidence.
BECAUSE IT IS IN MY SELFISH INTEREST TO BELIEVE IT.” Innate
selfishness: I believe whatever justifies my getting more power, money,
or personal advantage even though those beliefs are not grounded in
sound reasoning or evidence.
 Gregory Bassham, Critical Thinking: A Student’s Introduction, 3rded., (New York, McGraw-Hill, 2008), p. 11
 Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools, Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder
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