Barriers to Critical Thinking & The 7 Essential Questions for Reflection
By Denis Korn
I am sharing once again what has been one of the most read of all my posts – Barriers to Critical Thinking.
It continues to be even more timely given the issues that we face as a
country and as a civilization today. I re-post and update this article
periodically and I continually receive comments on how relevant and
important it is for not only students, but for adults.
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 choose 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
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the
human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of
circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
As an expanded Cherokee Proverb states so well:
There Is A Battle Of Two Wolves Inside Us All
One is evil. It is anger, envy,
jealousy, greed, sorrow, regret, self-pity, guilt, false pride,
resentment, lies, inferiority, elitist superiority and ego.
The 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.
What 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.
“The 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,
– H. L. Mencken
“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”
– George Orwell
Has decades of incompetent, agenda
driven and indoctrinating education finally taken its toll on common
sense and judicious thinking?
The 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
Here are the Seven Essential Questions
that must be reflected upon and honestly answered to begin the process
of developing critical thinking skills:
- 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?
- Can you discern the truth from the lie – the real from the
false? How do you discern? – Try logic, reason, rational evaluation,
reliable intuition, common sense, anecdotal evidence, nonjudgmental observation and selfless reflection.
- Can 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?
I 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
As 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.
This article, which I wrote, was an important part of the college
course I taught on Critical Thinking – a class I believe to be an
essential 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
BARRIERS TO CRITICAL THINKING – from my college course on Critical Thinking
Your 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!
Discovering 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
- reacting 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
In 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 lifelong 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.
A common 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.
Evaluating and embracing an idea,
information, knowledge, guideline, doctrine or theology is a mental
exercise and is 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
Egocentric 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
“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.
“IT’S TRUE 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.
“IT’S TRUE 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.
“IT’S TRUE 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.
Seriously reflect on this post!
 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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