*Thinking* is a faculty that is most developed in the human beings. There
can be various kinds of thinking. Thinking for accomplishing something is
the most common type of thinking. This thinking is rather utilitarian and
sometimes takes the greatness away from thinking and is better-called
planning. Then, there is thinking about almost anything, out of anxiety.
This is what is called *worrying.* *Most people spend their entire lives
switching between planning and worrying and some overdo it to such an
extent that they are unable to tell the difference. *However, both modes of
thought are in truth disgrace to the faculty of thinking.

There is another, rather popular, mode of thinking—*imagination**.* It is
also a different way of thinking, only more interesting and fanciful,
because it has the therapeutic effect of remedying whatever has gone wrong
in the individual and social life, albeit only in someone’s mind. Also,
imagination gives much hope to people caught up in the humongous pressure
of making a living. Even the wealthy have the stress of maintaining their
standard of living and much more stressful is the artificially created need
to maintain a good image among the others. It is in this context of a
maddeningly strained world that imagination comes as a rescue—imagination
through stories, written or performed. Recent worldwide increase in the
public interest in fantasy proves that imagination is seen more as an
essential escape route to get away from the binding realities of life, than
as a source of entertainment.

Apart from the above mentioned three ways of thinking, there is a mode of
thought that can only be truly called thinking, that of critical thinking.

Critical thinking has led to all the development of human civilisation as
we see it. When the legendary apple fell, it was critical thinking that led
to the discovery of the gravitational force. It was critical thinking that
led to a new discovery when some water spilt from the bathtub. More
recently, it was decades of critical thinking that led to the discovery of
gravitational waves. *Critical thinking requires that all observed data is
systematically analysed, evaluated, and conceptualised*.

Here, the process of thinking starts right from the process of observation
and so, the observation has to be as precise as possible and also such
observation should not be affected by any extraneous elements or phenomena.
For example, if a person is observing another person from a distance, the
observer’s culture and upbringing affect the manner in which the observed
person is seen. Most of the time, such an observation fails to be critical.
Only if the observer can free oneself from all preconceived notions and
other mental baggage will it be possible for the observer to make a
critical and unbiased observation.

*Reason* is the bedrock of critical thinking. Without a rationale or logic
to build upon, critical thinking is impossible. Any logical method tainted
by selfish interests ceases to be logical. Selfishness is the ultimate bias
of all logic. That is why we see that a carefully thought out structure of
anything is inexplicably destroyed because of some vested interest. For
instance, when an organisation has to buy some equipment, sometimes it is
seen that in spite of getting many quotes for the equipment, the order is
given to a firm based on some personal preferences. This destroys the very
foundation of critical thinking. Sometimes, people have ridiculously
irrational ideas or notions about some people, countries, or cultures
because of their perceptions that have never been critically analysed.

*The litmus test of critical thinking is that one should be able to
critically analyse oneself*. That is, the very observer critically analyses
oneself. The tendency to analyse the other is very common, but to analyse
oneself is a rare trait. This is where candour enters critical thinking.
Without being candid about oneself, particularly about one’s weaknesses and
failings, logic can be twisted to achieve practically anything that one
desires. The proverbial devil starts quoting the scriptures and in no time
something that is viscerally understood to be wrong gets the sanction of
logic! This is why unselfishness is very important in critical thinking.

*That brings us to a more important question*. Is it possible for people to
be unselfish? What would happen to critical thinking then? Yes, it is
difficult to become completely unselfish, particularly for a person, who
does not have any divine calling or does not live a spiritual life. And
therefore, it is equally difficult to practise critical thinking in its
true form. It is not surprising, therefore, to note that across the world,
the first attempts at philosophy or science, were made not in laboratories
or universities, but in monasteries; not by scientists or teachers, but by
monks dedicated to knowing the final truth about God and this universe. It
would not be entirely wrong to assume that *the unselfish lifestyle of
monastics led them to chart a path towards the unbiased analysis of
observed data*.

What we learn out of this discussion is that for being truly logical or
critical in one’s thought, one needs to be mercilessly candid about
oneself, or to put it in simpler terms, to be uncompromisingly truthful.
Most of those claiming to practise truthfulness are really critical only of
the others, and not of themselves. This is hypocrisy of the worst kind.
Critical thinking requires that each aspect of the data observed gets the
same kind of logical and systematic analysis. There cannot be a selective
analysis nor a hypothesis or notion that has to be proven, which would
obviously lead the data to be interpreted in a manner that supports the
hypothesis. That is why many scientific experiments start with great
enthusiasm but fail miserably because the initial enthusiasm was generated
by a wrong reading of the observed data.

Logical fallacies are one of the biggest hurdles in critical thinking. Just
as the Advaitin would call this entire universe as an illusion, there are
many ways of illusory thinking. For example, one of the major fallacies is
the failure to consider all the causes that lead to an event or phenomenon.
Then, there is the fallacy of mistaking correlation for causation. If an
event happens with another event, instead of considering it as a case of
correlation, many consider it to be the cause, thereby declaring that one
event is dependent upon another. Also, there may be many aspects of a
problem and that problem cannot be properly analysed without considering
all the aspects. However, we see in practice that many aspects of a problem
are simply ignored while trying to solve a problem.

One could conclude that without an unselfish nature and complete dedication
to the knowledge of the truth, it is impossible to have complete and
undiluted critical thinking. It can be said that true critical thinking is
possible only when one sees the reality of one’s own nature and also of the
manifested world, this universe.

*Author* is Editor of Prabuddha Bharata.

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