GUEST COMMENTARY: Critical thinking is necessary to handle our complex world

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:59 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 30, 2010

The world is complex. It is filled with ever-changing opportunities and disasters of unimagined magnitude. Some are natural; others are man-made.

Decision-makers in every context must be intelligent thinkers. The world is shrinking because of increasing population, communication, transportation and other technological advances. We are forced to address issues simultaneously at breakneck speeds, with consequences intended and unintended having far-reaching impacts.

There is a need to unify our thinking and efforts. Wars, natural disasters, economic and technological accidents are good examples of these challenges. Consider the impacts of recent wars, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act (which separated commercial banking from investment banking) and the computer chip. Add the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and we don't know what will follow.

Social, political, religious, entertainment and media advocates pull at our hearts, minds, pocketbooks and lives simultaneously. Information and values must be addressed simultaneously. We must systematically scan multimedia news input and research while taking into account personal experience to plot trends, develop scenarios and enlist expertise. From the data we receive, we must simulate behaviors while exploring possible results. We must understand the sources of influence on our thinking and decision-making. We can decline to consider these variables at our own peril.

We are armed with presumably inadequate resources for the task we must address. How can ordinary people weigh the multiple occurrences and act in their own best interest? Our leaders and experts appear to be limited in their ability to utilize the tools available. In earlier times, common sense enabled us to think through and handle the decisions before us with more confidence. Now, the gumbo of decision-making context that we face does not give us that confidence. It requires a new common sense.

Future generations will encounter an even greater degree of complexity. It is our responsibility to prepare them to address the contextual phenomena they will encounter.

To reach our full potential, we must rigorously and creatively maximize our thinking in this multidimensional and evolving world.

Dictionaries indicate that critical thinking involves determining the significance of what is observed or expressed concerning a given inference or argument while determining whether there is adequate data to accept a conclusion as true. While the definition appears complex, it should not be ignored. Critical thinking is not exotic. It is necessary.

We need to embrace the process of critical thinking now and forever.

Quote: "There is no slavery but ignorance. Liberty is the child of intelligence." — Robert G. Ingersoll

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus for MU.

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David Williams June 17, 2010 | 9:42 a.m.

I couldn't agree more. Being able to make a critical analysis of any information given to us versus rote memorization is what separates many people whether it be in the classroom or on the job. That has always been. But as Dr. Robertson states, the newer problem is the speed at which we must do this because of the ever shrinking gaps between the people of the world and also because of the information overload that technology gives us. Well written and something to keep in mind.

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