A major function of critical thinking is it gives us the ability to solve problems. Regardless of our vocation or profession, we are presented daily with a host of decisions and problems to solve. Some psychologists define a problem as a gap or barrier between where an individual is and where they wish to be. In other words, a problem is the space between point A and B. Problems then essentially consist of the initial state and a goal state. All possible solution paths leading to the goal state are located in the problem space.
Much of critical thinking is about how to connect the two points in a problem. However, sometimes critical thinkers are presented with inconsistencies or what scientists call cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance can appear through a discrepancy between attitude and beliefs. Inconsistencies can also be called variances or dissimilarities. It is a natural tendency to want to eliminate inconsistencies when solving a problem. The best way critical thinkers can identify inconsistencies is by using their logic and objectivity to see variances. Identifying inconsistencies would fall under the first stage of problem solving in which we are familiarizing ourselves with the subject.
Trust Your Instincts
“Trust your instincts” falls under the second stage of problem solving, and you should now start to see solution paths. Instincts are defined as a natural intuitive power. Intuition or instincts are key pieces in problem solving. When coupled with trial and error, informed guesses, and brainstorming, intuition and instincts can lead to a highly creative process. Many scientific discoveries and inventions were made because the innovator followed their instincts. Think of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison, for instance.
Asking why is equally important in problem solving. It is not sufficient to be simply presented with the information or data. Critical thinkers must always be willing to dig deeper and explore various possibilities. Asking why can fall under any of the three stages of problem solving.
Evaluate the Solution(s)
Once a possible solution has been derived, problem solvers may feel they can proceed with the solution. However, they should not overlook the all-important step of evaluating all possible solutions. Sometimes, one problem has more than one solution and taking the time to evaluate the efficacy of each alternative is a critical thinking skill. Evaluation is also called judgment, and this is the third stage of problem solving. The critical thinker should evaluate each alternative and judge which one is the best.
This post is from Octobers’s topic on Critical Thinking.