Critical thinking has roots in the teachings of Socrates more than 2,500 years ago. The Foundation for Critical Thinking points out that Socrates established the importance of seeking evidence, questioning assumptions and examining reasoning. If we fast-forward to Renaissance Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries, we see European scholars beginning to examine critically the nature of religious belief, art, law and freedom. If critical thinking has an opposite, that might perhaps be creative thinking.
The Value of Thinking Critically
When Socrates placed value on what he termed the "examined life," he meant our human capacity to reflect on our experience is one of our most valuable tools and what gives our lives meaning. There are many ways to define critical thinking, but perhaps at its most basic it is the process of thoughtfully considering, analyzing and questioning the information we receive -- from all sources, including other people, books, newspapers, television and the Internet. Adult education consultant Phil Rabinowitz defines the goals of critical thinking as separating truth from what is false, considering the contexts of issues and getting at the underlying assumptions beneath information.
The Creative Thinking Contrast
Creative thinking, by contrast, is about accessing and implementing ideas. Where critical thinking involves developing our judgment skills, creative thinking usually involves suspending judgment. Writer and educator Robert Harris describes creative thinking as a process of "exploring ideas, generating possibilities, looking for many right answers rather than just one." Harris points out that creativity is often an attitude as much as an ability -- it involves receptivity to newness and change and the willingness to become playful with ideas and the possibilities. Yet, it is also a process in the sense that creative people tend to work diligently and with great focus on solutions.
Strategies for Developing Critical Thinking Skills
Rabinowitz suggests a number of strategies for developing one's critical faculties, including making a conscious effort to consider the values, experience and culture that are likely the sources of underlying assumptions in the thinking and writing of sources. He points out that a critical thinker also needs to ask some basic questions about information from newspapers and television, for example. These include thoughtful consideration of the biases, purposes and interests of the source. Asking ourselves about the logical consistency and the accuracy of the information presented is also very key. In other words, do the arguments or reasons presented actually prove what they suggest they are proving?
Strategies for Developing Creative Thinking
Jonah Lehrer, creativity guru and author of the 2012 bestseller "Imagine: How Creativity Works," suggests a number of quick triggers for accessing one's creativity, including daydreaming more often and seeking out laughter and humor more frequently. Harris encourages ignoring negative thoughts, such as "I'm not really creative," and overcoming fear of failure. Replace these attitudes with what Harris terms "constructive discontent," meaning a strong interest in solutions. Also important to bring to the creative process are the beliefs that most problems have solutions and that problems can be intriguing challenges. Both creative and critical thinking are essential to solving problems and to planning and crafting a meaningful life.