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Colin Gyles | Balancing critical and logical thinking

Published:Sunday | February 23, 2020 | 12:21 AMColin Gyles - Contributor

There has been, in recent times, a strong effort to encourage critical thinking among students. It is considered that critical thinking is an important aspect of training people to think so that they can be more productive and positive in their contribution to society and in achieving development goals.

Another aspect of training people to think that should not be overlooked and that should not be taken as one and the same as critical thinking is logical thinking. In considering critical and logical thinking, it should be recognised that productivity, innovation, and sustainability require a balance between critical and logical thinking.

Critical thinking questions the norms based on the outliers. It encourages people to look more deeply at the things that may be taken as given and oftentimes identifies gaps that exist in a seemingly well-ordered picture or flow of activities.

Critical-thinking skills are required to carry out an inspection process effectively or to properly manage quality, assurance functions. It is the critical-thinking skills that enable persons to identify the proverbial ‘fly in the ointment’ that spoils the fragrance. To be exclusively critical, however, may result in an otherwise well-ordered pattern being invalidated because of the outliers or seeming inconsistencies.

Logical thinking, on the other hand, establishes and maintains order based on the ability of the logical thinker to observe trends, make connections, and follow patterns or the natural flow. It sees new possibilities based on the trends and sees space within the established order that can accommodate additional or modified elements, leading to innovation.

Shortage of innovators

Whereas critical thinking makes for good inspectors who can identify the problem, logical thinking makes for good innovators who make connections and see possibilities for solutions to the problem. There is no shortage of inspectors, generally, as evidenced by the constant identification of problems, but there is a woeful shortage of innovators, as evidenced by the plethora of unresolved problems. To be exclusively logical, however, may lead one to ignore the outliers and seeming misfits, thus missing opportunities for improving or changing the status quo.

In a logical and orderly environment, even children can see the outliers, and hence, such an environment provides for the development of critical-thinking skills. But where there is disorderly thinking and inconsistency, there is confusion.

Undesirable elements readily find shelter in confusion. It is then that more advanced critical-thinking skills are required to identify and separate the elements that do not belong. Alternatively, efforts can be made to re-establish order, based on those elements that are certain, so that the elements that do not belong may be easily identified and removed.

Logical and critical thinking are not unrelated to even social values of fairness and consistency that we would seek to develop in our children and to practise as adults. But the enabling framework must be built on logical thinking.

Mathematics and music

Two of the main disciplines that help to train the mind to think logically are mathematics and music – one in the realm of science and the other in the realm of the arts. Mathematics is based on the ordering of numbers while music is based on the ordering of sounds (notes).

Classical music is very orderly and is known to enhance logical-thinking capabilities. Other music forms, including reggae and country music, that have consistent rhythms and that are very orderly should have similar effects. But disorderly music will sound like noise and will not help.

Basic mathematics can be easily learnt from the use of visuals – from the simple counting of your fingers and the ordering of sticks to the more complex use of shapes and graphs.

A square, for example (which can be seen even by looking at tiles on the floor), will have eight equally sized squares around it to form a block of nine squares, three in each row and three in each column.

Other configurations could be four squares consisting of two in each row and two in each column or 16 squares consisting of four in each row and four in each column, among others. A square split in half gives two triangles or two rectangles depending on whether you split it from corner to corner or from one side to the opposite side.

A circle will have six equally sized circles around it and touching it to form an array of seven circles. So, using squares, circles, or your 10 fingers (which are just three of many possible visuals), you can calculate (or count) multiples of any digit from one to 10.

Visuals also enable you to form a straight line. You may bear in mind also that a curve is simply made up of many straight lines. The logical-thinking skills that mathematics provides trains the mind not only to see ahead, based on trends, but also to see around corners, once you are able to see roughly or determine accurately the formula for the curve.

Logical thinking and order

Nature and society are built on order. It is, therefore, imperative that people be trained to appreciate order. This requires the development of logical-thinking capabilities. The idea of being disruptive is associated with certain major changes to the status quo that have created new technologies and business ideas.

These are exceptional and should be appreciated. However, not everything that is disruptive is beneficial. In the main, it is the predictability of the sun rising and setting every day, and other similar natural and established cycles, that allow for planning and development.

While there is merit in identifying and sometimes accommodating exceptions, it is often more beneficial to have a clear sense of the most feasible norm to establish and go by. The outlier should not be made to invalidate an otherwise good rule. It should be recognised that there are different routes (or methods) to arrive at the same destination and sometimes, a landmark that is a misfit along one route (or using a particular method) perfectly fits along another route (or using another method).

But a sense of order and clarity as to the route being taken will show which elements do not fit along this route but may be useful elsewhere. It requires vigilance to maintain order because it is very easy for one element that does not fit, but may be good elsewhere, to be introduced, and the order becomes unclear, other misfits are introduced and confusion is created.

In the realm of humanity, imperfections exist to varying degrees. Not every imperfection is significant as to invalidate the whole. What might appear to be inconsistent at the micro level may be perfectly consistent on a larger scale. Therefore, in any critical analysis, levels of significance must be considered. Mathematics teaches that as well.

Innovative skills

Good innovative skills require both logical and critical thinking. It takes logical thinking to put up a building, laying brick on top of brick, but it takes critical thinking to inspect it.

If there are more inspectors than builders, after a time, there won’t be anything to inspect. There must be more builders than inspectors. Builders often have less to say than inspectors by the very nature of what they do since a building, when it is finished, usually speaks for itself and for the builder.

Balancing critical and logical thinking requires that we strive to be logical while strengthening our progress towards perfect consistency by addressing the outliers observed from critical analysis.

- Professor Colin Gyles is a scientist and deputy president at University of Technology, Jamaica.