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FYS 100 - York: Thinking Critically

Are you a critical thinker?

Green check markCritical Thinkers...

  • Are honest with themselves, acknowledging what they don’t know, recognizing their limitations, and being watchful of their own errors.
  • Base judgment on evidence rather than personal preferences, deferring judgement whenever evidence is insufficient.  They revise judgments when new evidence reveals error.

Red "x"Non-critical Thinkers...

  • Pretend they know more than they do, ignore their limitations, and assume their views are error-free.
  • Base judgments on first impressions and gut reactions.  They are unconcerned about the amount or quality of evidence and cling to their views steadfastly. 


Activity #1: Have you been fooled?

Ice Breaker  Q: Have you ever been fooled by something you saw on the internet?  Instructions: For the following activity, you will see an image that may or may not be altered.  For each image, study the content and the context to see if you can determine whether or not it is REAL.
This is an image of a locker room full of football players, labeled Seattle Seahawks locker room, January 2016. The player at the forefront of the photo is holding a burning flag, and the surrounding players appear to be joyfully on board with this act.
This is the unaltered and original version of the previous image, with the only change being that the main person is not holding anything. That photo was altered, this is the real version.  A Critical Thinker may have noticed: The first image was a bit blurry.  The players’ faces are not looking down (because there is no burning flag to look at).
This is a photo of a giant frying pan on a beach, labeled Sydney, Australia, 2014.
That photo was real, and this is another photo of the same thing.  A Critical Thinker may have noticed: While it may have seemed altered, the image was crisp and the shadows made sense.
This is Emma Gonzalez, one of the teens who became an outspoken gun control activist after 17 people were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (also referred to as the Parkland shooting). In this photo, Emma is ripping a large copy of the Declaration of Independence in two.
This is the original version of the previous photo, and it shows that Emma is actually ripping apart a target practice paper. It was altered to produce an entirely new and different meaning.   A Critical Thinker may have noticed: The previous photo is blurry, while shading and color changes are used to hide small differences in shadow and angles.
This is a photo of a smiling woman standing next to a very large soft-looking poofy animal with white fur, and the image is titled
This photo is the same one as the previous image, and it is real. This is Ida the English Angora and her owner Betty Chu. Betty is the owner of the only Angora rabbit that has ever won the Open Best in Show in the ARBA (American Rabbit Breeder Association) National Convention.   A Critical Thinker may have: Taken a moment to Google “World’s Fluffiest Bunny” in order to determine if there are credible sources attesting to the existence, such as this excerpt from an article website all about the Angora breed of rabbits:
This is a screenshot of a Tweet from Aug. 2017. It appears to be taken from a car window on a flooded highway, and depicts a shark swimming nearby in the floodwater. Above the image are the words
The image in the previous tweet was altered using a specific part of this photo, which is the real version.*  A Critical Thinker may have noticed: The depth of the water in the first image in relation to the concrete median. *This is the real photo. The image of the shark was initially captured by renowned National Geographic photographer Thomas P. Peschak off the coast of South Africa over 10 years ago, to capture images of white sharks in South Africa that would help depict the current scientific research.   The fake tweet was simply a joke, but quickly became viral as fact.
There are two kinds of bias.  First, Confirmation Bias:  “We see opinion with which we agree as fact and information with which we disagree as false.” (  “A key element of the battle between truth and propaganda has…to do with how people are much more likely to accept something if it confirms their beliefs.” (  Second, Inherent Bias: this happens when we are unaware of a bias we have, even towards things that don’t seem controversial or challenging to our beliefs.
Image of a brain with sparkling synapses, followed by the quote: “When we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.” - T.S. Eliot, The Perfect Critic, 1921.

Activity #2: How many truths can there really be?

A Thought Exercise

Is the below figure a six (6), or a nine (9)?

A number on its side that could either be a six or a nine

  • Some people may say it is both.
  • Some people may say it is impossible to know.
  • Some people may say it depends on where you're standing.
  • Others will say you can only know if there are numbers on either side.

Two separate images: in the first, there are two men standing on either side of a number. The number is a 6 from one man's perspective, and a 9 from the other man's perspective. Each man is saying, respectively, "6" and "9." In the second image, it is exactly the same, only instead of a number, it is an apple. One man is saying "good" and the other man is saying "bad." Below both images is the same quote: "Just because you are right, does not mean, I am wrong. You just haven't seen life from my side."

You may have seen the first image, on the left, either online or on social media. It is meant to highlight the importance of empathy and understanding; to remember that we see things differently, and to take time to understand why a person may think about something in a different way than we do.

The altered version of the image, on the right, is just another way to visualize it. Instead of a number, it is an apple, with two differing opinions of "good" and "bad." The first person may own an apple orchard, or bake really good apple pies, while the second person may be allergic to apples, or perhaps they wear braces preventing them from eating apples. 

In this instance, there are no facts to dispute, only differing personal viewpoints to understand. 

Two separate images: in the first, there are two men standing on either side of a number. The number is a 6 from one man's perspective, and a 9 from the other man's perspective. Each man is saying, respectively, "6" and "9." In the second image, it is exactly the same, only instead of a number, it is a cartoon image of planet Earth. One man is saying "Round" and the other man is saying "Flat." Below both images is the same quote: "Just because you are right, does not mean, I am wrong."

This version of the image is also something you may have seen online or on social media. Unfortunately, it is not a reminder to have empathy, but is instead a grim reminder of the way people express themselves in today's world. Because, in fact, one of these people is wrong. Someone painted a six or a nine for a specific reason.

So, these characters need to pause, they need to maybe back up a bit to orient themselves. They need to see if there are any other numbers to align it with, perhaps look for a driveway or a building to face. Maybe they can determine if there is someone around who actually knows why the number is there, and what it is or what it refers to. They could look at the history of the space where it is located and try to seek out authoritative sources on what it stands for or refers to, because in this instance, there is one right answer and one wrong answer. A good example is people who believe the Earth is flat.

In this instance, there is undisputable scientific and photographic evidence that the Earth is round, so one person is correct and one person is wrong. 

This is why we must think critically

This activity is a perfect example of the research process, because often, we have uninformed opinions about a topic that we are asked to research, and we automatically start out on one side of an issue (and sometimes, we may not even realize it).

But as we read and learn and view the scholarly information, we find that our original opinions are becoming more evolved, our analysis is changing, our ideas are more academic, and our opinions are becoming based on fact, rather than emotion.

This is how research is accomplished. This is how we think critically about the information with which we are presented.

It is true that sometimes, there are unanswered questions. But many things are final, they are resolved, and when we have uninformed opinions about things that we don't understand, we can not - we must not - claim that our opinion is equally as valid as the facts that have been researched, studied, proven, and solidified.