How do we study smart thinking? - Thinking about thinking - Thinkers with attitude

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Thinking about thinking

The reasoning is something we already do: all of us have learned, in one way or another, to think and to reason, to make connections and see relationships between various events and attitudes in our world. So, being a smart thinker is not about becoming a different sort of person, but about improving skills that you already have. The way to achieve this goal (and the main emphasis within this book) is to become explicitly aware of the analytical processes involved in reasoning. If you do, then you will be able to analyze complex issues more deeply, understand and process information more effectively, and communicate your ideas convincingly.

In succeeding chapters, then, we will learn a way of talking and thinking about reasoning that allows us to understand and use reasoning better. In particular, we will learn about the 'analytical structure' of ideas, which is, essentially, the clearest expression of reasoning. However, we usually encounter such structures 'embedded' in the words we read and hear, or in so-called 'natural language'. We must learn to distinguish more effectively between the structures and the natural language through which it comes to us. We will also encounter the idea of 'analytical questions', which can guide the way we think about and develop the relationships that comprise our analytical structures.

 Thinkers with attitude

Remember, smart thinking always has a social dimension: we humans are doing the reasoning. As a result, one of the key ingredients of successful thinking and analysis, and of the effective use of reasoning, is our own attitude. For most (if not all) of us, our knowledge will usually consist of both the basic information or 'facts' we know, as well as a framework or structure of broader ideas with which we interpret these facts. Many of us are quite capable of assimilating and 'knowing' the facts, but smart thinkers constantly assess their structures and frameworks. In the process, they develop a much deeper and more effective appreciation of situations and events. Smart thinkers can be confident in their reasoning, precisely because they do not rely on too many unexamined or unquestioned assumptions.
First of all, we should always be willing to reflect on our own views and positions—to scrutinize the way we think about the world. We might ask ourselves, from time to time: 
  • Are my views consistent with one another? 
  • What assumptions underpin my views? 
  • Am I open to new ideas and alternative conclusions? 
  • Can I look at this issue from another perspective?
We should also be constantly asking ourselves, in relation to the issues that matter to us:
  • Why did this happen? 
  • What should we do next? 
  • What does it mean?
    As we will see, questioning is the key analytical skill that enables us to develop complex knowledge about the world in the form of structures of related ideas, so as to communicate with other people.
    It is not the answers to these questions that matter, but the very fact that we ask them of ourselves, the willingness not to 'take things for granted or to be satisfied with the 'obvious answer'. Indeed, a great failure of our society is that, by and large, we are people who believe that someone has the answer and all we have to do is develop a clever way of finding that answer. In fact, the key skill that you need, to be an effective and thoughtful adult who is able to engage with and understand the world, is not an ability to find the answers: it is the ability to ask the right questions. If you can ask the right questions, then most of the answers will come very easily. Moreover, you will also be able to determine why others do not necessarily accept your answers but have their own views. Questions are fundamental to reasoning. 

On a piece of paper, write down a key issue that you are dealing with at the moment—at work, perhaps an assignment, or something significant to you; don't choose a matter that is personal and emotional since these are often best analyzed in different ways. Then start to ask yourself, in your mind, questions that will help to analyze that issue. As you go, write them down on the page, review them, and add more questions. Try to ask questions that are prompted by the first questions you thought of, questions that 'connect' the dots between the issue and another question.