The Role of Analytical Thinking in Critical Thinking
In an earlier article, The Relationship of Critical Thinking to Other Modes of Thinking, I said:
The domain of Critical Thinking encompasses the use of other modes of thinking including: analytical, strategic, systems, emotional, and quantum thinking.
In this article I am focusing on Analytical Thinking and its importance in Critical Thinking.
Adjective descriptors of analytical thinking are: logical, factual, investigative, quantitative, systematic, detailed, defendable, proven, mathematical, sequential, deductive, and even dominant. I added the last one, dominant, because this is the common outcome expectation of analytical thinking … a dominant conclusion supported by overwhelming data. i.e. If this is so, then that is so.
To gather and analyze relevant data, analytical thinkers often use the following methods and techniques:
Measuring and Timelining
Listing of Data
Activities of Prioritization, Sequencing and Categorization
Use of Electronic Spreadsheets for Statistical Analysis of Data
Scatter Point Diagrams
Decision Tree Flowcharts
PERT and Gantt Charts
If you are a subscriber to left brain/right brain theory, then you would describe analytical thinking as a pursuit of left brained activities to gain understandings and reach conclusions about a given topic.
The outcomes of a sound analytically minded thinking process are crucial to the overall process of Critical Thinking. In fact, they are so foundational that some people argue that analytical thinking is the same as critical thinking and nothing else applies.
I do not dispute the importance of analytical thinking. In fact I say it's vital to other modes of thinking needed as part of a rich Critical Thinking method, Strategic Thinking is an example. Analytical thinking is just not synonymous with critical thinking.
Critical thinking is an open-minded process that investigates subjects from many perspectives. Whereas, analytical thinking - if left unchallenged - can result in closed-minded judgements. Judgements and decisions made because they are safe, conservative, and have a "we've always done it that way" theme to them.
The bottom-line, which is a phrase onto itself often used by analytical thinkers, is that the analytical mode of thinking is a mental process that relies on the use of logical, tried and true, approaches to uncovering the facts about a given situation. Through these proven methods of reasoning and judgement, the analytical method draws a logical and defendable conclusion about the contemplated subject matter. At least that's the intention… but there can be a fatal flaw in this logic.
What has formed your opinion of something being logical? Are you uncovering all the facts? Or, have your own personal beliefs, values, and bias influenced what you are, and are not, logically investigating? In other words, is your personal view of right and wrong defining the scope of your mental investigation? Is your judgement clouded by an outcome vision that you already have in your mind? Are you only looking for data that reinforces your forgone conclusions?
In Critical Thinking, uncovering the true facts using analytical methods is important. We must not ignore facts and we must take an unbiased approach to finding them. We do this by recognizing that perceptions, ours and others, are realities… perceived realities of the facts and logical conclusions drawn from them.
If you are skeptical about the existence of simultaneous multiple realities, consider the following:
Up until the 20th century there was a debate by scholars that the property of light, provided by the Sun, was either a particle or a wave frequency. It had either physical mass or it did not. There were recognizable names in both camps including Isaac Newton and René Descartes. Depending on which group of experts you listened to, you would learn their view of the facts.
The debate was somewhat resolved in the late 17th century with mathematical formulas developed by Christiaan Huygens and later refined by Augustin-Jean Fresnel in the early 19th century. The Huygens-Fresnel principle successfully reproduced light's wave frequency behavior, which proved the wave frequency theory of light and became the dominate view on the facts of light.
In the early 20th century Albert Einstein's work in Quantum Physics led him to re-open the debate. He proved once again that light was a wave frequency. However, he also proved with certainty that light was a particle. Simultaneously there exists multiple realities and this is now known as the concept of Wave-Particle Duality. Here is what Einstein wrote about it:
"It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do."
What Einstein’s experiments showed us was that we can define multiple realities based on the measurement methods we use to investigate facts and truths about any given situation, which begs the Critical Thinking question…