- Ask questions. This means both showing the intellectual curiosity to seek out new information and the willingness to challenge the ideas and explanations that are offered by others.
- Define the problem. Often, questions are not sufficiently narrowed to make them answerable. Psychologist and parapsychologists cannot answer the big questions (e.g., “Is ESP real?”) unless they have first posed more specific testable qquestions (e.g., “Can the Ganzfeld effect be demonstrated under controlled conditions and replicated by other researchers working in a different laboratory?”).
- Examine the evidence. Critical thinking requires evidence and a careful examination of the quality of that evidence. Individual testimonials are less reliable and less convincing than more objectively gathered information (e.g., “Healing crystals work for me” versus a double-blind experimental study of the the effectiveness of healing crystals).
- Analyze biases and assumptions. This means examining the prejudices and strongly held beliefs that might alter one’s evaluations of the facts and acknowledging that we are just as susceptible to this kind of bias as those with whom we disagree.
- Avoid emotional reasoning. Strongly held beliefs are not valid just because they are supported by deep emotion, and much of psychological rese
arch suggests our intuition and “gut reactions” can be extremely fallible.
- Do not oversimplify. Simple answers are attractive, but they are often wrong. Human behavior, for example, is usually controlled by a number of variables, and any attempt to explain it by reference to only one or two factors usually obscures rather than reveals the truth.
- Consider other interpretations. True critical thinkers actively seek and evaluate alternative explanations for the events at hand. This principle is particularly important for the assessment of paranormal phenomena because natural, non-magical explanations are often inadequately explored.
- Tolerate uncertainty. When we have insufficient information to offer a reasonable explanation for some event, there is a strong temptation to fill the void with a speculative theory. We may not know the source of every light in the sky, but the absence of a natural explanation does not make a supernatural one more likely. Nonetheless, it is often difficult simply to say, “We don’t know,” Living with ambiguous or uncertain circumstances is an uncomfortable proposition for many people, and an important challenge for critical thinkers.