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Critical Thinking: Distinguishing Between Inert Information, Activate Ignorance, Activate !nowle ge It is im"ossi#le to reason without using some set of facts, ata, or e$"eriences as a constituent "art of one%s thinking& 'in ing trustworth( sources of information an refining one%s own e$"erience criticall( are im"ortant goals of critical thinkers& )e must #e vigilant a#out the sources of information we use& )e must #e anal(ticall( critical of the use we make of our own e$"erience& *$"erience ma( #e the #est teacher, #ut #iase e$"erience su""orts #ias, istorte e$"erience su""orts istortion, self+ elu e e$"erience su""orts self+ elusion& )e, therefore, must not think of our e$"erience as sacre in an( wa( #ut, instea , as one im"ortant imension of thought that must, like all others, #e criticall( anal(,e an assesse & The min can take in information in three istinctive wa(s: -./ #( internali,ing inert information, -0/ #( forming activate ignorance, an -1/ #( achieving activate knowle ge& Inert information& B( inert information, we mean taking into the min information that, though memori,e , we o not un erstan + es"ite the fact that we think we o& 'or e$am"le, man( "eo"le have taken in, uring their schooling, a lot of information a#out emocrac( that lea s them to #elieve the( un erstan the conce"t& 2ften, a goo "art of the information the( have internali,e consists of em"t( ver#al rituals in their min & 'or e$am"le, man( chil ren learn in school that 3 emocrac( is government of the "eo"le, #( the "eo"le, for the "eo"le&4 This catch( "hrase often sticks in their min & It lea s them to think the( un erstan what it means, though most of them o not translate it into an( "ractical criteria for assessing the e$tent to which emocrac( oes or oes not e$ist in an( given countr(& 5ost "eo"le, to #e e$"licit, coul not intelligi#l( answer an( of the following 6uestions: .& )hat is the ifference #etween a government of the "eo"le an a government for the "eo"le7 0& )hat is the ifference #etween a government for the "eo"le an a government #( the "eo"le7 1& )hat is the ifference #etween a government #( the "eo"le an a government of the "eo"le7 8& )hat e$actl( is meant #( 3the "eo"le74 To generali,e, stu ents often o not sufficientl( think a#out information the( memori,e in school sufficient to transform it into something meaningful in their min & 5uch human information is, in the min of the humans who "ossess it, merel( em"t( wor s -inert or ea in the min /& Critical thinkers tr( to clear the min of inert information #( recogni,ing it as such an transforming it, through anal(sis, into something meaningful& Activate ignorance& B( activate ignorance, we mean taking into the min , an activel( using, information that is false, though we mistakenl( think it to #e true& The "hiloso"her Rene Descartes came to confi entl( #elieve that animals have no actual feelings #ut are sim"l( ro#otic machines& Base on this activate ignorance, he "erforme "ainful e$"eriments on animals an inter"rete their cries of "ain as mere noises& 9ome "eo"le #elieve, through activate ignorance, that the( un erstan things, events, "eo"le, an situations that the( o not& The( act u"on their false i eas, illusions, an misconce"tions, often lea ing to nee less waste, "ain, an suffering& 9ometimes activate ignorance is the #asis for massive actions involving millions of "eo"le -think of the conse6uences of the :a,i i ea that ;ermans were the master race an <ews an inferior race/& 9ometimes it is an in ivi ual misconce"tion that is acte on onl( #( one "erson in a limite num#er of settings& )herever activate ignorance e$ists, it is angerous& It is essential, therefore, that we 6uestion our #eliefs, es"eciall( when acting u"on them has significant "otential im"lications for the harm, in=ur(, or suffering of others& It is reasona#le to su""ose that ever(one has some #eliefs that are, in fact, a form of activate ignorance& *liminating as man( such #eliefs as we can is a res"onsi#ilit( we all have& Consi er automo#ile rivers who are confi ent the( can rive safel( while the( are into$icate & Consi er the #elief that smoking oes not have an( significant negative health effects& It is not alwa(s eas( to i entif( what is an is not activate ignorance& The conce"t of activate ignorance is im"ortant regar less of whether we can etermine whether "articular information we come across is false or mislea ing& )hat we nee to kee" in min are clear+cut cases of activate ignorance so we have a clear i ea of it, an "ersonal vigilance with res"ect to the information we come across that is "otentiall( false& 5ost "eo"le who have acte harmfull( as a result of their activate ignorance have "ro#a#l( not reali,e that the( were the agent of the suffering of others& Ignorance treate as the truth is no trivial matter&

Activate knowle ge& B( activate knowle ge, we mean taking into the min , an activel( using, information that is not onl( true #ut that, when insightfull( un erstoo , lea s us #( im"lication to more an more knowle ge& Consi er the stu ( of histor(, for e$am"le& 5an( stu ents o no more than memori,e isolate statements in the histor( te$t#ook so as to "ass e$ams& 9ome of these statements+the ones the( on%t un erstan an coul not e$"lain+#ecome "art of the stu ents4 #atter( of inert information& 2ther statements+the ones the( misun erstan an wrongl( e$"lain+#ecome "art of the stu ents4 #atter( of activate ignorance& 5uch of the information, of course, is sim"l( forgotten shortl( after the e$am& )hat is im"ortantl( "owerful, from a critical thinking "ers"ective, is un erstan ing the logic of historical thinking as a wa( of un erstan ing the logic of histor(& )hen we un erstan histor( this wa(, our knowle ge is activate & It ena#les us to #uil on historical knowle ge #( thinking through "revious historical knowle ge& 'or e$am"le, we might #egin #( un erstan ing the #asic agen a of historical thinking: to construct a stor( or account of the "ast that ena#les us to #etter un erstan our "resent an make rational "lans for the future& 2nce we have this #asic knowle ge of the logic of histor(, we are riven to recogni,e that we alrea ( engage in historical thinking in our ail( life& )e #egin to see the connection #etween thinking within the su#=ect an thinking in ever( a( life situations& 'or e$am"le, as a result of this "rovisional characteri,ation of the logic of historical thinking, it is clear that all humans create our own stor( in the "rivac( of our min & )e use this stor( to make sense of our "resent, in the light of our conce"tion of our "ast, an make "lans for the future, given our un erstan ing of our "resent an "ast& 5ost of us o not think of ourselves as oing this, however& If we further reflect on our knowle ge of the logic of histor(, an think through some of its im"lications, we #ecome aware that there is a logical similarit(, for e$am"le, #etween historical thinking an or inar(, ever( a( 3gossi"&4 In gossi", we create a stor( a#out events in someone%s recent "ast an "ass on our stor( to others& If we reflect further on the logic of histor(, we also recogni,e that ever( issue of a ail( news"a"er is "ro uce #( a kin of thinking analogous to historical thinking& In #oth cases someone is constructing accounts of the "ast "resente as making sense of some set of events in time& 'urther reflection on the logic of histor( shoul lea us to ask ourselves 6uestions such as, 3In creating an account of some time "erio , a""ro$imatel( what "ercentage of what actuall( took "lace fin s its wa( into an( given historical account74 This shoul lea us to iscover that for an( given historical "erio , even one as short as a a(, countless events take "lace, with the im"lication that no historical account contains more than a tin( "ercentage of the total events within an( given historical "erio & This shoul lea us to iscover that historians must regularl( make value =u gments to eci e what to inclu e in, an what to e$clu e from, their accounts& >"on further reflection, it shoul #ecome a""arent to us that there are ifferent "ossi#le stories an accounts that highlight ifferent "atterns in the events themselves+for e$am"le, accounts that highlight 3high+level4 ecision+makers -great+"erson accounts/, in contrast to accounts that highlight ifferent social an economic classes -social an economic histories/& It then shoul #e a""arent to us that the s"ecific 6uestions that an( given historical thinker asks e"en on the s"ecific agen a or goal of that thinker& It also shoul #e a""arent that: ? the historical 6uestions aske are what etermine which ata or events are relevant@ ? one an the same event can #e illuminate #( ifferent conce"tuali,ations -for e$am"le, ifferent "olitical, social, an economic theories a#out "eo"le an social change/@ ? ifferent historians make ifferent assum"tions -each influencing the wa( the( "ut their 6uestions an the ata that seem most im"ortant to them/@ ? when a given historian i entifies with a given grou" of "eo"le an writes his or her histor(, it often highlights the "ositive characteristics of those "eo"le an the negative characteristics of those with whom the( are or were in conflict& It is in virtue of 3 iscoveries4 an insights such as these+which we must think through for ourselves to trul( gras" them as knowle ge+that our view of histor( is transforme & The( ena#le us to #egin to 3see through4 historical te$ts& The( lea us to value historical thinking, as its significance in ever( a( life #ecomes clear to us& The( make more an more trans"arent to us our histor(, our use of histor(, an the effect of our use of histor( on the worl an human welfare& Activate knowle ge, then, is knowle ge #orn of (namic seminal i eas that, when a""lie s(stematicall( to common e$"erience, ena#le us to infer, #( im"lication, further an further knowle ge& Activate knowle ge is "otential in ever( legitimate human isci"line& )e #egin with #asic information a#out the most #asic i eas an goals of a fiel & ;roun e in #asic conce"ts an first "rinci"les, we are a#le to e$"erience the "ower of thought, knowle ge, an e$"erience working in unison& A ha#it of stu (ing to learn to seek the logic of things is one of the most "owerful wa(s to #egin to iscover activate knowle ge& It is one of the most im"ortant ke(s to making lifelong learning an essential ingre ient in one%s life&

This article was a a"te from the #ook, Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Aour Bearning an Aour Bife #( Richar Caul an Bin a *l er&