While I was growing up in India and going to school, math and science were my favorite subjects. I found that they just seemed so logical and came more naturally to me. I was probably also biased at that time, as both my parents were science graduates. Science was woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. As I grew older my love and passion for science increased and I went on to follow a research career in Physics. It was not until I started teaching as a physics faculty at Waubonsee Community College in 2013 that I began to appreciate how well my scientific attitude and critical thinking had helped me achieve all that I have in my life. I realized, at that time, my responsibility to bring that scientific thinking into the lives of my students.
Scientific thinking is not just the exclusive domain of scientists, research, or education – it is something beneficial to all of us. I firmly believe that inculcating the scientific thought process in our lives can go a long way for all of us as a society. I am sure many of you will concur with me that the year 2020 has been a testament to how having a scientific approach can change our lives.
We all face problems in our everyday life, which might have consequential effects on many aspects of not only our lives, but the lives of others close to us. Life serves us tough questions and choices all the time. How we think about them, and respond to them, can greatly affect our lives. So, what exactly is scientific thinking? Scientific thinking entails gathering all known information and analyzing it to predict the outcome. It is commonly believed that scientific thinking differs from the reasoning tools that we use every day — that scientists are always thinking of equations and using them as a lens through which they view the world. The fact is, many aspects of scientific thinking are just extensions of the way many of us think every day. The scientific method offers us a structure and provides us with the steps that scientists may take to solve problems and to research or discover new things. But it’s not just for scientists.
To use the scientific method in your life, clearly frame the question you are facing in your mind. You likely have a gut feeling about the issue at hand. But going with your gut instincts is not always going to be the best approach. It would be prudent to gather as much information as you can. That would mean doing all the research you can and learn as much as you can about all the possible options, outcomes, and how they relate to your specific situation. In some cases, you would want an expert’s opinion. It would mean learning the pros and cons of the available options and carefully weighing the best evidence you can accumulate. Be ready to revise or abandon previously held beliefs in the light of new evidence. Beware though, don’t believe everything you see or read without questioning it. Expose your mind to a variety of information and most importantly, the opposing perspectives around the topic. Then analyze the information you have gathered to make your decision.
I once read this quote by Christopher Hitchens, which resonated with me, “The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.”
Waubonsee Community College, as an institution, recognizes that these traits of critical thinking are important for all of us and not just our students in science courses. The college has thus adopted critical thinking as one of the college learning outcomes for all our students. Together we strive to make a difference in the lives of our students and our community.