The inner courtyard of cognition

Sudeep Ghosh

‘You see but you do not observe’.

I will define Critical Thinking (CT) as ‘Pather Panchali’ (song of the road) after the title of the novel by the well-acclaimed Bangla novelist, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. Why? CT is a life-long journey with ideas – contested, churned, created. It is a pathless path to put metaphorically. The more we learn, the more we (un)learn. This paradox apart, CT is like fiddling with the frayed end of your ideas till you hit a brainwave. As a facilitator, you catch on to that idea in your classroom discussion, further the search and the ideas grow with a steady drizzle of claims, counterclaims and after-thoughts. Practically speaking, CT is a problem-solving tool, the key to unlocking ideas – fresh, invigorating, pristine. This article proposes an inter-disciplinary take on the nature and value of critical thinking.

To think critically is like decoding a detective novel and savouring each moment of deciphering where the beauty and value of what looks intriguing through implied meaning and allusive associations are unravelled; however, what is revealed can be further revisited to discover the yet-not revealed. It demands keen observation, an eye for detail to tease out meanings with radiant alacrity or sometimes with painstaking slowness till you are ignited. It is worth a search, nonetheless. A critical thinker is often assailed with self-doubt like someone lost in intrusive thought: ‘Who knows what I want to do? Who knows what anyone wants to do? How can you be sure about something like that? Isn’t it all a question of brain chemistry, signals going back and forth, electrical energy in the cortex? How do you know whether something is really what you want to do or just some kind of nerve impulse in the brain?’ However, what appears to be intractable can be accessed through a conventional model. Nickerson’s set of attributes defining a critical thinker is worth applying for before a class activity is initiated. CT, to me, is the only antidote to the malady of social networks turning learners into the ‘Dumbest Generation’.

Inter-disciplinary activity
The class examines Stephen Hawking’s recent caveat: “The genie is out of the bottle. I fear that AI may replace humans altogether.” How would you map the thought process of your learners? Unpack the claim into a pattern: the first statement evokes the power of visualization; the second examines the validity of assumptions. Though creating a pattern fosters clarity, let us not forget the gap between seeing and words proffered by Magritte, the Surrealist painter. In this context, the facilitator can focus on the central thesis and do the following inter-disciplinary activity to understand what is observed, hypothesized, challenged, measured, corroborated, repeated and formulated lending to a pluralistic understanding of how knowledge is acquired through the interaction of science, arts, technology and media.

Central thesis: Imagination is imperative in the production of knowledge.
Give the stimuli below to different groups. They, as different professional cohorts, present their arguments cogently around the central thesis by exploring contexts, concepts, methods, evidence, impacts and implications. The facilitator can provide ‘clues’ to prod them into thinking.

The author is TOK Coordinator & teaches English at The Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad. He can be reached at

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