“Reality tunnels” and the need for critical thinking

We are living in a time of sensory overload; with multiple sources of information, news and data, it has become more important than ever for the average citizen to develop sharp critical thinking skills to filter through this content. This is especially relevant when diving into the realm of opinion pieces, social commentary and debates on polarizing issues, where veracity and intent become key to understanding the overarching themes and potential agendas involved.

Reality tunnels are a “subconscious set of mental filters formed from beliefs and experiences” that actively shape our view of the world around us. With recent global political events, it is clear that there are increasingly deepening divides between large populations in society, and an inability to point to a set of objective facts that form a widely-accepted social reality – a phenomenon that some have termed an epistemological crisis.

In the context of higher education, these concepts lead to a multitude of questions:

  • Should universities and colleges play an active role in bridging these divides?
  • How might critical thinking be assessed in the context of this increasingly polarized spectrum of ideas?
  • How might students that stand on opposing ideological grounds respectfully engage with one another in the same classroom environment?

These are complex issues to which I don’t have an immediate solution; my past experience (or ‘reality tunnel’ if you will) gives me the feeling that we need to create more opportunities for exposure to different people/places/ideas/narratives to broaden the tunnel and develop capacities for perspective sharing and consensus. Using the design thinking lens, I believe empathy is the first step to begin these conversations that can hopefully lead us to a common ground.

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