Critical Thought v. Blind Skepticism

The Distinction, and Why it Matters

Adefoluke Shemsu
10 min readJan 9

Never before has the notion of “questioning everything” been so deeply embedded in our psyches to a point of fundamentally shifting our socioeconomic, political, religious, and scientific perspectives on reality as we know it. Since the inception of the internet and the voluminous access to new information, the lens of a black-and-white, dichotomous worldview has slowly become more fractured, even shattered, irreparably — for better and for worse.

The Better

This fracturing appeared at first to foreshadow a great awakening where humanity’s eyes were wider than ever, and where we felt more intimately engaged with and aware of the world beyond our immediate surroundings. This engagement also heightened our awareness of the world beyond our scope of truth and opened the door to more debunkings, addendums, and rightful revisions of human history.

The Worse

Too much of anything can come at a substantial cost, and that’s what occurred next — competition for our attention on an ever-growing, relatively flat, highly monetizable playing field. A field where CNN, a TikTok star, Alex Jones, our President, and a fitness influencer’s words carry similarly disproportionate weight in the minds of their respective audiences on the same topics.

The line between expertise, conjecture, and outright opinion began to blur, and logical fallacies and cognitive biases like hasty generalizations, survivorship bias, confirmation bias, “belief at first sight”, and “strawman” arguments were amplified as a shield behind which to say what you want — without slipping into defamation, misrepresentation, or libel — while continuing to benefit monetarily from the statement.

The Result

While this constant influx of information from an infinite number of sources — each deemed viable in its own right — is arguably demonstrative of free speech in action, the increasingly monitored and commoditized nature of communication and the dissemination of said communication has become a catalyst for fear and anxiety on many fronts. This has effectively taken us back to where we were before we had any of this — dichotomous, siloed, and black-and-white as ever.

In this new world, influencers, everyday folks, and world leaders alike can express their lack of confidence in an idea, a system, or a person with near-impunity. Provided the speech is not synonymous with hate or inciting violence, it is fair game. On its face, this is a good thing! Within the context of an ever-expanding internet, however, this has also exposed a major low-hanging fruit: We were not mentally or emotionally ready to receive or exchange information in this way.

Why Has it Transpired This Way?

It would be reductive to blame this issue on the group whose narrative doesn’t align with our own. It would also ignore a great deal of context to blame the government or legacy media corporations as if every single employee or managing partner intends ill will. Assuming that most people tend to operate from a simple perspective of wanting to be good or decent at something they do in order to support the life they want to live, I think the true subject of our blame could be the notion of innovation for innovation’s sake and profit for profit’s sake.

Others may call this greed, but I wouldn’t go as far as to surmise that all businesses at all times are driven by reckless ambition and profiteering. Rather, I believe that in an effort to make a thing (online communication and content creation) that didn’t necessarily need to be better, better, we over-perfected a system that adapted to what we want to see and hear faster than we could understand how to critically consume the information we’re constantly receiving.

As a result, we’ve plugged into an increasingly targeted and narrowed extension of our perceived collective (perceived because “collective” does not represent all people) consciousness; primarily via algorithm-driven marketing campaigns and content curated by our varied consumption data (what we buy, what we watch, what we engage with [“engage” meaning clicks, likes, dislikes, comments, bookmarks, shares], etc.).

This narrowed view can feel like an entire universe through our respective lenses, so we then jump to a conclusion that our view is the view — failing to understand that this view is merely one of many. Our digital lives and lenses for online consumption have arguably been shaped more than our physical lives are shaped by actual lived experiences. In real life, there is still room for interpretation and exception. In our buyer persona and customer profile-driven digital lives, those ambiguities are often removed in favor of what will drive you to engage with your curated world even more.

The issue with this arises when our universe of ideas, opinions, and selective facts bump up against others’ — each curated by their own sets of consumption data. This is where the visceral polarity around public discourse of any kind is born. In this world, there is only one right to the many wrongs, and we each always happen to be on the side of the right.

Any information that is presented outside of our curations is deemed fake news or conspiracy. Any pundits or people outside of our narrowed universe of whose thoughts are worthy of positive attention become pariahs or targets of our bottled frustrations. Worse yet, any actual people in our lives whose curated social marketing campaigns didn’t steer them in the same direction as our own may suddenly become devalued in our eyes, despite the fact that this individual may not have fundamentally changed who they are at all.

This combination of targeted marketing and over-utilization of logical fallacies then beckons us to question everything that doesn’t specifically align with whichever algorithmic pipeline we’ve aligned ourselves with — a largely detrimental practice. We’ve reached a place where it is either so challenging to know whether something is true or so viscerally frustrating to hear something that we think is antithetical to our personal truths that we are now in a net negative relationship with information as a whole.

Good or bad; fact or opinion — our psyches have become mired in cynical skepticism. The lack of discernment has become burdensome to our day-to-day and to our self/world concepts. We’re all familiar with the follies of blind faith, and I think the issue of widespread skepticism fueled by influxes of curated information can be categorized similarly. The question is, what is our alternative?

Is There a Solution?

Frankly, I don’t find an innate issue with curating one’s content and experiences. Social media and other vehicles for consumption aren’t a direct problem, per se, but I say that because I like to focus on what is directly within my control rather than rely on the goodwill of gargantuan systems and organizations to shift in my favor. These vehicles and mechanisms for communication can be very valuable when used conscientiously.

So, based on that perspective, the problem to tackle here is our collective lack of a healthy, critical perspective on the information we take in — the one skill that we can directly impact and that would have a net positive impact on our temperament, mental health, and worldview.

The Application of Critical Thought

The difference between critical thinking and blind skepticism can be defined by the difference between anxiety and assuredness. There is no decision matrix associated with blind skepticism, so it often becomes our default position when faced with new information that we cannot personally validate or that doesn’t align with our respective thought processes and co-cultural values or beliefs.

While it is an understandably easy position to adopt in an attempt to protect ourselves and our peace of mind in this age, we might find it more productive to learn how to pre-qualify what information we’ll choose to categorize as good, bad, truthful, or fictional. These pre-qualifications could be rooted in what we think and in considering whether this thinking is placating our egos or is acknowledging a multifaceted reality for what it is, rather than buying into what these varied ideas and projections are designed to make us feel.

This consideration enables us to live closer to a more objective, less stressful, potentially kinder reality — a grey zone full of inevitable ambiguity and uncertainty that is still supported and shaped by our unique experiences.

I’m aware that many people don’t like to live in the “middle”, as picking sides likely does better align us with our specific values, but that is the beauty of critical thought. It allows us to hold fast to our personal beliefs while thinking a little more conscientiously about those who differ — specifically when the information comes from a source beyond our direct social circle (social media, content platforms, digital media, word of mouth, etc.). It also enables us to actively engage information as we receive it rather than consume it passively, as passive consumption is what I believe can lead to more anxious or fearful feelings.

Critical thought often prioritizes questions over statements and seeks to understand rather than make bias-driven guesses. It can be just as protective as skepticism without the negative impact of failing to receive prudent information or feeling the need to totally close ourselves off from the world around us. Most importantly, however, it shifts our default perspectives from living in anxiety-ridden absolutes to understanding the unavoidable nature of living in the Information Age, and though that perspective certainly benefits others, it serves no greater purpose than to improve your ability to be your best self for you, which by proxy includes those who love you.

To get you started, here are questions that I typically go through when faced with varied information that might trigger more of a knee-jerk reaction. Many of these questions have become my go-to when I need to talk my ego off of a ledge:

“Why do I feel this way about this information? Is it the information itself, or the way it was presented?

“Why did they chose that title, photo, etc.? Is there more genuine value or engagement value in this content?”

“Is there a sales pitch hidden between the lines here? Does the speaker/writer seem like they’re acting in good faith, or are they attempting to steer my thinking?”

“Does what the speaker/writer is saying appear to skew away from or lean too heavily on statistics? They are trying to persuade me or are they presenting information as it is?”

“Could this data be interpreted or presented differently if different questions were asked? Does the speaker clearly state the method in which this data was collected?”

“Is it that I’m biased toward the person, or that my previous conception of what I’m hearing was so wrong that I don’t want to be wrong?”

“Does the fact that this statement is true or false impact my daily life in any way?”

“In what way will this person or piece of information influence my perspective on people?”

“Am I feeling this way as a defense mechanism? Is my subscious attempting to dehumanize this person so that I can justify abandoning reason?”

“In what way could my background be influencing the way I’m hearing what they’re saying?”

“Why am I watching this video right now? Am I watching it because I was scrolling and it was there? Is it relevant to anything I’m interested in or want to learn more about? How is it making me feel?”

“If I don’t like alarmist or inflammatory news, why am I engaging with it?”

“If I’m going to consume content or spend time online, is there a more productive way to do this?”

“Does my sitting here scrolling contribute in any way enliven my relationships, career exploration, education, hobbies, interests, or overall fulfillment in any way?”

Your questions and answers will be different, of course, but much like any other achievement in life: Repetition builds proficiency builds confidence. Keep it simple, and try to remind yourself whenever you start to feel like you’re about to waste any amount of time or energy on things that don’t actually concern or impact you.

The Impact of Critical Thought on My Relationship with the Internet

Despite the onslaught of information flooding my subconscious every day, I feel peaceful and intentional when it comes to my relationship with the things I consume and the devices I consume them on, no matter what I see or read. The results of this shift have been awesome for me thus far, so I wanted to share them.

I’m not detached, nor am I overinvested. I don’t blindly reject anything, but I don’t accept anything without reasonable consideration. I understand that some information might change overnight while other information might come out as outright falsehood. I understand that much of what I believe now will likely be revised, debunked, or defiled at no cost to me at some point. I understand that everyone is thinking about everything at all times and thus, present those things in many different ways online — none of which will likely be designed with me as an audience member in mind. I understand that it doesn’t make me better or worse to tell someone how wrong they are, nor does it improve my life to “stan” individuals with whom I have no personal relation or tie beyond my engagement with their product. Best of all, I understand that as the curator of this information, the more I engage with constructive information, the more I see productive things. The previous analogy to one’s lived experiences remains constant on the positive end of the spectrum as well, which can have an exponentially positive impact on our lives.

What I’ve found here is what I’d like to believe is a form of equilibrium. Rather than quit all things digital cold turkey, I decided to improve my relationship with it by thinking differently about it. I can only attribute this to the conscious filter through which I’ve set hard mental boundaries with technology and content consumption without limiting my ability to have fun with it or to benefit massively from the accessibility it enables, especially on the educational and professional fronts.

In Closing

I believe the answer to one of today’s most troubling issues — the issue of information fatigue and discerning misinformation — is relatively simple. There is no need for additional hacks, apps, or shortcuts of that nature. Rather, I believe this era demands the necessity to develop critical thinking as a definitive skillset — not a one-off, conceptual practice with applications in philosophy or another area of study at school. A hard, practical framework through which to engage this ever-growing universe of ideas.

Critical thinking is no longer a “nice-to-have”; is a paramount life skill to build upon. It appears to have gone massively unaddressed and is often only talked about within the context of knowledge-economy work or higher education, but I think it would benefit many more people (and society at large) if that narrative were to adapt to the era we’re currently living in, especially as technology continues to develop at unavoidably breakneck speeds. The common trope is that technology got smarter as we go dumber, but that’s an easy thing to say when we don’t prioritize the implementation of the mental tools required to keep up.



Adefoluke Shemsu

Just an inquisitive guy with a proclivity for asking questions that hopefully enable me to better attempt at reading between the lines.