A few days ago, we lost one of the luminaries of the modern world – Stephen Hawking. For me, and a lot of my friends, he did a lot more than bring us to Science as a really interesting subject. He showed us the need for critical thinking, in all things, not just science.
We’d always been a bit intellectual, having gone through the grammar school system, and then entered the working world through apprenticeships, where we all ended up working in the same telephone exchange in the middle of Manchester.
We regularly argued the imponderables, such as ‘Free Will or Determinism’, or the ‘Theory of Relativity’ – we’d argue for hours over whether time travel was possible. And we took great delight in causing arguments at work.
For instance, me and my mate Steve would walk through the telephone exchange and one of us would make a totally ridiculous statement – “Of course, you realise that black is white,” to which the other would reply, “Don’t be stupid, we all know that white is black.”
We’d then stand and argue between ourselves over whether black is white, or white is black. Eventually, and inevitably, someone else in the exchange would chip in with, “He’s right, you know,” and then someone else would argue with him – “Don’t be stupid … ” At this point, we’d won and we’d walk off and leave them to it. It never failed.
On another occasion, we’d stand outside, looking up at the top of the building. Not a word was said, just three or four of us, looking up. Occasionally, one of us would point, and the rest of us would say things like, “Oh yeah.”
Eventually, a few people would stop and look up, trying to see what we were looking at and, as soon as half a dozen were looking, we’d go back inside and watch them from the upper floors. On one occasion, a crowd of over 50 people gathered, and we heard comments like –
“What are we looking at?”
“Apparently, there’s someone up there, and he’s going to jump.”
Whoever he was, he never did jump … and that brings me to the point of this little article – critical thinking. Whatever you’re doing, weigh up the angles, and then make your own mind up instead of being led by the crowd.