Critical and Creative Thinking in Biology

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Everyone has individual ideas and thought processes, but we are either a critical thinker, a creative thinker, or both. Critical thinking is objective and logical, while creative thinking is subjective and flexible. Critical thinkers stick to set rules and questions, but creative thinkers make up their own rules and questions that push boundaries. Using the WISE method from the article “Critical thinking and WISE” (n.d.), I was able to analyze the works of some of the greatest biologists in history. Using the questions and acronyms from this article, I was able to look at them from a different point of view and understand why they did what they did.

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Rule Follower or Breaker

I am very straight-forward and a rule follower. If I were to look at myself as another person, I would say that I appear to be a critical thinker on the outside. Although secretly, I can be a creative thinker on the inside. So much of my past experiences have been about facing a challenge and achieving a solution. I am a hard-worker and a problem-solver that looks for numerous ways to establish a change. I believe that I am motivated intrinsically, and I know I can accomplish what I set my mind to do. “Critical thinking must involve self-directed, self-monitored, self-disciplined, and particularly self-corrective thinking” (Benguria, n.d.).

I know that I am mostly a critical thinker by the way I first see a problem. I usually look for a guideline to help me find a solution, but if I do not have one, I will then try to fix it myself with new or old resources. An example of this is when I was younger and started to struggle in math, so I tried to resolve it by myself. I followed along in class, read my books, and did my homework- but the information was still not clicking in my brain. Instead I used a creative approach, and I thought of alternative methods to learn math. This resulted in my watching YouTube tutorials, asking my grandma for help, and even going into school an hour early for tutoring with my teacher. When my critical thinking did not prevail, I turned to creative thinking to find other methods that I did not realize at first. Although I did not know it then, I used WISE (Wonder, Investigate, Speculate, and Evaluate) to solve my problem, and I continue to use this method daily.

Father of Modern Genetics

Gregor Mendel, known as the ‘Father of Modern Genetics,” discovered the principles of heredity through growing pea plants and observing their changes. He started his journey to greatness at a young age as he was always one for problem-solving. His family could not afford to send him to college, but he went to the University of Olmutz and made money by tutoring his peers. He was a fighter, and although he was stricken with depression many times, he gathered himself together, stuck with his academics, and graduated in 1843 (Biography.com Editors, 2017). His father wanted him to take over the family farm, but instead, he began studying as a monk at the St. Thomas Monastery in Brno. The monastery showed him new styles of learning and teaching through research (Biography.com Editors).

Mendel observed and made notes on everything he did which is an important aspect of being a critical thinker. He studied his “existing space” by using resources from the library and other monks (Dittrich, 2019). In 1854, he explored how different traits were passed on in plants and generated new ideas; he focused on aspects that discriminated his project. Originally, it was thought that hybrids would turn back to their primary form, but these experiments were performed over short periods versus Mendel’s experiments which lasted eight years and showed different results (Biography.com Editors, 2017).

After analyzing the results in the pea plants, Mendel realized that there are dominant and recessive traits passed randomly from the parent plants to the offspring, known as the Law of Segregation. He also proposed the Law of Independent Assortment that states genes autonomously separate from one another when passed on to the offspring (Biography.com Editors).

Mendel persisted through various obstacles because he thought his way around them. He did not fall to the expectations of his family or peers; instead, he did make a new path for himself. Keeping his goal in mind and taking in fresh information along the way made him a great critical thinker. It took much hard work and self-discipline learned from his time in the monastery. He analyzed his studies and assessed previous work so that he could come up with the most accurate results- a crucial aspect of “Process Matters” (2019). He would have never succeeded in his work if he did not ask questions and inquire new possibilities in his field.

Father of Immunology

Edward Jenner, an English surgeon from Berkeley, was known as the Father of Immunology for discovering a vaccination for smallpox. He began his medical career as an apprentice for a surgeon at just thirteen years old! (King, 2017) He learned much about medicine, surgery, and nature during his eight years of practice (King). Following his apprenticeship, Jenner became a house pupil of John Hunter, one of the most prominent surgeons in London at that time. Hunter was an anatomist, biologist, and experimentalist, and together, they both were some of the greatest critical thinkers. Hunter taught Jenner the following: “Why think- why not try the experiment?” This is a fantastic example of how his mind worked because Jenner would rely on experimental investigations before settling on observation alone.

Jenner had his hands in almost everything; in addition to his apprenticeship, work experience, biology and anatomy interests, he was going into clinical surgery and joined two medical groups (King, 2017). According to King, Jenner wrote a few medical papers in the 1770s and made observations on nesting habits of cuckoo birds and their migration. His free time was occupied by playing the violin and writing music for the club. Jenner never let his mind stop, and he was constantly questioning what was already “known.” “Herbert Simon said, ‘Problem-solving involves not only the search for alternatives but the search for the problems themselves.’” (Dittrich, 2019).

Smallpox was exceedingly common and deadly in the eighteenth century. At first, the only form of fighting the disease was a vaccination called variolation, infecting a healthy person with the disease of a sickly person (King, 2017). This usually did not work and ended in further infection of others. After hearing about a person who had an illness called cowpox and could not get smallpox, Jenner had an idea. He concluded that having cowpox would prevent a person from contracting smallpox (King). His experiment with cowpox showed positive results as a form of prevention for smallpox. In 1798, Jenner published his findings in a book called An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae. His solution was unbelievable at first, but those who did believe him tried to steal his solution. He kept pushing his cure and eventually received worldwide recognition and honors. Following along with “Critical Thinking and WISE,” Jenner’s hypothesis turned into reality when he found the cure for smallpox and enabled the public to a healthier, longer life.

English to Biology

Rachel Carson, a marine biologist from America, was very creative and engaged with her surroundings as she was one of the first people to warn the world about environmental pollution. Initially, she intended to be a writer but changed her major from English to biology (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018). Her interest in writing shows how she continuously thought through information and explained her findings in a fascinating and succinct way. She graduated from John Hopkins University and then taught at the University of Maryland. Afterwards, she pursued postgraduate studies at the Marine Biological Laboratory in MA (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica).

Carson was an aquatic biologist with the US Bureau of Fisheries, and she was editor in chief for three years (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). She published books and articles recognized for their scientific accuracy, and her book The Sea Around Us was a national best seller, won a National Book Award, and was translated into thirty languages. Another one of her books, Silent Spring, was also a best seller and emphasized the danger of pollution in the environment (Lear, 2000). Her ease of explanation and writing empowered her to engage with a large audience and spread her ideas all over the world.

Carson said that too much pesticide use would overexpose humans and nature to chemicals. She not only asked questions about why humans thought they could control nature, but she provided scientific evidence and other solutions to the problems (Lear, 2000). She saw a problem and took on pollution with an unconventional perspective. According to the article ‘What is Creative Thinking,” Carson clearly illustrates each of the key parts of being a creative thinker (The Balance Careers, n.d.). She analyzed the world for what it was using a different perspective, and she was open-minded, intuitive in her problem-solving, organized, and expressive in her many books and articles.

Conclusion

In the field of biology, scientists must be able to think creatively and critically. I believe it is difficult to sort them as one or the other because it depends on one’s worldview. In my opinion, most of their contributions were thought through both critically and creatively. This is how most problems should be solved to be thoroughly evaluated. Each scientist above contributed greatly to their field by pursuing their inquiries, analyzing their questions, scrutinizing information, determining validity, and spreading their findings. Mendel, Jenner, and Carson are great role models in biology, and I aspire to be open to new evidence and use it to make the world better as they did.

References

  1. Benguria, K. (n.d.). Critical thinking and WISE. Retrieved from https://uk.instructure.com/courses/1953010/files/92169690?module_item_id=23866031
  2. Biography.com Editors. (2017, April 28). Gregor Mendel Biography. The Biography.com Website; A&E Television Networks. Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/scientist/gregor-mendel
  3. Dittrich, M. (2019). Process matters: 5 mindsets to structure your problem-solving process. Retrieved from https://uxdesign.cc/process-matters-5-mindsets-to-structure-yourproblem-solving-process-4f7ddc354461
  4. King, L. (2017). Edward Jenner | English surgeon. In Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Edward-Jenner
  5. Lear, L. (2000). The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson. Rachelcarson.org; Beacon Press. Retrieved from http://rachelcarson.org/
  6. The Balance Careers. (n.d.) What is Creative Thinking? Definition and Examples of Creative Thinking. Dotdash publishing. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/creative-thinking-definition-with-examples-2063744
  7. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (2018). Rachel Carson | American biologist. In Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rachel-Carson
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