Saturday, June 06, 2009

Critical Thinking Part 1

I was fortunate to have several excellent lecturers at university. Best of these was Doctor Pat Terry, now a Professor, who taught me Applied Maths for two years. He's the extremely young looking doctor in my graduation photo opposite.

Applied Maths was a tough subject. Pat Terry made it entertaining. For example, when discussing vectors, he told us about a drunk student whose wobbly progress home one evening followed a particular formula. Did the student make it home unscathed, we were asked to calculate.

Equally important, Pat Terry taught us how to think critically. We needed to make sure we understood the question being discussed, how to break it down into sub problems and then make sure these fitted together. We shouldn't take things at face value but rather ask "Is that true?", "What does it mean?" and "How can we prove or disprove it?"

I am not sure Pat taught this deliberately. It was the way he thought and, being a great teacher, he made sure he passed on good techniques. It's made an enormous difference to my life: I'm sure the same is true of thousands of others he taught.

Thirty years later I thought I'd take the opportunity to say "Thank you, Prof."

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