Addressing these questions require some terms to be defined. Critical thinking refers to applying logic and reasoning to information to reach conclusions while creative thinking refers to coming up with original ideas or new ways of interpreting existing information. The generation of knowledge refers to any process which results in a knower or a discipline acquiring new knowledge.
Knowledge generation in the natural sciences
The interaction of creative and critical thinking which occurs in science can be seen in the Davisson-Germer experiment. In this experiment Davisson and Germer showed the wave nature of the electron, providing evidence for the de Broglie hypothesis, the idea that particles have wave-like properties . Creative thinking was used to design the experiment, as they had to create a new apparatus which would allow them to observe the diffraction of electrons. They used critical thinking to analyze the results. By applying reasoning to their observations, they were able to conclude that the electrons show a scattering pattern consistent with wave behavior. However, their data analysis also reflected creative thought. Their analysis utilized the Bragg formula, an equation which had previously only been used to predict the diffraction angle of X-rays. They were applying an existing equation in a new way, revealing how intertwined creative and critical thinking are in the natural sciences.
However, there are other cases in science where critical thinking is more important than creative thought. An example of this is Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin. This accidental discovery occurred as he was sorting through a number of petri dishes containing staphylococcus bacteria . He observed that one of them which had mold growing on it no longer contained bacteria. He therefore used reasoning to deduce that it was likely the mold that had inhibited the growth of the bacteria. This realization led to the discovery of penicillin. Fleming came to this conclusion by making observations with his sensory perception and using reasoning to explain them. This is therefore an example of how scientific knowledge can be generated through critical thinking without the involvement of creative thinking.
There are also cases where scientific knowledge is generated in the absence of both critical and creative thought. Many great scientific discoveries were merely observations. For instance, consider Hooke’s discovery of the cell. He first noticed cells in a thin slice of cork which he viewed under a microscope . His discovery did not require the use of reasoning or creativity, only sense perception.
Knowledge generation in the arts
The reliance of the arts on critical and creative thinking is illustrated by Claude Monnet’s painting, Impression, soleil levant. In this work Monnet portrayed a harbour at dawn. He accurately represented the experience he was trying to capture through his unique impressionist style. He used creative thinking to invent this style, as it was a new approach to painting. Monnet also used creative thinking to come up with the concept of the painting. In addition, he used critical thinking to decide what type of colour, lighting, and brush strokes would create the effect he desired. Therefore, a combination of critical and creative thinking is often used to generate knowledge in the arts.
However, some forms of art rely only on creative thinking. Interpretive dance is an example of this. The dancer does not use critical thinking. Instead they rely on their emotions and creativity to guide them through their performance. As the interpretive dancer, Nadia Hava-Robbins, said, “Interpretive dance translates particular feelings and emotions, human conditions, situations, or fantasies into movement and dramatic expression combined. Interpretive dance relies on creative movement and improvisation” .
In addition, it is sometimes possible to appreciate art without critical or creative thought. For instance, I am able to feel the terror that is depicted in Edvard Munch’s The Scream by simply seeing the painting. Similarly, I can be moved by the beauty of Dmitri Shostakovich’s seventh symphony by merely listening to it. In both cases neither critical nor creative thinking is required to generate knowledge.
Creative and critical thinking alone are not enough
In the arts, like the natural sciences, creative and critical thinking alone are not usually enough to generate knowledge. Emotions are often required in the creation of art. Many works of art are motivated expressions of the artist’s emotions. For example, consider Vincent van Gogh’s Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity). In this work he vividly portrays the emotions which he himself was feeling, sorrow and suffering. Furthermore, viewing any form of art requires the use of our sensory perception. Reading a novel requires sight, just as listening to music requires hearing. In summary, critical and creative thinking alone are not enough to produce knowledge in the natural sciences and the arts.