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Lexical Investigations: Critical Thinking

The Thinker, Rodin, Critical Thinking, John DeweyThough the phrase critical thinking wasn’t coined until the early twentieth century, its principles can be traced back to Aristotle. The educator and psychologist John Dewey first used the phrase in its modern sense in his 1910 book How We Think, though there are instances of the words appearing together in texts before this time. Dewey defined critical thinking as “reflective thought,” requiring healthy skepticism, an open mind, and suspended judgment. Critical thinking is active, in contrast to passive acceptance of the ideas of others. Different criteria and tests used to determine whether or not critical thinking is taking place have been put forth by different educators. Robert Ennis’s popular definition from 1989 also states that, “critical thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do,” adding an emphasis on the resulting action. Critical thinking has been a reoccurring fad in education for over a hundred years, and in 1997, Michael Scriven, an educator who served as president of both the American Educational Research Association and the American Evaluation Association, declared it an “academic competency,” similar to reading and writing.

Relevant Quotations:

“The essence of critical thinking is suspended judgment; and the essence of this suspense is inquiry to determine the nature of the problem before proceeding to attempts at its solution. This, more than any other thing, transforms mere inference into tested inference, suggested conclusions into proof.”

—John Dewey, How We Think (1910)

“Critical thinking, as the term is generally used these days, roughly means reasonable and reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do. 2 In doing such thinking, one is helped by the employment of a set of critical thinking dispositions and abilities that I shall outline, and that can serve as a set of comprehensive goals for a critical thinking curriculum and its assessment. Pedagogical and psychometric usefulness, not elegance or mutual exclusiveness, is the purpose of this outline. It could be used for an overall critical thinking curriculum outline, or as a comprehensive table of specifications for critical thinking assessment.”

—Robert H. Ennis, “An Outline of Goals for a Critical Thinking Curriculum and Its Assessment” (2002)

Read our previous post about the word bomb.
A motley combination of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Germanic dialects, the English language (more or less as we know it) coalesced between the 9th and 13th centuries. Since then, it has continued to import and borrow words and expressions from around the world, and the meanings have mutated. (Awesome and awful once meant nearly the same thing.) Some specimens in the English vocabulary have followed unusually circuitous routes to their place in the contemporary lexicon, and this series, Lexical Investigations, unpacks those words hiding in our midst.

35 Comments

  1. L.imran -  April 9, 2014 - 3:22 pm

    Some times when i’m sitting down something comes from inside me to force me think that anything we can achived in life when thoughts becomes my thinking it shows me a path and my utter believes start taking me to my goal you know why my faith my passion will power will take me there i put my heart in it one day one day that is my beieve.

    Reply
  2. legato -  August 12, 2013 - 5:46 pm

    religion suppresses thinking. it makes us accept things taken in the account of faith. and they use the bible to justify this, taking verses that are “tailored” to push their agenda. it’s like believing that a poisoned maid can come back to life with the kiss of a handsome young prince just because a preacher told you it is written (Snow White and the seven dwarfs 36:14).

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  3. legato -  August 12, 2013 - 5:26 pm

    i’m not at par w/ all you smart people out here so i need you to tell me if i’m a critical thinker or not.
    we studied the bible in school. who is to know that those are really written words of God? isn’t it true that these are stories taken from different places written by different people who claimed themselves to be important at one point or another? the Catholic Church then collected these books, compiled them and picked which stories or works will be included in the final book. i have learned that there are some books that were not included for one reason or another; sort of like the way Aesop had a collection of fables and the Grimm Brothers had fairy tales. and then religions preached them by taking verses that are convenient for them; justifying and fortifying their religious beliefs through the verses that are suitable.
    now, come to think of it, why hasn’t the bible explained other planets, other galaxies and the possibility of alien life? while it’s true that alien life hasn’t been proven yet, it also true that God, or someone, created not just our planet but other planets and galaxies as well. and the bible doesn’t tell you that or even attempt to explain things that are out of our world, reason being those people who wrote those stories haven’t experienced other worlds yet. and so i think that the bible is merely a collection of stories written by people and collected by people to be told to other people and just like fables and fairy tales, are fictitious and figments of the imagination.
    i’m not an atheist. I do believe in a higher power, a greater being that created all that we see, in our world and outside. but by golly, whoever created all of these sure wasted a lot of space if there are no other beings in other planets or galaxies.

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  4. luvmonkey -  July 17, 2013 - 5:26 pm

    Why not just go with the flow? Critical thinking sounds so haaaaaard! Just let go and let others make your decisions for you. Drift along, piggy-backing off the opinions of others, regardless of whether the things you believe in are in direct contradiction of each other. Who cares? You don’t have to explain yourself to anybody.
    Also, make sure to post long rants on your social media network of choice and be sure to misspell lots of words and disregard grammar. That makes you sound really busy! Busy people don’t have time to spell check.

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  5. T. R. Ollface -  July 3, 2013 - 8:11 am

    @Smarter Than You

    Yep, it’s amazing how critical thinking abilities come to a screeching halt when it comes to apologizing for religion; it’d be pretty sad if it wasn’t also so entertaining.

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  6. Gil P -  July 1, 2013 - 1:52 pm

    Beth O,

    Here is an easy way to tell if you’re thinking critically or not: Take a group you agree with and one you disagree with and then see if you feel the same about them if you flip things around. Example: George Bush authorized warrantless wiretaps. How did you feel? Barak Obama authorized warrantless wiretaps. Do you feel the same way? George Bush authorized gun running across the border. How did you feel? Barak Obama authorized gun running across the border. Do you feel the same way? If you wore a “Question Authority” t-shirt during the last administration, are you still wearing that t-shirt?

    If you come to the same conclusion on each issue no matter who is in control, then you’re a critical thinker.

    Reply
  7. Smarter Than You -  June 30, 2013 - 2:54 pm

    This thread is proof that even idiots believe they think critically. Good job.

    Reply
  8. Vicki K -  June 30, 2013 - 11:25 am

    Critical thinking is a skill that is essential to good communication. How can you give an appropriate, tactful response if you don’t truly consider the question? Critical thinking skills are taught or learned. Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization that exists in over 120 countries around the world. Toastmasters International is a friendly, safe and inexpensive learning environment where everyone gains better communication skills (thinking, listening and speaking) in a self-paced setting.
    Check it out at http://www.toastmasters.org

    Reply
  9. Anna -  June 30, 2013 - 11:14 am

    To my limited understanding regarding this sensible topic is very simple:
    Reasonable thinking is more clearly emphasize it without emotion. Unfortunately we are driven by emotions most of the time or always. That is why so many different opinions. Thank you for allowing me to comment

    Reply
  10. William Heath -  June 30, 2013 - 7:49 am

    A lack of critical thinking is at the base of our problems. Political correctness totally ignores critically thinking, trying to make up for past injustices.

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  11. patrick -  June 30, 2013 - 6:17 am

    I passively accept the ideas put forth by others in this article.

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  12. Michael Thomas Angelo -  June 29, 2013 - 8:36 pm

    I went to a progressive Catholic high school in Seattle, graduating in 1992. I was part of an advanced Integrated Social Sciences and Humanities class my senior year called Block for short because it took up two class periods, a block of time. The class was taught at college level and students had the option to purchase the credits towards their degrees in whatever university they planned to attend. The backbone of the class was rooted in this concept of critical thinking. We read texts such as Pedagogy of the Oppressed and sat in small groups called Seminar to analyze what we had read. It wasn’t until later in my education and of course, through my adult life that I have really begun to value the importance of and luck in having been exposed that class. Most people I come across in life have no clue how to think critically. I have always valued my ability to do so but never knew it was a buzz word. I am grateful that I question schools of thought, even long entrenched ways of thinking that have survived generations without being questioned. For example, most Christians believe that Mary Magdalene was a fallen whore but when I thought critically about that and researched it, I discovered that was a life started by a Pope to revise history to suit his purposes. It’s amazing what you can learn when you don’t accept everything as fact the first time you read it.

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  13. Mark -  June 29, 2013 - 8:16 pm

    Critical thinking leads to the foundational understanding of multiple possibilities.

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  14. Madelaine -  June 29, 2013 - 3:05 pm

    To comment on the controversy about the lack of critical thinking in this country: To address, bureaucracy is ritualistic in order to achieve social order in an organization. The problem would not be conservative Christians. That is a breach because it is categorizing all Christians. I am a Christian who is 3rd party/feminist. Not all are conservative. Next, most people in congress who have ideas are shot down because it goes against the social norm of agreeing with the person in charge. Then, in schools, I understand their concern of education undermining religion. Many cultures, groups, and religions feel as such. As long as proper education is implemented, exclusion is not practiced, and free will is not hindered, then we are doing no harm.

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  15. James Macdonald -  June 29, 2013 - 2:32 pm

    What does the word iterant mean when coined with ‘taken to the road’ after shell shock during the first world war and made a living sketching in the Highlands of Scotland – maybe that is the meaning but need some clarification for peace of mind.

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  16. Jude -  June 29, 2013 - 3:12 am

    Critical thinking, like any other “academic model” is just “coining” what already exists. I have always thought critically but never knew that was what it was called until I studied abroad. In all, I feel (almost) everybody thinks critically but never know they do and the name just causes controversy as to whether they are doing it right

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  17. chun hon -  June 29, 2013 - 1:48 am

    i hateit

    Reply
  18. tuan -  June 28, 2013 - 10:49 pm

    in reading some of these comments, i get the impression that many react to beth O with didactic impulse in vain attempts to showcase their ‘sophisticated thought processes’… i don’t see where beth assumed that far right = christianity? or that lack of thinking is an exclusive problem to the political right?

    what she is saying is that critical thinking is invaluable and yet it is being suppressed because of its threat of undermining religion. then she goes on to lament how rare it is to find in others. that’s it folks..

    .. but even after her views have been misconstrued, we then go on to hear religion has no conflict with reason and that reason itself can be dogmatic…. -_-

    Reply
  19. Matthew -  June 28, 2013 - 2:56 am

    “Critical thinking” has always been supported by the Catholic Church. The Church gave us today’s university system.

    Reply
  20. Varenya -  June 28, 2013 - 1:30 am

    Can’t you use simple english which a class 6th student easily understands .ihad to read it twice

    Reply
  21. Atticus -  June 27, 2013 - 7:12 pm

    ((I tried posting this comment last night, but it may still be in moderation since it had a link in it. I had originally posted this under the name Noen N. Particular [referred to by my first comment].))

    @ Beth O.
    I agree that a lack of critical thinking is at the center of all the intolerance happening in this country today (the whole world, really, but most noticeably here in America). In fact, just think of the fact that people want to ban any discussion or criticism of Evolution from the classroom(1). If they were truly so sure about Evolution (the unobserved conjecture that all things living came from a common ancestor in the distant past; as opposed to evolution: the observed fact that organisms can change within their kinds to adapt to their environment), they should welcome the chance to demonstrate critical thinking by logically evaluating the strong and weak points of both views, thus revealing which view has greater rational justification for the things we take for granted (laws of logic, absolute morality, etc.). But no, they want to remove anything that could get in the way of the Evolutionist worldview.
    I take it the “far right” in Texas you’re talking about is the “2012 Republican Party of Texas: Report of Platform Committee and Rules Committee: Educating Our Children—Knowledge-Based Education (Pg 12)?” If so, there are two ways to take that: 1) they don’t understand the nature of critical thinking, for correctly applied critical thinking will lead to the conclusion that Christianity is a rational, consistent worldview that can account for all the necessary criteria for knowledge to be possible(2), whereas Evolution cannot account for laws of logic or laws of physics (such cannot be justified in a chance universe), absolute morality (if we’re all animals, why should we treat others with respect and dignity?), or other things we take for granted; or 2) they oppose the use of terms like “critical thinking” for programs whose main goal is to “challenge… beliefs and undermine parental authority.” If the second, then I agree with their protection of parental authority, but not so much the students’ fixed beliefs, since if one holds an erroneous, irrational view, that view needs to be challenged by real critical thinking to see if it holds up to logical scrutiny.
    Reactionary bigotry (James 3:6-8), racism (Acts 17:26), sexism and classism (Galatians 3:28) are all wrong according to the Bible, and are only caused by unbiblical reasons; however, in an evolutionary worldview where there is no such thing as moral absolutes, who’s to say such things are wrong? Those who have no reason for what they believe and just “go by their emotions” are also exercising unbiblical practices (Isaiah 1:18; 1 Peter 3:15), but in an evolutionary worldview where emotions and logical thoughts are both simply chemical reactions in the brain, who’s to say which chemical reaction is better than another in any given situation?

    (1) Google search: “White house petitions ban-creationism-and-intelligent-design pNY6mCBg”
    (2) Rational: we have a reason for believing it (we believe God cannot lie [Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18], so everything written in the Word of God is true; if God can lie, or God does not exist, no other worldview or religion can, within itself, rationally account for such things we take for granted, so the God of the Bible must be true); consistent (there are no contradictions in the Bible; any perceived contradictions are caused by reading out of context, twisting the words to fit a predetermined conclusion, or a misunderstanding of the term “contradiction”); and provides for the preconditions of intelligibility (laws of logic are unchangeable, invariable laws—a reflection of the thoughts of God, who doesn’t change [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17]; absolute morality [Exodus 20:1-17; Isaiah 6:3]; and uniformity of nature / laws of physics [Genesis 8:22; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3]).

    Reply
  22. Archon -  June 27, 2013 - 2:48 pm

    @ Pat
    “Anecdotal examples”?? Unless you’re writing of poisoned thinking?

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  23. Antonio A. -  June 27, 2013 - 2:27 pm

    Beth O. Critical thinking in these presentation never states to be “anything” nor can be seen or read. Critical thinking is truthful, healthy thought, healthy skepticism,reasonable, clear, rational and open-minded. A political point of view in your anger is equating a faith so dear to this nation with a political party. Would you call a group of students a bunch of thieves simply because one of them is the one who stole something from you? I hope not ! “Critical thinking” in my opinion involves values and ethics.

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  24. Ben -  June 27, 2013 - 1:22 pm

    BETH O. “Reactionary bigotry, racism, sexism and classism can be refuted through reasoned discussions using rational thinking and critical and analytical thinking skills”

    Don’t forget that rational thinking comes with it’s own drawbacks too, and sometimes at a cost. Remember to be critical of your own thought: the tools you use to undermine one thought system are still tools, less we risk replacing one dogma with another.

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  25. Pat -  June 27, 2013 - 11:05 am

    Beth: I hear your frustration, but you are doing the same thing you are so frustrated about. You correctly identify the profound lack of critical thinking in this country. I think that is a fair observation, but you fail to recognize that this lack of critical thinking afflicts BOTH the political left and right and those in between. It is a pandemic problem that probably does not limit itself only to politics. Certain Sara is correct in her observation that jumping to label conservative anything as Christian is a profound breach of the very critical thinking we are discussing. Christianity has nothing to fear from critical thinking at all. In fact, it would likely benefit from it. Everyone can point out antidotal examples of thoughtless comments, as you have ably done, but this in itself is not critical thinking. We all would do well to exercise more critical thinking within ourselves to all sides of the equation. The world would likely be a better place and we would find that the left and the right are actually not that far apart on many things.

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  26. Sara -  June 27, 2013 - 9:37 am

    Beth, I hear your frustration with those on the “far right” who are not, in your perception, thinking critically about why they stand so strongly and many times harshly in their position. Unfortunately, many times in media and widespread opinion, these “far right” or conservative political positions are immediately linked to Christianity. Conservative political opinions do not equal Christianity. Yes, there are several foundational beliefs and values that Christians hold that lead to conservative views on life and stewardship, but please do not make the mistake of assuming conservative = Christian OR that Christian = conservative. Thanks :)

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  27. Dave -  June 27, 2013 - 8:28 am

    We seem to be accepting critical thinking uncritically. My ex always said I was being too critical….could that have been the problem?

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  28. aisha -  June 27, 2013 - 12:59 am

    thanx for make us understand through learning different word

    Reply
  29. Atticus -  June 26, 2013 - 8:52 pm

    ((Noen N. Particular was previously entered in the “Name” field, and I didn’t remove it for the last comment… so Atticus is my actual name))

    Also @ Beth O., and/or anyone else willing to read,
    By your discussion of what you believe is right or wrong, I gather you probably agree that you have, on occasion, done or thought something wrong (I too have done wrong). That’s to be expected, though, “for there is none righteous: no, not one… for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:10, 23). Because we have all done wrong, “the wages of [our] sin is death…” (“but the fearful, and unbelieving… and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire… which is the second death”) (Rom 6:23; Rev 21:8). We are all in a hopeless position: sinners, condemned to eternity in hell, and no works of our own can redeem us from this fate and get us into heaven (Ephesians 2:8-9); BUT, “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever shall believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “God [proved] his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8); Jesus was God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14), and lived the only perfect life, and so was the perfect sacrifice for all our sins (Heb 9:23-28). All you have to do to be saved is 1) believe that Jesus came, died for your sins, and rose again the third day; 2) ask God to forgive you of your sins and repent (turn from sin to God); and 3) call on the name of the Lord, that he would come into your life (Rom 10:9-13). To do that, simply pray something to this effect: “Lord God, I admit that I’m a sinner condemned to hell, and no works of my own will get me to heaven. I believe that you sent your Son on this world to die for my sins, and He rose from the grave the third day, proving He has conquered death and sin. I ask you to forgive me of my sins, and I repent of them now. Please come into my life, save me from sin, and bring me into your family. In Jesus’ name: amen.” Whoever reads this and says the prayer doesn’t have to post a reply saying they did, but I encourage you to find a good, Bible-believing church that can tell you more about this, and continue to read the Bible, for it’s truth alone can make logical sense of the universe.

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  30. Noen N. Particular -  June 26, 2013 - 8:49 pm

    @ Beth O.
    I agree that a lack of critical thinking is at the center of all the intolerance happening in this country today (the whole world, really, but most noticeably here in America). In fact, just think of the fact that people want to ban any discussion or criticism of Evolution from the classroom(1). If they were truly so sure about Evolution (the unobserved conjecture that all things living came from a common ancestor in the distant past; as opposed to evolution: the observed fact that organisms can change within their kinds to adapt to their environment), they should welcome the chance to demonstrate critical thinking by logically evaluating the strong and weak points of both views, thus revealing which view has greater rational justification for the things we take for granted (laws of logic, absolute morality, etc.). But no, they want to remove anything that could get in the way of the Evolutionist worldview.
    I take it the “far right” in Texas you’re talking about is the “2012 Republican Party of Texas: Report of Platform Committee and Rules Committee: Educating Our Children—Knowledge-Based Education (Pg 12)?” If so, there are two ways to take that: 1) they don’t understand the nature of critical thinking, for correctly applied critical thinking will lead to the conclusion that Christianity is a rational, consistent worldview that can account for all the necessary criteria for knowledge to be possible(2), whereas Evolution cannot account for laws of logic or laws of physics (such cannot be justified in a chance universe), absolute morality (if we’re all animals, why should we treat others with respect and dignity?), or other things we take for granted; or 2) they oppose the use of terms like “critical thinking” for programs whose main goal is to “challenge… beliefs and undermine parental authority.” If the second, then I agree with their protection of parental authority, but not so much the students’ fixed beliefs, since if one holds an erroneous, irrational view, that view needs to be challenged by real critical thinking to see if it holds up to logical scrutiny.
    Reactionary bigotry (James 3:6-8), racism (Acts 17:26), sexism and classism (Galatians 3:28) are all wrong according to the Bible, and are only caused by unbiblical reasons; however, in an evolutionary worldview where there is no such thing as moral absolutes, who’s to say such things are wrong? Likewise, those who have no reason for what they believe and just “go by their emotions” are also exercising unbiblical practices (Isaiah 1:18; 1 Peter 3:15), but in an evolutionary worldview where emotions and logical thoughts are both simply chemical reactions in the brain, who’s to say that one chemical reaction is better than another in any given situation?

    (1) https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/ban-creationism-and-intelligent-design-science-classroom-federal-law/pNY6mCBg
    (2) Rational: we have a reason for believing it (we believe God cannot lie [Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18], so everything written in the Word of God is true; if God can lie, or God does not exist, no other worldview or religion can, within itself, rationally account for such things we take for granted, so the God of the Bible who doesn’t lie must be true); consistent (there are no contradictions in the Bible; any perceived contradictions are caused by reading out of context, twisting the words to fit a predetermined conclusion, or a misunderstanding of the term “contradiction”); and provides for the preconditions of intelligibility (laws of logic are unchangeable, invariable laws—a reflection of the thoughts of God, who doesn’t change [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17]; absolute morality [Exodus 20:1-17; Isaiah 6:3]; and uniformity of nature / laws of physics [Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3]).

    Reply
  31. MarkC -  June 26, 2013 - 4:45 pm

    It seems that BethO might employ some critical thinking of her own. Plenty of hasty judgement in her tirade!

    Reply
  32. Eddie Blanton -  June 26, 2013 - 6:16 am

    Thanks for the insight.

    Reply
  33. John -  June 26, 2013 - 4:19 am

    Critical thinking should be the cornerstone on which humans engage the world and universe. The value of the previous statement is that a critical thinking approach can promote informed judgement in every area of thought on the bases of valid fact and ascertainable theory. I like to think of critical thinking as functional, or practical philosophy.

    Reply
  34. Hunter -  June 25, 2013 - 5:21 pm

    I never knew…

    Reply
  35. Beth O. -  June 25, 2013 - 10:36 am

    I love seeing ANYTHING about critical thinking. The lack of critical thinking skills is at the essential center of what is happening in this country these days. The Super Christian far right in Texas, and elsewhere, want to abolish critical thinking skills in the public schools because those skills “undermine religion”. Duh. Reactionary bigotry, racism, sexism and classism can be refuted through reasoned discussions using rational thinking and critical and analytical thinking skills but I have found it nearly impossible (one exception) in all my personal friends and Facebook “friends” to find anyone on the far right who can utilize these vital thinking and reasoning skills. Most don’t even know what you’re referring to when you mention them. My own cousin proudly told me that she didn’t have to give any reasons for her (far right and hateful) political positions because she had “always made decisions from her emotions” and found nothing at all wrong with continuing to do so. Meanwhile, her “emotions” (read unexamined prejudices and bigotries) propel her into bad decision making in all areas of her life. I would love to see MORE attention paid to this topic. Good job.

    Reply

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