I’ve always thought, as you probably do, that people should think for themselves and that it’s fairly easy. You just put aside what other people are saying, examine the evidence firsthand and refrain from believing the assertions of others unless they match the evidence.
Just about everyone thinks they can think for themselves, and doesn’t feel they need to learn how.
While any individual issue may be complex and difficult, the act of thinking for ourselves ITSELF is not that hard for most of us.
But I got a rude awakening recently.
I recently met several young adults who had broken away from an entire lifetime of insular, ultra-fundamentalist religious upbringing, where they were not allowed to think for themselves. They were even told what shoe to put on first in the morning! They emerged, most in their 20’s, with a third grade education, unequipped to function in this society.
Who were they to question thousands of years of thinking, the rituals that would keep disasters from happening, their wise elders who had spent a lifetime studying the holy books, and their peers who all agreed that there is only one right way of thinking? Well, they did.
As I listened to the stories of these people, it became clear that their greatest act of courage was thinking for themselves when they had been told all their lives that it was a sin to question and deviate in the slightest way from their way of life.
Courageous, yes. But bravery only got them so far. Then they ran smack into reality. The needed skills. Particularly additional thinking skills beyond the skeptical questioning that liberated them. Thinking often throws one into a world of uncertainty that can be quite uncomfortable.. They now had a wide-open world of possibilities, with no way to predict the future, no way to sort it out easily, no easy answers.
Conversely, someone once said that the conclusion is where the thinking stopped.
What they needed most was guidance in how to think for themselves, how to think through the issues that were gnawing at them. Both the broad issues of forming their own belief system, and the immediate issues about how they would feed themselves.
As I thought about the challenges that they face in learning how to think for themselves, I realized that it is not self-evident how to think independently; that everyone, myself included, could use a review and some new tips in this area and that I had a lot to contribute from my thinking about thinking for so many decades.
- How come the more I think, the more questions and uncertainty I have? What is certainty and uncertainty, the role of dogma in reducing uncertainty; alternatives that don’t drive you crazy with too much data and possibility.
- What is thinking and what are the different kinds of thinking? How do you choose which kind of thinking to engage in for any given issue?
- What are the most fruitful kinds of questions and what kinds of questions inevitably lead to dead ends?
- How do you make a decision that has to be made now, when you don’t have enough data and can’t predict the future?
- How do you think about an area that you are unfamiliar with? (There is a way to became an almost “instant expert.”)
- When everyone disagrees, how do you sort it out?
- When everyone agrees, how do you think for yourself and avoid getting roped into agreeing with prevailing nonsense?
- Who am I to disagree with people who are more educated, or more expert in a particular area?
- What’s an appropriate level of skepticism? (Did you know that both extreme skeptics and gullible people easily become victims of frauds? NEITHER has developed the skills of rational evaluation!)
- What’s the difference between the different kinds of analytical and creative thinking and how do they complement each other?
- The simple trick to understanding anything.
- The 7 steps followed by the greatest genius and independent mind who ever lived.
So, these are only some of the issues involved with thinking for oneself.
I think that thinking is worth thinking about. More to follow.
In the meantime, I suggest that you think about your thinking. You are obviously highly skilled in some areas or you wouldn’t be reading this! What areas do you want to improve? Make a list. I’d like to hear what they are, so that I can address them. I’ll make a list, too. Let’s compare.
There is NOTHING more leveraged than improving one’s thinking. Every great thinker that I’ve studied thought a lot about thinking. I don’t think that it’s intelligence only that makes geniuses geniuses. I think that it’s thinking for themselves and not following conventional “wisdom.”