Friday, May 8, 2015

Challenge Your Beliefs

Pardon the painfully obvious title, but as obvious as it is, it's also far too rare.

I think one of the big, important markers about how you measure yourself has got to be how much time you spend giving serious due consideration to ideas that give you a knee-jerk reaction of "Oh, bullshit!"
Political, economic, moral, ethical, cultural, societal, scientific, whatever - You have to give these discomforting ideas their due consideration, or you're not being a good steward of your own intellectual fitness. You're letting your brain get away with less thinking than it needs to be healthy, and nobody's going to stop you. It has to be internal - nobody else can do this for you, nobody else can check your answers. Only you know your own thoughts, and only you know whether you're being hard enough on your preconceptions and ingrained beliefs... 
And if you don't come away from it exhausted and exhilarated and sometimes much more "sure" of your position than you were when you first thought you were sure - or, very often, much LESS sure, but with a level of certainty or uncertainty borne by much better reasons, then you're not trying hard enough.
And you have to. If you don't really interrogate the hell out of your closely held beliefs, how do you have any idea of their value?
It's like a tool you never use. It's a lovely gold filigreed enamel painted porcelain fire extinguisher. Will it work when you need it? Does it actually do anything at all? Well, I don't know. I've never actually -used- it. But, I like it. No, I love it! It comforts me. I just -feels- right, having it there on the wall. I feel safer just looking at it.
If you catch yourself glancing at an idea that conflicts with your own existing ideas and dismissing it with a "Nah, that's bullshit." you need to rein yourself in.
"Ah ha!"
Hear that...? Off in the shadows, somewhere, someone just spotted what they perceive as hypocrisy! "I've got you now!" they're saying, finger stabbing skyward, "I must have seen you dismiss some claim or idea you consider mumbo-jumbo or 'woo' a hundred times in the last year alone!"
Well, I did say "serious due consideration" - not "limitless non-critical consideration".
If today is the first time you ever hear of ghosts, and it sounds like bullshit that dead people can wander around and do and feel things, and you just say "Bullshit!" then you're being intellectually lazy. If, however, you hear someone talk about how their uncle's ghost keeps eating the yoghurt, and you've already done some pretty extensive consideration and study into ghosts in the past, all that's required is a quick check to make sure there's nothing actually meaningfully new or unusual about this claim.
Once you've worked out the math for 64*813, it'll probably be the same result for a very long time. You just need to make sure you don't automatically apply it when the question asked is "What's that number in the mid sixties times that other number just over eight hundred?"

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