Tuesday, August 21, 2012

To grow, we must examine

A letter from a professor chastising some of his Christian students, and a blog entry from Natalie Reed chastising some of her fellow atheists both remind us of the same thing:

It is important to be willing to consider other viewpoints.

Sometimes an opposing viewpoint is hard to read.  Sometimes the discomfort of cognitive dissonance causes us to shut new ideas out.  Sometimes we feel personally attacked.  Sometimes our assumptions just get the better of us.

I have struggled with all of these hurdles.  I think most of us have.  Kathryn Schulz gives a great TED talk on being wrong, and the challenges involved in even recognizing it.  One of her points is that, while we all know what it fees like to discover that we have been wrong about something (the horror!), the wrong opinions that we still hold feel exactly like being right.  No one is aware of being wrong in the present, because the moment you realize a view is wrong you cease to hold it.  We are only aware of being wrong in the past.  It's a universal problem with human thinking.

"...trusting too much in the feeling of being on the correct side of anything can be very dangerous.  This internal sense of rightness that we all experience so often is not a reliable guide to what is actually going on in the external world."

Statistically, we can be virtually guaranteed that not all of our beliefs are correct.  I don't know how to calculate that, but the odds against must be extraordinary.

Realizing this is a tremendously important part of skepticism, of critical thought.  It is not enough to pat ourselves on the back for the things we have (supposedly) gotten right.  I'm not satisfied that we are simply willing to change our opinions when presented with compelling evidence.  We can acknowledge that some of our beliefs must be wrong, and then endeavor to discover which ones.  I am wrong. I don't what about, but dammit, I'm wrong about something.

Listening to, and genuinely, generously, examining the viewpoints of others is an excellent way to discover some of our own wrongly held views.

p.s.  Her book, Being Wrong, is a joy to read.

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