You’re smart. You’re liberal. You’re well informed. You think conservatives are narrow-minded. You can’t understand why working-class Americans vote Republican.
We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided. The funniest and most painful illustrations are Haidt’s transcripts of interviews about bizarre scenarios. Is it wrong to have sex with a dead chicken? How about with your sister? Is it O.K. to defecate in a urinal? If your dog dies, why not eat it? Under interrogation, most subjects in psychology experiments agree these things are wrong. But none can explain why.
The problem isn’t that people don’t reason. They do reason. But their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours. Reason doesn’t work like a judge or teacher, impartially weighing evidence or guiding us to wisdom. It works more like a lawyer or press secretary, justifying our acts and judgments to others. Haidt shows, for example, how subjects relentlessly marshal arguments for the incest taboo, no matter how thoroughly an interrogator demolishes these arguments.
To explain this persistence, Haidt invokes an evolutionary hypothesis: We compete for social status, and the key advantage in this struggle is the ability to influence others. Reason, in this view, evolved to help us spin, not to help us learn. So if you want to change people’s minds, Haidt concludes, don’t appeal to their reason. Appeal to reason’s boss: the underlying moral intuitions whose conclusions reason defends.
By KARL W. GIBERSON and RANDALL J. STEPHENS | nytimes.com
The Republican presidential field has become a showcase of evangelical anti-intellectualism. Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann deny that climate change is real and caused by humans. Mr. Perry and Mrs. Bachmann dismiss evolution as an unproven theory. The two candidates who espouse the greatest support for science, Mitt Romney and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., happen to be Mormons, a faith regarded with mistrust by many Christians.
The rejection of science seems to be part of a politically monolithic red-state fundamentalism, textbook evidence of an unyielding ignorance on the part of the religious. As one fundamentalist slogan puts it, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” But evangelical Christianity need not be defined by the simplistic theology, cultural isolationism and stubborn anti-intellectualism that most of the Republican candidates have embraced.
— Thomas Jefferson
I identify myself as a free thinker above anything else, but what exactly does that mean, to be a “free thinker”?
At it’s most basic, free though is defined as a philosophical viewpoint that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, without the influence of authority, tradition, or dogma.
So what does that mean?
That means basing opinions on truth, and where do we find truth? In evidence and logic, not in faith, superstitions, traditions, religions or authority.
Truth is truth simply because it is, and we can find truths in evidence. As small children we were natural scientists, we explored our world though touch, taste, smell, we tested our boundaries, pull a cat’s tail, and we may be scratched, touch something hot, and we got burnt. There was a natural curiosity about our environment, and how that environment affected us.
In being a free thinker, you use this natural curiosity to form your opinions about the world and people around you based on the same formula of finding evidence.
Evidence isn’t someone or something telling you that something is “the way it is” - nor is it forming your opinions based on conjecture or speculation, truth isn’t a belief or an opinion that you have a “right” to just because you hold strong convictions.
Truths are continually tested, I’ve seen people who reject science claim, “Well, those scientists are always changing their minds, they’re not consistent, why can’t they make their mind up.” - this is because science is based on truths and evidence, even theoretical science uses math to prove it’s truths, and science will admit when new evidence emerges that perhaps old thinking was wrong about a particular subject. This is why I get aggravated when I read a new study and see comments like “well, that was obvious” or “you didn’t have to tell us that, it’s common sense.” - but science must continue testing it’s self, to build evidence, to build truths on top of other truths to strengthen it’s positions.
The reason I mention science here, is that this is the way free thinking works as well, independent from outside influences, we must continually test the concepts we hold, looking for new truths to reinforce the truths we already hold, cross-referencing, looking at multiple sources from multiple angles and constantly receiving new information.
You must keep your mind open to new ideas, but always to keep in mind to use logic, evidence, and reason when forming these new opinions.
In this way we are always changing and evolving, adding new opinions on the world around us, and leaving behind some that my not apply or be beneficial any more.
In free thought, we are applying the scientific methods to our opinions, and always testing ourselves and who are are.