Friday, December 24, 2010

Expose yourself!

... to new and different opinions!

See, I bet you thought I was talking about exposing your sexual organs, didn't ya? You cheeky monkeys, all of you!

I've been reading a lot of books that pertain to topics that are personally interesting to me. This shouldn't come as a huge revelation, since most people do this. Why would you want to read about a topic that you don't care about? The biggest thing that many who read books/articles (or watch movies/shows/news broadcasts) have in common is that we all tend to read/watch the things that we agree with more so than the things that we oppose. This makes sense. Reading something that we are fundamentally opposed to, or even disagree with to a minor degree, aggravates, frustrates and annoys us. It even sometimes puts us into a blind rage!

Though reading about the topics from the viewpoints that you agree with is still valuable in the sense that you are learning more about the specific topic, I question whether it's as valuable as reading the subject from the opposite perspective. If you already agree with someone or something, then what is the significance of reading only from this angle? It supports your opinions or the knowledge that you already contain, so what else is there to gain from this experience other than mental masturbation?

Indeed, if there are topics where the information continually changes according to new evidence, such as almost any subject in the realm of science, then I can understand the urge to retain these new reports. Keeping updated on all of the facts is essential, especially if you work in a particular field, such as evidence-based medicine. A physician who continues the practice of bloodletting is probably going to run into a few problems in his field.

However, as far as the topic is concerned in its general context, what else is there to glean from reading and rereading the information that you are already aware of? It probably doesn't engage your faculties of reason and critical thinking skills as much as reading the same topic from a contradictory viewpoint. Even if you don't think you will be convinced that the opposite position is more correct than the one you currently hold, it is still important to be aware of the arguments from the other end of the spectrum (and even the ones in the middle). Reading books about something that you don't agree with (whether it's due to it being factually incorrect or because it's not how you were raised to believe in something) can encourage you to think about why you believe what you believe. It's a fantastic method of exercising your patience (if it's a topic that really gets you pissed off), as well as your critical thinking skills. Find something that you inherently disagree with, write it down word-for-word and include the context in which it was written, and then think about why you think it is incorrect. Research why it might be incorrect. Test your hypothesis as to why it's wrong. Explain it to yourself and to others. See their reaction to your reasons and your conclusion. If there are criticisms about your methods of reasoning or the conclusion, take them up on their reasons for their criticisms and research them further.

Understanding and being capable of articulating why you believe what you do and how you've come to this conclusion is often more important than the conclusion itself. Even if the conclusion is factually correct, if your confidence in its correctness is based on faulty reasoning, this does not aid you in your ability to clearly understand the topic. If you don't know why something is correct or incorrect, you will not fully comprehend the topic. If you want to argue that something is correct or incorrect, you must understand why so as to establish your reason why others should think the same thing. If your conclusion is based on faulty reasoning or without utilizing critical thinking skills, you will have a more difficult time being able to discern whether or not something else is correct. New information, no matter how silly it may be, may seem completely valid (despite that not all ideas are equally valid) because your ability to weed out the complete bullshit from the more probable ideas is compromised by your inability to think critically.

So I encourage everyone to EXPOSE YOURSELVES to ideas that are completely contradictory to your own. Get fired up about it! Understand why you believe what you believe. Is there a chance, no matter how minor, that your conclusions are false? Challenge yourselves!

Above all, always learn. Never stop learning. If you do, you might as well be dead.

1 comment:

  1. That's what they say:
    "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer"
    I don't think I have many of either.
    Why haven't I found these blogs of yours sooner?
    I had my expectations and "walla" here it is.
    I sometimes love my gut feelings. I don't need to read all of Dawkins and Hitchens, Harris, etc. I'd be saying the same things if I had the skills. But I do need to read Hawking and his lot, because it is forever progressing.