Does this topic appeal to you?
In my opinion to become intellectually free involves a curious, open and conscious mind able to investigate what is holding one in its grip (captive). It involves willingness to see the (un)conscious subjugation to one side of a story, to detect one’s (willful) ignorance of the other side (the unknown). Once an individual detects their own polarization on an issue, they have a chance to investigate the blind spots surrounding the matter and gather new insights.
Now, you might be an intellectual with deep philosophical understanding of the world, yet we all suffer from blind spots. Sometimes those blind spots are temporarily uncovered yet quickly buried because of cognitive dissonance. Autonomous thinkers tend to withstand the pull of the majority stance on polarizing issues, but they are but a small fraction of mankind, and the majority of people still care too much what their peers think. Autonomous or not, we all suffer from the blind spots unknown to us, that have never been uncovered before.
Because in essence the mind is lazy, and always tries to come up with simple corroborating views that defend the “known”. The neurons in our brain are operating in a Last In First Out (LIFO) way, making knowledge with the most neural affirmations more important and harder to counter. It is designed that way for many reasons that served us in our scary past in the wilderness, but you probably know that and I digress. I think striving for intellectual freedom implies understanding this, and means embracing strategies that counter this innate “regressive” nature of our brain’s frontal cortex. I say regressive here as I believe as humans we are able to use our latest biological upgrade to not give in to our basic animalistic instincts when that is not desirable.
In this short piece I intend to lay out a strategy of questioning oneself, in order to help with uncovering the influences withholding you from seeing the bigger picture, the totality of any issue. In the end I will give you a practical exercise to help you see where you are in your current journey to become intellectually free.
(WARNING: the implications can be severe as it might lead to falling out with groups that demand your blind and “loyal” onesidedness. Are you prepared for that?)
This list is far from complete, but you can begin by asking yourself the following questions. (Many of these touch upon/overlap the same psychological phenomena, yet readers may resonate with one over the other. The point is to uncover these workings.)
- Do I tense up when I receive information unknown to me? Tension is detrimental to an open stance, to cooperation. Cooperation is key to understanding, because it is only through other perspectives that we can escape our own intellectual bubble.
- Do I tend to find opposing arguments to reject new perspectives? In other words, am I dominated by an egocentric intellect that (again) tends to reject new knowledge in order to hold on to your own “intelligence gathering”? An “open mind” strategy can more effectively gather new insights, whilst the energy lost in a “rejective” mindset would be better used in the (cooperative) pursuit of knowledge.
- Do I tend to reject arguments that do not fit my internal status quo? This is similar to the second question, yet it directly points to the resistance towards questioning a particular belief system one has deeply identified with. It is here that we probably tense up most, as our brain’s neural network is “short circuited” in a way, to make new connections, yet the old connections are fighting to stay alive and relevant.
- Am I challenging the viewpoints I gathered over time? Over time we might have (subconsciously) taken on one-sided narratives either fed to us or subconsciously chosen by us (that support an identified belief system). As an intellectual it is foolish to think that we are free from our psychological tendencies, and as such one needs a birds eye view on oneself in the bigger context. Luckily it only needs an open mindset to investigate this.
- Am I voicing simplistic arguments that align with those in power? Do you intuitively feel that you are ignoring a more nuanced view? This is an indication that deeper investigation into the matter is needed. It is all too easy to feel supported by the populist stance on something, simply by feeling one is part of a majority. Yet any intellectual seeking freedom is always ready to do the work of diving deeper into any issue that begets a one sided presentation, especially in support of powers with vested interests. The moment one becomes aware of this should surely trigger alarm bells.
- Is my reasoning free from fallacies? Are you aware of the mental gymnastics your mind has to perform in order to try to defend your previously held beliefs? Do you understand the corrosive dynamics of believing such fabrications over truth?
Do you think you are already aware of these inner workings of your psyche? It not only requires the acquired mindset as described, but it involves an active awareness throughout our walk of life, moment to moment, decision after decision. It is very easy to fall back to our ancestral patterns of giving in to those appealing to our basic fears, or to carefully “planted” belief systems. The pull of our brain neurons, shaped year over year, are hard to ignore, yet an intellectual wants to understand this and take the bigger picture into account to let in new and more revealing insights.
Great, you made it this far and are probably hungry for some practical application. Let’s see how our “reactive” mind responds to the following topics, and if we can navigate towards “freedom from the known” and gain more comprehensive insights.
- How do you view racism? (Unfortunately the word “racism” implies multiple races, yet there is only one race: the human race.) This implies favoring one (usually bigger) group of humans over another based on their ethnicity, skin color, or any other traits they are not responsible for. You might think you are free from this, but let me give you some examples that might trigger your defenses:
- Should muslims have more or less rights than Christians? Easy question that can have an easy answer. If you favor one over the other, does that involve mental gymnastics to make it seem “right”?
- Is the Israeli government involved in systematic oppression of the Palestinian people? Do you think they seem to use sophisticated methods like propaganda and ad-hoc fabricated lies in response to events to influence the world’s perspective? Do you think they are involved in the abuse of basic human rights? There is ample work done by researchers/scholars to get to the facts and deeper insights. Are you voicing only their arguments, or do you want to know what is really happening?
- Is democracy for everybody or just some select group(s)?
This touches upon equal chances for everybody and basic human rights. Again, what is happening in your mind? Do you feel a pull towards favoritism? What is the reasoning involved? Is it convincing/appealing to some basic instinct?
- How do you view speciesism? This is the view that one animal’s life is more valuable than the other, and should be protected from harm/slaughter. (Cats ‘n dogs over pigs, that way of thinking.) Let me ask the following in particular to get a it closer to your defenses:
- Do you care about sentient beings’ (humans/animals) suffering unnecessarily? What would be the consequence of that stance for your daily life? In your version of paradise, would you kill other beings for pleasure? Knowing we already live in a world with abundant food options and science showing us that a plant based diet is the healthiest, does your mind reject this? If so, what thoughts are coming up? Are mental gymnastics involved (fallacies in reasoning)? Are you willing to do work to investigate this? Is that worth it?
Those are just some issues I came up with that seem to have a polarizing effect in the world. I am curious to hear where you are in your journey towards intellectual freedom, and what other issues you think deserve more honest attention.
(Trolls and propaganda accounts will be banned. Please be constructive!)