How to think

I have always been a great admirer of the late Richard Feynman, acknowledged as one of the most creative of all the twentieth century physicists. Here is a quote from his book What do you care what other people think?
“The only way to have real success in science, the field I’m familiar with, is to describe the evidence very carefully without regard to the way you feel it should be. If you have a theory, you must try to explain what’s good and what’s bad about it equally. In science, you learn a kind of standard integrity and honesty."

I have also been reading, with pleasure, a book called War of the worldviews by Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinov. Chopra has become well known as the author of a number of books on spirituality (or what I would call transcendence). Mlodinov, a physicist, is perhaps not so well known; he has published jointly with Stephen Hawking on the topic of physics world views and has published one of the many biographies of Richard Feynman. As Mlodinov knew Feynman personally this in itself recommends Mlodinov as a good thinker.
I want to continue with a quote from Mlodinov. He is describing the scientific results of psychological experiments which show that a person’s judgement can be affected by their preconceptions.
“In all these instances, people thought they were being objective, but their objectivity was an illusion. In truth our everyday analyses always depend on prior beliefs and desires. If we want to reach a certain conclusion, our brains will alter the way we perceive and weigh data and analyze arguments. And – most important – our brains do this beneath our level of awareness.”

Finally I will quote a significant passage from Chopra.
“Sadly, as long as divinity means the God of organised religion, the spiritual path has little chance of going mainstream. Faiths promote their own agendas. They want followers who pose no doubts. They insist that their dogmas were handed down by God, even when history reveals that they were handed down by powerful clerics. So many agendas work against finding the divine that the situation has given rise to a cynical joke: God handed down the truth, and the devil said “Let me organise it.”

While I do not agree with every idea put forward by Feynman, Mlodinov or Chopra, I can agree wholeheartedly with the above three quotations in bold print. Let me restate these ideas:

  1. Always consider the opposite point of view, try to think the way a supporter of this viewpoint would think. Try to live the idea.
  2. Always remember that you are more biased in your opinions than you would care to admit.
  3. In religion and most ***ologies and ****ics, people will resist important new ideas and support their conservative beliefs by legalistically quoting old texts and authorities. They generally do this by boring you to death without allowing you to get a word in edgeways. The further from the truth they are, the more boring they tend to be.

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