No one ever thinks inside a vacuum, untainted by cultural and cognitive biases.
Our beliefs and values are shaped by our life experiences and the thinking we do to make sense of these experiences. This thinking follows a finite set of possibilities, limited by experience and ignorance.
Our upbringing plays a major role in how we see the world and ourselves. We are brought up with beliefs about what is true and what is right, and these early teachings tend to define the general direction our thinking will take in later years. It creates an ideological mold that shapes future thinking.
We may believe our thinking is objective, but for the most part, it’s simply an expression of our biases and the shape our worldview has taken.
I’ve had discussions with people from different religions and religious denominations, and they all seem to believe that their worldview is 100% correct and perfectly rational. They’re unaware of the fact that their thinking is based largely on rationalization, not rationality.
They select the facts that support their views, and omit those that don’t. They thread their arguments in a way that fits their outlook, without realizing the patchwork they had to do and the fallacies they had to use.
This isn’t done out of intellectual dishonesty. Many people are honest and make a sincere effort to think clearly, but they’re unaware of the ideological mold that has shaped their thinking and, therefore, cannot see the validity of any alternative. Everything else seems wrong because it simply doesn’t fit their worldview. It’s irrational, according to their mold.
Willingness to listen to other people’s views doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re open-minded, when your thinking is shaped by an ideological mold you refuse to question or break out of. In fact, exposure to other beliefs and cultures may solidify your prejudices out of fear of losing your convictions or identity.
Immigrants have the choice to assimilate into the culture they are living in, or to isolate themselves. Muslims in a country like Britain can hold more extremist views than a Muslim in a country like Kuwait because their religious beliefs have become more a matter of identity than ideology.
This doesn’t mean that we can never be objective. But to be objective, we need to be aware of our ideological mold, and the influence it has on our thinking.
Below are a few steps you can take towards objectivity:
- Your goal must always be to find the truth and never to justify your existing beliefs. Are you sincere in wanting the truth, or are you reluctant to change your views? Are you willing to admit when you’re wrong, or will you do what it takes to defend your biases?
- Don’t identify with your existing beliefs. That’s a surefire way to enter Rationalization mode, rather than Rationality mode.
- Identify the assumptions and arguments you’ve built your beliefs on. Question those. What are the supporting facts? Are they really facts? What are the supporting arguments? Are there arguments against your beliefs? How valid are they?
- Learn more about critical thinking, logical fallacies, and cognitive biases. You need to apply valid reasoning in your thinking and weed out faulty arguments. Learning more about correct thinking will help expose the errors in your present thinking. An error is defined by the gap between your beliefs and reality.
- Use the Golden Rule of Intelligence. Don’t use arguments in support of your beliefs if you wouldn’t accept similar arguments in support of other beliefs. If you are a Christian, would you consider verses from the Koran as proof? If not, don’t expect a Muslim to accept verses from the Bible as proof. Would you accept “I have a feeling that it’s right” as an argument? If not, don’t make similar arguments. Identifying the faulty arguments used in support of other beliefs will help you identify the faulty arguments you use in support of your own. Then stop using them.
- See other people’s beliefs from their point of view, not your own. Projecting your prejudices on the beliefs of others is a good sign you’re not being objective. Try their worldview on. How do they see the world? What evidence do they use in support of their arguments?
It’s crucial that we constantly refine our thinking and to never settle with our present level of understanding. Our views must always remain flexible and open to new information and correction.
What tips would you add to breaking out of an ideological mold and build a more realistic one?