What Prevents Clear Thinking?

Along with the ego, there are a few notable obstacles to pursuing truth and clarity of thought. They are intellectual laziness (I can’t be bothered to understand or research this, so I will accept anything), willful ignorance (I reject and deny that there is something further to understand), and adherence to sacred cows (that topic or stance is simply irrefutable truth; I refuse to question it).

It’s easy to tell someone who is intellectually honest versus dishonest. It’s all about how arguments contrary to their view are processed. The intellectually honest focus on understanding and following the evidence where it leads. The intellectually dishonest focus on a narrative that they want to preserve, and become defensive and sometimes outright hostile. The intellectually honest are able to answer questions directly and without justification; the intellectually dishonest must provide explanations, roundabouts, and deflections. Usually, it’s clear that there is something being substituted for evidence that shouldn’t be.

Having an opinion is something we all do, but we must recognize that we often do it based on insufficient information and questionable evidence. An opinion is one thing, while forming a well-founded and defensible opinion is quite another. The latter, as Bertrand Russell writes, requires that you be wary of opinions which flatter your self-esteem. Imagine different biases and perspectives, look outside your immediate social circle, and question why an opposing opinion might make you react emotionally. It can be summed up with “Strong opinions which are lightly held.”

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