Why diversity of thought matters.
To be inquisitive is to be human. To be a part of a group for comfort, support and identity is also human. These two philosophies clash when our goal is truth-seeking. Why? Because to seek the truth may mean you have to leave the comfort of a group that identifies as you did before. The truth and the body of evidence doesn’t care what group you’re a part of. But to follow the truth instead of following a group is to leave oneself vulnerable to judgement, skepticism, castigation and in some cases exile. This makes people feel uncomfortable and gets in the way of truth seeking.
A pattern that is becoming more and more common is clinging to an ideology based on poor evidence or emotion, rather than hard evidence and objective findings. This behavior is harmful because it could mean that ideas are propagated without evidence, with poor evidence and the idea with the highest quality evidence is smothered, muffled or silenced. A similar and equally harmful consequence of perpetuating ideologies is the “echo chamber phenomenon”: an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered. Remember me talking about wanting to be a part of a group? Well, this is it. Case in point. I want to avoid these situations. One way we can avoid this tribalistic reality is being open to diversity of thought.
Diversity of thought offers alternate angles, explanations or ideas for the same theories. It also offers opportunities for people with different philosophies to engage in a civil dialogue, something that is more and more rare today. As an example, the geocentric theory of the universe posited the earth being the center of the universe. It wasn’t until Copernicus and Galileo and their alternate explanations of the universe which gave rise to the heliocentric theory we accept today. If it wasn’t for diversity of thought, would we still be thinking the Earth is the center of the universe? Probably not, but you get my point.
Even if you have a strong position on a topic, it doesn’t mean being exposed to an alternate view point is bad. It also doesn’t mean that you have to adopt that view point. If indeed your position is based upon solid evidence (as most, if not all positions should be) the alternate position or explanation is probably incorrect and not valid. But the keyword is “probably” not ‘definitely’. Science can never know with 100% certainty. There is always the possibility of a better theory if better evidence comes along.
Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins incorporates a 7 point scale of theistic probability that illustrates this point well. His scale at #1 is “Strong theist. 100% probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know." and at the other end of the spectrum is #7, “Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Bob knows there is one." And even for Dawkins, a staunch atheist, who has been a vocal and prominent critic of religions, refuses to place himself at a 7. Why? Because in science, there is always the possibility of evidence presenting itself. The likelihood is certainly very low, hence, putting himself at a 6 or 6.9, but “most atheists do not consider themselves "7" because atheism arises from a lack of evidence and evidence can always change a thinking person's mind”.
Here are some tips when seeking the truth, when learning about something new or hearing information from a different perspective. Many topics of today have 2 sides, so it’s only natural to hear both sides to form a position. As a default, stick to the middle at first. Come in as “This topic is interesting, and I want to hear both sides”. As evidence presents itself, it nudges you a bit closer to one side of the spectrum. Incorporate a healthy spoonful of skepticism whenever you are learning about a new idea, too. Let’s say you heard for the first time “Plant-based Nutrition has been shown to clinically reverse blockages in the arteries of the heart”. That seems too good to be true, right? Be skeptical! For a disease that kills 600,000 people in the U.S alone, how could such a simple ‘treatment’ be available for a disease that represents 1 out of every 4 deaths? Then, if you hear the evidence for that idea, (found here) the claim is made valid by evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And claims made without evidence can just as easily be refuted without evidence.
A science-mind is a curious mind, is an open-mind. A science-mind wants to be disproven because a scientist isn’t in search of dogma. They are in search of truth. Scientists do not stake their identity on an idea, rather they stake their identity in the truth and on the best evidence. Scientists are, in a round-about way, saying “You got new evidence? Come at be Bro!” Worst case scenario, alternative evidence is refuted with current evidence. Best case scenario, new evidence and theories are presented, civil dialogue and ideas are exchanged and humanity moves forward with greater understanding.
Author's note: This article was written with Episode #71 of the podcast in mind. This particular episode strayed from the usual conversations and topics usually discussed on the podcast. This article was written to clarify my line of thought in publishing this episode. I hope you enjoyed this article and past and future episodes of The Ian Cramer Podcast.