A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. – William James
What does that mean?
At theFreeDictionary.com, prejudice is defined as “An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.” and “A preconceived preference or idea.” So rephrasing the quote, “a great many people believe they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their preconceived judgements.”
So, what a lot of people are doing, according to the quote, is simply applying one adverse judgement (formed without having examined the facts) in place of another. This differs from actual thinking because thinking is based on an examination of the facts, and coming to a logical or informed decision based on those facts.
Absent the facts, one cannot actually have an intelligent discussion, much less perform logical thinking. Everything becomes conjecture and hypothesis. While something can come of such theoretical thought, that requires a lack of preformed or preconceived notions about the topic.
To recap, to think you must have facts, and must leave preconceived notions or prejudices behind. Without both conditions, you’re not really thinking, but simply moving your prejudices around.
Why is abandoning prejudices important?
I believe that finding facts are fairly straightforward in this day of internet search engines, so I won’t spend any more time considering that portion of what we need in order to properly prepare ourselves for thinking. The more difficult thing, at least in my mind is recognizing and releasing our preconceived notions.
You would think that things that are not based in fact would be easy to release, but I’ve seen plenty of people struggle with the issue, myself included. When things aren’t based on facts, they are more accurately described as beliefs, which are based on faith.
It can be truly difficult to dislodge something that has become an article of faith and a part of your being. But without doing so, it is almost impossible to actually think clearly and reason soundly. But beliefs are stubborn beasts, and must be removed all the way to the root, lest they regrow, like a weed.
Where can I apply this in my life?
What are some of the places where you have preconceived notions, based not on fact, but on beliefs? That was largely a rhetorical question, because if you knew you had an uniformed opinion, you would probably have fixed that mistaken notion long ago, right?
Rather than trying to examine every single thought you’ve ever had and challenging it to prove itself to be based in facts, let’s take a slightly easier, if less thorough path. Each time you think you are thinking, examine the thoughts you are having and consider if those are fact based, or belief based.
The next question: on what should we try this new method? There are a lot of emotional issues this election season in the USA, so for those of us here, there’s plenty to use for fodder. For those living elsewhere, pick some debate that is very emotional, and use it.
The point of the exercise isn’t to change your mind, nor is it to change the mind of anyone else. We aren’t trying to start a war, a feud, or even an argument. The point of the exercise is to examine ourselves, not use our keen intellect to flay someone else for their poor thinking.
Consider your position on the topic. What are the facts that underpin your viewpoint? Grab some paper and write these down, with some space between each of your points. Keep at it until you have a long enough list to solidly defend your viewpoint.
Now look at each of them in turn. Consider which might be based more on emotion than on facts. Put a mark of some kind next to them to help you keep track of them.
Start with the ones you didn’t mark and do some quick fact checking. How many sources can you find that match what your viewpoint? How many have different information? Choose one that is most closely aligned with your view and see where they got their facts from. This is a variation of the “keep asking questions” method.
Ask “Who, How, What, Where, When, Why” questions, in whatever order you wish, until you can convince yourself that the fact in question is unquestionable. Be careful of polls or surveys, as properly vetting them require knowing an astounding amount of information, including the exact wording of the questions and the demographics used to arrive at the conclusion.
Now, with the easy ones done, look at the ones you think may be on shaky ground, relative to facts. Do the same kind of research you just did for the other items on your list. If you are having a significantly harder time getting answers, that’s a clue that you need to do more work on this item (in the future, move on to the next item for now).
Another clue that you are dealing with a belief and not a fact is if everything leads back to political sites, opinion sites, blog posts, or editorial pages. Those places are where people air their own prejudices. Those are not the places where facts live, so keep digging until you either find some facts, or give up for now, and mark it for more work in the future.
If everything you came up with checked out, either you’ve already done your homework and checked your facts before coming to this conclusion, or you aren’t trying very hard, and accepting some less than stellar sources for your ‘facts.’ 8)
We are all human, and we all have feelings. These feelings often cause us to jump to conclusions without first checking facts. It’s not a crime, and it’s a very human thing to do. However, now that you know what to look for, you might want to consider what else you can revisit and try to verify.
Whether to reconsider your view in light of the facts, or to bolster your position with facts, where before you only had prejudices.
From: Twitter, @DennyCoates
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/w/williamjam109175.html
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