One of our primary subconscious goals is to reconcile our beliefs into a comprehensive, non-contradictory whole. Once ideas get rooted in our head, they have a tendency to stay there. We then unwittingly filter new information through our current notions. We remember information that supports our position, and forget or disregard information that contradicts it.
This filter serves the purpose of calming out inner voices. We don’t like cognitive dissonance – that unsettling feeling of believing things we know to be contradictory. Once we find a belief that can nestle itself in comfortably with our other beliefs, it’s uncomfortable to question it. We don’t mind altering or discarding provisional ideas that kind of dangle off in their own little corner of our mind, but once things get intertwined with other notions (which is almost unavoidable), they’re hard to dislodge.
With this knowledge about yourself, you have two options: remain comfortable in your beliefs and ways of doing things, or continuously reevaluate things based on new information and evidence. I’m of the opinion that only the latter affords the opportunity for creativity and personal growth.
We have to stay on guard from things without and within. We have to filter out bad or fraudulent information from outside sources, while constantly asking ourselves whether we’re filtering the evidence based on its own merits or our own beliefs and biases. This is one of the reasons I keep this blog.
It’s easy to keep ideas in your head that don’t quite add up, as long as they fit in nicely with your other beliefs, simply by not asking yourself too many internal questions. However, when you write down your ideas, along with your lines of reasoning and argumentation as support for them, while knowing that other people will read what you write and notice every gap in reasoning and every oversight of contradictory information, it keeps your subconscious honest.
If I feel like I know a fair amount about something, but also feel uncomfortable writing about it, it tells me one of two things:
1) I don’t know as much about it as I’m telling myself, and I know my ignorance will show through.
2) I really don’t have very good reasons for my views on that particular subject, and I know those gaps will be exposed the minute I start writing.
These were the basic reasons why the Western tradition appreciates the skills of a good debater. Almost anyone can sound good in a void or an echo chamber, but a clash of ideas exposes any chinks in one’s armor that would not have been apparent otherwise. That’s why it’s exceedingly rare for me back down from a discussion with anyone who disagrees with me. If I lose, so what? My pride is not threatened by potentially being wrong about something. However, it would be threatened by realizing that my intellectual comfort has trumped my quest for knowledge.
Stay open to new ideas. Write. Expose yourself to criticism. Soak it all up, get better, refine your beliefs, pick up what’s good, whittle away what’s bad, and keep moving forward.