Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Age of the Undisciplined Mind

I find it disconcerting and disheartening that so many individuals among the American population are readily victimized by obviously fraudulent and often irrational information that comes packaged as news. There are numerous examples that validate this claim including the following:

•Iraq was directly involved in the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York
•There was an Al Qaeda connection within the Saddam regime
•Barack Obama attended a Muslim school as a child and is, in fact, a Muslim
•Global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the those who wish to discredit the political leadership
•Evolution is merely a theory.

Even though in all the instances sighted above there exist substantial and irrefutable evidence that these claims are false, many people not only insist on believing them but are adamant in their acceptance.

I have agonized as to why this true, especially in this information age at the dawn of the twenty-first century. I have come to believe that what makes so many Americans susceptible to this kind of absurd thinking is the fact that their minds are essentially undisciplined.

The process of intelligent analysis of information requires focused intention and discernment. In my mind, intellectual discipline lies at the heart of reasoned judgment. A Statement expressed as fact can not be taken as true simply because the purveyor of that information claims it to be true. Accepting something as true involves taking intellectual ownership of it. This should be the final step of an internal process that invokes high order mental processes. A number of tests have to be passed before the label of truth is finally applied.

I envision these tests to be the following:

•What is the source of the information?
•Is this source reliable?
•Can the facts or evidence be corroborated by additional and independent sources?
•Does the information provided appear rational? For information to meet the test of rationality, it must conform to the laws of nature that operate in the physical world. The belief in ghosts or in the spirits of the walking dead invokes a world that runs counter to the natural world. Secondly, the information cited can not contain any internal contradiction that would make its reality patently absurd. Referring to an overt war of aggression as motivated by peaceful intentions is an example of this kind of internal contradiction.
•Does the information conform to what has already been shown to be true or does it deny that reality. The claim that the holocaust never happened or that humans never walked on the moon, or that the earth is flat are examples of information that flies in the face of what is already understood to be true.
•Is the validity of the information reinforced over time?

To my mind, these are the tests that any new piece of information must pass before it can be accepted as a true representation of reality. The process of evaluating information to see whether if conforms to the appropriate criteria requires intellectual discipline. It is the lack of this discipline that allows for the casual acceptance of spurious information as fact. In a supposedly democratic society that must rely on the judgment of its citizens, a lack of mental discipline of this magnitude is highly detrimental to the culture at large. A citizenry plagued by this kind of deficit is highly vulnerable to exaggerated fear and manipulation.

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