I’m sure I’m right. I’m positive that I’m right about a lot less than I think I am.
I look at my youngest child, not yet five months on this earth, staring back at me, watching everything I do. I think how he’ll go from having no opinions, to having countless ones on many topics. But where do our opinions come from? And what gives us confidence in them?
My thoughts are not my own
We might think we’re independent thinkers... but are we? Probably the more certain someone is that their thoughts are their own, the more likely they are not. Every thought is influenced, and independent thought can only begin when we recognise this.
Hmmm... where did that thought come from? I don’t know exactly, but how about I tell you how it popped into my brain.
You see, I’ve been thinking about whether I should get private health insurance over the last few weeks - an intriguing dilemma.
I’ve researched. (And by that I mean, I’ve entered common search terms into Google and looked at the top few pages presented to me) I’ve also read a finance book by a guy who doesn’t wear shoes. Then there’s all the advertising and the opinions of others.
I started with a position, was willing to change my mind, felt a pull towards a certain position, read something that sounded definitive that nearly changed my mind again, and then swung back because of someone’s personal account.
All this has made me realise the fickle nature of the human mind. Far from independent thought, my experience shows me that my preference is to believe the highest authority I can find. (Just tell me what I should do!)
As kids, that authority is our parents. Then it might be our teachers. Then our friends. We might become more sophisticated at some point and read academic and scientific literature.
There’s pressure too, to agree with the authorities esteemed by the culture. People will laugh internally at any ‘ignorant person’ who doesn’t conform and has foolishly listened to some lesser, or outdated authority.
Surprisingly, we will even dismiss our own experiences if they’re contrary to what we’re ‘meant’ to think. (I read the Emperor’s New Clothes with a class recently and I think this is what it’s about).
But, I think we should pay more attention to our own experiences and those nagging doubts - the inconsistencies between what we believe and the reality we observe around us. Isn’t this the way the brave pioneers of science thought?
We should tune into our doubts and chase them down. They could be what lead us out from the cover of common knowledge to a more accurate way of thinking. They may be the spark of true independent thought.
I think we all have the capacity for original and creative thought. But I also think we rarely use it. Most decisions I make are probably made on instinct or my appetite. After that, I’m inclined to go with the flow.
Be brave – think differently
Perhaps because it’s difficult and risky to think differently. It requires being ruthlessly honest with yourself. Being prepared to shake up the foundations of our reality. Which is something the general population will react against.
But I think it’s worth it.
I’m going to keep track of my thoughts and habits this week and make it a goal to think just one thing that no one else has ever thought.
But, there is hope. If all that is, came from nothing, then isn’t that the definition of independent originality (a clue to an independent thinker behind it all?). We ourselves are original. No two people in history have had the same fingerprint.
If we come from originality and we’re original physically, then doesn’t this prove that true independent and original thought is possible?
I think yes. And no. Can you recall a time where an amazing thought came to your mind and you don’t know where it came from? Perhaps in a dream even. We’d call these moments of inspiration.
The definition of inspiration gives the answer. Inspiration is an idea that comes from someone or something else.
I think original thought is possible, in that we can think what no one else has ever thought... but these rare thoughts must come from somewhere. And where would that be? I’d propose that these moments of inspiration point to one beyond ourselves, capable of quite literally, bringing something from nothing.
Whatever your conclusions, may you find space this week to reflect on the fascinating thing that is our ability to think and reason. Be inspired!
Tom Anderson is pioneering www.haventogether.com, an online church plant supported by his in-person church, Catalyst, Ipswich. He has a young, growing family and enjoys playing backyard sport. Tom is a keen long-distance runner, averaging 21km each day last year. He has worked as a teacher for eleven years and enjoys perfecting a flat white on his home espresso machine. Tom would welcome a visit for a coffee some time… or an online catch-up via Zoom. See the Haven Together website to get in touch.