DEFENDING Freedom and ‘Celebrating Dissent’, the focus of TCW’s London event on February 9, are two of the most important topics of our time.
Underpinning dissent is the ability to ask questions of the system, and underpinning this is critical thinking, which has been celebrated through the ages but has been sorely neglected in recent times. We now live in a world where debate is more often than not shut down so this skill must be revived: without it we will find ourselves at the mercy of unscrupulous governments and commercial interests.
My friend Gloria Moss and I have just published a book, Light Bulb Moments and the Power of Critical Thinking, Insights from Inquiring Minds and Literary Heroes, which focuses on these timely questions.
The book brings together the accounts of 24 contemporary critical thinkers on what made them aware that the world was not quite what it might appear at first glance. They ask questions about the money system, health, education, history, law and order, philosophy and the meaning of life. The miracle of freeing themselves from the constraints of received wisdom is that they came to pose questions that others might not even think of, with the answers showing up anomalies in mainstream accounts as well as injustices that many do not notice.
The contributors span the four corners of the Earth from Britain and other parts of Europe to the US, Canada and New Zealand and all are united by a fervent desire for the truth. No two contributions are alike since each person’s journey led in an individual direction, and so readers can enjoy the very varied accounts of Mark Devlin, John Hamer, Matthew Ehret, David Adelman, Eve Gilmore, Neil Kramer, Dr Ursula Edgington, Niall McCrae and myself, my co-author and many others. The triggers that set these people on their journeys ranged from the process of spotting anomalies (an essentially intellectual exercise) to being piqued by curiosity, a mistrust of authority or a combination of these factors.
Many of the contributions in the book show that when intellect and emotions are involved, the effect can be like dynamite. A good example is provided by the thought journey of Shannon Rowan, based in the US, who lost a friend in the Twin Towers on 9/11. This gave her reason to question the official narrative and once aware of new facts, there was no going back. So it is with others. The combination of an emotional, physical and mental experience, especially one that is on-going or incremental, serves as a powerful trigger for a light bulb moment.
Gloria, who trained as a social scientist and worked as a Professor of Management for many years, had the idea of charting, and comparing, the critical thinking triggers for the 24 contributors with those of participants in an online survey that she had prepared for Truth University; she compared the triggers of these two groups with those of the literary characters of Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty Four, Bernard Marx in Brave New World and Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451. What emerged was that the people in all three samples shared many characteristics, notably curiosity and questioning; an interest in history; distrust in authority and a sense of autonomy. They also shared the capacity to think for themselves and to weigh up the evidence presented by the mainstream media. They showed a refusal to accept the absurd, and had a high sense of morality as well as the ability to see a bigger picture.
The book shows how critical thinking can protect us from a world dominated by propaganda, obfuscation and vested interests. The skills needed are those identified by Descartes when he wrote how ‘every part of thinking should be questioned, doubted and tested’ with Jung summarising the benefits of asking questions as ‘the greatest resource in learning the truth’. Interestingly, the term critical thinker is the perfect counterbalance to the label ‘conspiracy theorist’ since it shows the profound questioning and thinking that underpin it.
Gloria also looked at the multiple obstacles to critical thinking including the lure of propaganda and power of repeated messages. As everyone knows, Goebbels said ‘If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes truth’ to the point where ‘those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will’.
However, the lie can be maintained only for such time as the government or those in power can shield the people from the consequences of the lie. As a result, it is important that the lies are kept under wraps and that the truth is censored at every point. So anyone who is not toeing the party line has to be silenced immediately. Happily, as the book shows, learning, promoting and practising critical thinking can and does bring the truth to light.
Light Bulb Moments and the Power of Critical Thinking: Insights from Inquiring Minds and Literary Heroes can be purchased for £16.99 from Truth University Press (email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange delivery) or from Amazon.