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How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 2

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Welcome to part 2 of a 10 part series:

How to get smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies

If you haven’t read part one of this series I recommend doing that first:

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – part 1

In this article we’re talking:

  • The importance of being a truth-seeker
  • Realism
  • Open and closed-mindedness
  • The danger of falling in love with your beliefs
  • Why you should listen to your opponents and people who disagree with you

These are incredibly important topics because without a desire for truth and realism (seeing things as they are in reality), and a mind that is open and receptive to new ideas and information (especially those that contradict what you already believe) you can forget about getting smarter.

Let’s begin…

45. Be a truth seeker

“The way of truth is like a great road. It is not difficult to know it. The only evil is only that men will not seek it.” – Mencius

As I said in part 1 most people are:

  • Intellectually lazy
  • Intellectually dishonest
  • Willfully ignorant
  • Self-deceptive

In other words: They’re the exact opposite of truth seekers.

I’ll say it again: Most people are approval seekers, comfort seekers, pleasure seekers – but they’re NOT truth seekers.

Most people could care less about the truth. They just want to feel good. If the truth makes them feel good – they want it. But if it doesn’t – they don’t.

However if you want to get smarter you must be a truth seeker – something that 99% of people aren’t.

21 signs you might be a truth seeker

Are you a truth seeker?

Here are 21 signs you might be:

  1. You want the truth MORE than you want to feel good – or anything else. The truth is your highest priority and you want it MORE than you want approval, fame, money, power, respect, sex, significance, validation, or anything else.
  2. You want the truth more than you want to win arguments. You’re more interested in discussing ideas and exchanging information than you are in winning arguments, being ‘right’, changing minds, or forcing your beliefs/opinions down other people’s throats. In fact, if during an argument/conversation, you discover that the other person is right and you’re wrong, you’ll immediately acknowledge it and quickly change your mind without hesitation because you just want the facts no matter who has them, no matter what side they’re on, yours or your opponents, your best friends or your worst enemies
  3. You don’t think ignorance isn’t bliss. You’re not intellectually lazy nor are you content with your ignorance. If you’re clueless or ignorant on a particular topic you’ll go the extra mile to study and learn it
  4. You think for yourself. You don’t let anyone do your thinking for you, no matter who they are (parents, teachers, authors, experts, the media, philosophers, psychologists, religious leaders, scientists etc.) no matter how smart you think they might be. Nor do you let anyone tell you:
    • What to think
    • What to believe
    • What to like/want/value
    • What the ‘facts’ are
    • What the ‘truth’ is
    • What things mean
    • What’s important
    • What matters
    • How to act
    • What to do
    • Who the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ are
    • Who your heroes and role models should be
    • What kind of a life you should live

    Nor do you believe something just because it’s on the front page of a magazine or a newspaper or because it’s on the news or trending on social media. In fact, you know that 99% of everything you see/hear/read/watch/listen to on TV, YouTube, the net, the news etc. is bullshit and fits into one or more of the following categories:

    • Clickbait
    • Fake news
    • False advertising
    • Fear mongering
    • Gossip/rumors/smear tactics
    • Lies/spin
    • Propaganda
    • Pseudoscience

    Because of this you think critically, do your own research, and question everything, in order to sort fact from fiction, truth from lies, reality from fantasy, and to see through all of the lies and bullshit

  5. You leave no stone left unturned. You’re willing to explore all avenues and to leave no stone left unturned in the pursuit of truth: mathematics, mysticism, philosophy, psychology, psychedelics, religion, science, spirituality – anything and everything
  6. You examine the statement – not the speaker. Because you don’t allow anyone to do your thinking for you, you don’t just automatically believe something just because an ‘expert’ or someone you admire or respect said it e.g. Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Oprah, Buddha, Jesus etc. Instead you examine each statement independently of it’s speaker and you let it stand on it’s own merits. This also means you also don’t dismiss advice/information/quotes etc. just because it was said from someone you don’t like e.g. Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden etc. or because it’s ‘hypocritical’.
  7. You’re intellectually honest. You’re quick to admit “I don’t know” when you don’t know something, and you have no difficulty changing your mind or admitting whenever you’re mistaken or wrong – which is often. See last weeks article for a detailed description of intellectual honesty
  8. You follow the evidence wherever it leads and align your beliefs to the evidence. You follow the evidence wherever it leads without hesitation in the pursuit of truth – even if it’s inconvenient and seems to contradict everything you believe, and then you align your beliefs to the evidence (instead of believing whatever you want to believe, and then looking for evidence and information to support it)
  9. You have a strong desire to question and test everything. You know that talk is cheap, most people can’t be trusted, most claims don’t stand up to scrutiny, and appearances can be deceiving. Because of this you have a strong desire to question and test everything. You want to know why something is to be believed? What evidence is there to support it?
  10. You ask lots of open-ended questions without assuming the answers. Instead of asking closed questions that encourage one word answers, or asking leading or loaded questions that assume the answer within the question, or assuming the answer before you’ve even asked the question, you ask lots of open-ended questions that encourage full and meaningful answers, and you listen patiently to the answers with an open mind without interrupting (except to seek clarification) or impatiently waiting for your turn to speak
  11. You listen more than you talk, and you seek to understand before being understood. You listen more than you talk, and you seek to understand before being understood, because you’re more interested in finding out what others know that you don’t, and what evidence/logic/reasoning they use to support their beliefs, than you are in telling them what you know, or in persuading them to you way of thinking. When you listen to someone talking, not only do you listen carefully to everything they say, but you read between the lines and listen to what they avoid and don’t say and what isn’t said
  12. You’re less interested in what someone believes, as you are in why they believe it. As a truth seeker, you’re much less interested in what someone believes, as you are in why they believe it. This means you don’t jump to conclusions until you have all the facts, nor do you automatically dismiss claims even if they sound completely ridiculous “the earth is flat”, “the Illuminati runs the world” etc. until you’ve first taken the time to understand the evidence/logic/reasoning for the claim. I’ll say it again: A real truth seeker is less interested in what someone believes, as they are in why they believe it, and what evidence/logic/reasoning they have to support their claims
  13. You don’t take appearances for reality. Because appearances can be deceiving and people/situations/things aren’t always what they seem, you don’t take appearances for reality. You know that just because something seems a certain way, that doesn’t mean it is that way
  14. You welcome correction and criticism of your beliefs with open arms. Because you’re a truth seeker, not a know-it-all, you don’t act like you’re infallible, nor do you automatically assume you’re right in an argument, or that you’re smarter or more knowledgeable than the person you’re speaking to. In fact, because you know that you could be wrong about anything you believe, none of your beliefs/opinions/philosophies are off-limits or above questioning. Everything is open to debate, questioning, ridicule, and scrutiny. And if you’re wrong – which you often are – you gladly welcome correction and criticism with open arms.
  15. You’ve studied up on cognitive biases and logical fallacies. You’ve taken the time to study up on cognitive biases and logical fallacies to find out which ones you’re most guilty of and need to give up, because you’re just as concerned with your own biases and prejudices as you are of other peoples.
  16. You’re open minded. A real truth seeker is not, and cannot be by definition, closed minded. I’ll be speaking more about open/closed mindedness in depth later in this article.
  17. You don’t attack straw men. In an argument/conversation you stay on topic and stick to the facts. You don’t try to misrepresent your opponents argument in order to make it sound much weaker than it really is, or to make it easier to attack/mock/ridicule.
  18. You don’t look with a confirmation bias or cherry pick information. You want ALL of the evidence and information, not just the evidence and information that supports what you already believe – or want to believe.
  19. You don’t engage in black and white thinking. You don’t oversimplify things, nor do you engage in overly simplistic black and white good/bad, right/wrong, true/false, type thinking
  20. You don’t assume you’re right – just because the opposition is wrong. Too many people are quick to assume that just because their opponents are wrong, that they must automatically be right. But that’s ridiculous. I’ve also heard it said: ‘There are two sides to every story and the truth is often somewhere in between.’ – again that’s simply not true because neither side could be even remotely right about what they believe. Often both sides are wrong. If liberals are wrong – does that mean conservatives are automatically right? If Christians are wrong – does that mean that Muslims are automatically right? Of course not.
  21. You don’t assume you’re right even if everyone agrees with you. Your beliefs are based on the evidence, not on the opinions of other people or the brainwashed masses. You know that popular opinion means nothing, and the number of believers in a claim, says nothing at all about the actual validity of that claim. Even if the whole world is agreeing with you and telling you you’re right – that doesn’t mean you are right. Nor does it mean you’re wrong. It doesn’t mean anything at all.

“Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.” – Maimonides

Are you a truth seeker?

As I said earlier: Most people aren’t. Most people believe whatever they want to believe.

If you want to get smarter however, you must become a truth seeker, and the above guidelines should serve as a useful guideline to keep you on track.

Seek the truth.

Don’t avoid it.

Don’t deny it.

Don’t dismiss it.

Don’t ignore it.

Don’t reject it.

Don’t attack, hate, or try to silence those who speak it.

44. Be a realist 

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward

If you want to get smarter:

Don’t be a critic or a hater.

Don’t be a supporter or a fan.

Don’t be an optimist or a pessimist.

Don’t think positively or negatively.

Just see everyone and everything exactly as they are.

Not better than they are.

Not worse than they are.

Not how they could, should or might be – but how they are.

In other words: Instead of being an optimist or a pessimist, be a realist.

I highly recommend you check out my 5 part series on this subject:

50 Harsh facts of life

Harsh Facts of Life – Part 1

Harsh Facts of Life – Part 2

Harsh Facts of Life – Part 3

Harsh Facts of Life – Part 4

Harsh Facts of Life – Part 5

43. Open your mind

Everyone talks about being “open minded” but how many people really are?

Not many.

Most people today are closed minded and far too sure of themselves.

They’re insanely sure about everything.

There’s nothing they don’t know.

You can’t tell them anything because they already know everything.

How about you? Are you a “closed-minded” person?

Closed-minded

adjective 

“not willing to consider different ideas or opinions” – Merriam-Webster

“having a mind firmly unreceptive to new ideas or arguments” – Dictionary.com

21 signs you might be a closed-minded person

Here are 21 signs you might be a closed-minded person:

  1. You don’t know, or care, what others believe – or why they believe it. You simply ‘know’ that what you believe is ‘right’ and anyone that disagrees with you is ‘wrong’. The end.
  2. You believe your perspective is the only ‘correct’, ‘right’, or ‘true’ one
  3. You’re not open to any ideas/opinions/perspectives that directly contradict what you believe, nor are you willing to entertain the possibility that you maybe mistaken or wrong
  4. You’re a know-it-all with an answer to every question and a solution to every problem
  5. You state your beliefs and opinions as if they were irrefutable facts
  6. You’re quick to dismiss advice/information/things you don’t understand as “dumb”, “stupid”, “wrong” etc. – without having a clue as to what it is you’re rejecting
  7. You have a very rigid personality and are very resistant to change and to trying new things
  8. You don’t listen to understand, only to argue/debunk/refute
  9. In an argument/conversation, the only questions you ask are leading or loaded questions that assume the answer within the question, instead of asking open-ended questions that display a genuine curiosity to understand what the other person believes and what evidence/logic/reasoning they have to support it
  10. When someone asks you to “open your mind” or to consider another point of view, your mentality is: “What’s the point? Why should I ask questions when I already know the answers? Why should I seek the truth when I already have it? Why should I listen to someone who doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about?”
  11. You stay in your echo chamber and only read/watch/listen/speak to people you agree with
  12. Instead of taking the time to listen to counter arguments from people who disagree with you, you prefer to attack/label/ridicule and/or silence them
  13. You can’t stand to have your beliefs/ideas/opinions challenged or disagreed with, and you’re easily triggered and quick to get aggressive or defensive whenever someone says something you don’t like (which is often)
  14. When you ask people for their opinions on what decision you should make, you get angry and frustrated if they don’t tell you what you want to hear
  15. You refuse to change your mind even when:
    • Someone destroys your argument with airtight logic
    • Irrefutable evidence is presented clearly refuting your beliefs
    • New or previously withheld information presents itself contradicting what you believe
  16. You’re quick to criticize, judge, label, reject people different than you, and you find it difficult to accept people for who they are I.e. if you’re a confident extrovert – you find quiet introverts annoying (and vise versa)
  17. You feel uncomfortable around people of different ages, cultures, races, religions etc.
  18. You tend to generalize people and to stereotype entire countries/peoples/races
  19. You’re tend to see things in a very black and white way. Everything is either good/bad, right/wrong, true/false etc.
  20. You believe you live in the best city/country in the world, but you’ve never been anywhere else
  21. You’re religious. How many open minded religious people do you know? Not many.

Are you closed minded?

The funny thing is: No one thinks they’re closed-minded. Therefore if you accuse a closed minded person of being closed minded, there’s a good chance they won’t admit it, because they genuinely don’t believe they are.

But the truth is: EVERYONE IS CLOSED-MINDED. I’m closed-minded. You’re closed-minded. Everyone is closed-mined. It just depends on the topic. e.g. A deeply devout religious person probably isn’t open to the possibility that their religion is based on a myth, or else they wouldn’t believe it. On this topic they’re probably closed minded.

However if you were to speak to that same religious person about something else, say a better/faster/smarter way to perform their job or to program a computer – you would probably find them to be incredibly open-minded.

Same person. Different topic. Different result.

It’s the same with you: Are you open minded to the possibility that murder, rape, terrorism etc. is good? Probably not. On these topics you’re closed-minded.

However, for me it comes down to this: You’re either generally open and receptive to new ideas and information – even if it contradicts what you already believe – or you’re not.

Why are so many people closed minded?

Why are there so many closed minded people in the world anyway?

I think there are many reasons:

  1. It’s human nature. It’s human nature to accept one belief/idea/philosophy we consider the ‘best’ and then to defend and guard against all others. Billionaire investor Charlie Munger puts it this way: “The human mind is a lot like the human egg, and the human egg has a shut-off device. When one sperm gets in, it shuts down so the next one can’t get in. The human mind has a big tendency of the same sort.” In other words: Once you accept one belief/idea/philosophy as the best (even if it isn’t) you will tend to reject all others as “bullshit”, “stupid”, “wrong” etc. – even if they’re better.
  2. The illusion of certainty. If you’re 100% certain you’re right about something (whether you actually are or not), obviously you’re going to think it’s a complete waste of time considering any other possibilities. Unfortunately most people – especially stupid people – tend to think they’re 100% right about everything, even when they’re 100% wrong – or close to it “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence” – Charles Bukowski
  3. Your identity is based on your beliefs. If you’re so identified with your beliefs that you’ve formed an identity out of them: “I’m a Christian”, “I’m a Muslim”, “I’m a liberal” etc. than changing your beliefs/opening your mind to any other possibilities becomes almost impossible, because you’re too attached to what you believe, and changing your mind wouldn’t just mean changing a few beliefs, it would mean changing your identity, and your entire way of life (I’ll be speaking more about this shortly)
  4. Intellectual laziness. Most people are intellectually lazy and can’t be bothered thinking for themselves, doing their own homework, listening to counter-arguments against their beliefs etc. it’s much easier to simply dismiss/ignore/reject all other beliefs/opinions/perspectives/philosophies etc. as “bullshit”, “stupid”, “wrong” etc. even if you don’t know what they are, than it is to consider them with an open mind, do your own research, follow the evidence where it leads etc.
  5. Lack of education or life experience. Children/teenagers/young people are often over confident in what they believe due to a lack of education and life experience. So are many older people. This also leads to thinking in a very fixed, overly simplistic, black/white way
  6. Conditioning. Most people have been indoctrinated from birth to believe certain things (often uncritically and without evidence) and to reject all others. For example: A child growing up in a Christian or a Muslim family is taught that they must they believe that their holy book/prophet/religion is 100% infallible and right (even if it contradicts evidence/logic/science), and they must REJECT all other thoughts/beliefs/ideas against their religion or else they risk eternal damnation burning in hell
  7. Sunk costs. The more time, money and energy you’ve invested into anything – including a belief/philosophy/religion – the more likely you are to try to defend and protect your investment (even if it contradicts logic and common sense)
  8. Negative life experiences. If someone has had several bad experiences with someone or something e.g. a certain race of people, they may start to automatically hate all members of that race and be closed minded to the possibility that all members of that race aren’t the same

How to change the mind of a closed minded person

“No rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.” – Karl Popper

How do you change the mind of a closed-minded person?

Unfortunately in my experience you can’t. Trying to talk to someone who has already made their mind up and doesn’t want to listen is like talking to a brick wall. It’s a complete waste of time and energy. Nothing you say will get through to them.

Instead of changing their mind you’ll just get angry and frustrated as they refuse to listen to reason and nothing at all will change.

99.99% of people believe whatever they want to believe – regardless of the evidence, no matter how illogical or irrational it might be.

“You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep seated need to believe” – Carl Sagan

One of the reasons it’s so difficult to change someone’s mind is because you’re asking them to think differently (which most people don’t like because they’re intellectually lazy), and to consider new evidence and other perspectives, and that takes a lot of hard work.

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford

However if you were to try to change the mind of a closed-minded person who doesn’t want to listen – which I strongly advise against – this would be my advice:

Seek to understand before being understood. Seek to understand not only what someone believes, but why they believe it, and what evidence/logic/reasoning they have to support their beliefs, before you try to convince them otherwise.

Once you understand why they believe what they believe, and what evidence/logic/reasoning they have to support their beliefs, you might be surprised to discover that you actually agree with them. You never know: Maybe they’re right and you’re wrong. It’s not impossible.

Introduce an imaginary 3rd person to ask questions. If someone is extremely closed-minded and resistant to new information, or if they’re overly argumentative/defensive about what they believe, you can try to introduce an imaginary 3rd person into the discussion in order to ask them questions whilst lowering their defenses:

“What would you say to someone who said (insert argument)?”

That way they won’t feel like they’re being attacked or put on the spot. It’s pretty hard to feel attacked or defensive about an imaginary person asking imaginary questions.

Ask them this question. If they’re being extra stubborn, and refusing to think logically or to be reasonable, you might try asking them:

“When was the last time you changed your mind about something?”

Then listen carefully to how they answer and find out what it was that caused them to change their minds the last time.

Finally be patient with others (and yourself) because changing your mind isn’t easy. Especially about things you’ve been conditioned to believe since childhood. Often times people don’t even know why they believe what they believe, or how they ‘know’ it’s true – they just ‘know’ it is.

More importantly though: How do you open your own mind?

How to open your mind

“Teach thy tongue to say ‘I do not know’, and thou shalt progress.” – Maimonides

Instead of wasting your time trying to change the minds of closed-minded people who don’t want to listen, I recommend trying to be a more open-minded person yourself.

How do you do it?

It’s not easy, but here are some ways which will help:

  1. Ask yourself questions and question your answers. How do you know that your beliefs are actually true? What evidence do you have? When you start to question and test the assumptions behind each of your beliefs, you’ll often quickly discover that you don’t have very good reasons to support believe most of what you believe
  2. Attack your beliefs. Instead of trying to defend your beliefs, argue against them and look for evidence to try to prove yourself wrong. Then start listening to the best counter arguments against your beliefs from experts who believe the exact opposite of what you do and consider their arguments with an open mind. The more contradictions and holes you discover in the evidence/logic/reasoning that supports your beliefs, the less sure you’ll be in what you believe, and the more your mind will open to other possibilities
  3. Get out of your echo chamber. Start reading/watching/listening to people who think differently than you
  4. Make friends with smart people who think differently than you. When you spend time with smart people who think differently than you, they’ll give you new ideas and perspectives to consider, and even if they don’t change your mind, the conversations you have will get you thinking in a new way
  5. Read/watch/listen/study things you know nothing about. Variety is always good, and when you learn new things you know nothing about, it activates new neural pathways in your brain and it causes you to think in a new way
  6. Go outside of your comfort zone. When you go outside of your comfort zone you’ll not only open your mind, but you’ll start to tap into your physical and mental potential
  7. Meditate. Meditation is the greatest spiritual practice of all time. It will open your mind and stop you from being so identified with your thoughts. Meditation is a must if you want to get smarter because it enables you to see and perceive everyone and everything so much clearer. There aren’t too many closed minded meditators.
  8. Psychedelics. Psychedelics such as Ayahuasca, DMT, LSD, Magic Mushrooms etc. are probably the fastest and most powerful way to open your mind. In fact, they make it almost impossible to be closed minded. They’re not for everyone (the experience can be terrifying if you’re not willing to let go) but if you have the courage to try, you’ll quickly find that they open your eyes and open your mind faster than anything else.
  9. Variety. The more variety you have in what you eat/wear/read/watch/listen to/talk about, who you hang out with, where you spend time etc. the more your mind will open to new possibilities
  10. Travel. Travel the world to as many places as possible as soon as possible. The more you travel, the more you will see/hear/feel/experience, and the more your mind will open to new ways of thinking and doing things. Traveling the world and/or living in another country is probably the 2nd fastest way to open your mind after psychedelics.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

Ultimately the best way I know of to open your mind (and to instill some much needed intellectual humility) is to come to the simple and obvious realization of just how incredibly ignorant we all are about everything.

If you think you’re smart – you’re either incredibly delusional – or most likely – you just haven’t taken the time to think it through yet.

Sure you might be smarter than other people, but most people are idiots so that means nothing.

In fact, we’re all idiots. On the grand scale of things no one knows anything.

If you still think you know a lot, hopefully the following quotes will give you some much needed perspective:

“The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” – Socrates

“We don’t know a millionth of one percent about anything.” – Thomas Edison

“What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean.” – Isaac Newton

“We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know.” – Albert Einstein

“Our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.” – Karl Popper

“The fact of the matter is, nobody knows what’s going on. Nobody knows. Nobody has the faintest idea. The best guesses are lies, you may be sure of it. Nonsense, rubbish, nobody knows anything.” – Terence McKenna

My advice: Stay humble. Stay hungry. Empty your cup. Open your mind.

By keeping your mind open you’re going to learn a lot more, and you’re going to get a lot smarter.

“Many people might have attained wisdom had they not assumed they already had it.” – Unknown

Finally, let’s look at some signs of open-mindedness:

Signs you might be an open minded person

Are you an open minded person?

Open-minded

adjective

  1. having or showing a mind receptive to new ideas or arguments
  2. unprejudiced; unbigoted; impartial – Dictionary.com

Here are some signs you might be:

  1. You’re open and receptive to new ideas and information – even to those that might contradict what you believe
  2. You’re willing to listen to counter arguments from people who might disagree with you, and to seriously consider the evidence/logic/reasoning of their argument, even if it directly contradicts/goes against what you believe
  3. You have a willingness to learn new things, and you’re curious about things you know nothing about
  4. In an argument/conversation: You seek to understand, before being understood
  5. You’re more interested in discussing ideas and finding out what other people believe, than you are in persuading them to your way of thinking, changing minds, winning arguments, or being “right”
  6. You’re open to the possibility that you might be wrong
  7. You’re open to the possibility that you may be closed minded

As I said earlier though, everyone is both open and closed-minded. It all depends on the topic.

42. Don’t fall in love with your beliefs or your philosophy

“A human being, the more intelligent he becomes, the more confused he gets – every step is a confusion. Only an idiot is dead sure. The sign of intelligence is that you are constantly wondering. Idiots are always dead sure about every damn thing they are doing in their life.” – Sadhguru

My advice: No matter how confident or certain you are in what you believe, don’t make the mistake of falling in love with your beliefs and confusing them as facts.

Instead always stay open to the possibility that you maybe wrong (no matter how unlikely it seems), because the moment you believe you’re in possession of “THE TRUTH”, you immediately become closed-minded and dismissive towards all other possibilities.

And the biggest problem with thinking that you’re already in possession of “THE TRUTH” is that you prevent yourself from getting it…

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” – Epictetus  

Even worse is when you build an identity out of your beliefs and use them to define “who you are”:

“I’m a Christian”

“I’m a Muslim”

“I’m a Liberal”

Once you’ve fallen in love with your beliefs – and especially if you’ve formed an identity out of them – it becomes almost impossible to change them or to open your mind to any other possibility.

The average Christian cannot imagine life without Christianity, just as the average Muslim cannot imagine life without Islam. That’s why you cannot talk a religious person out of their religion and why they just cannot think critically about their holy book/prophet/religion, because it’s not just a set of beliefs – it defines “who they are”.

“It does take great maturity to understand that the opinion we are arguing for is merely the hypothesis we favor, necessarily imperfect, probably transitory, which only very limited minds can declare to be a certainty or a truth.” – Milan Kundera  

41. Listen to your opponents and to people who disagree with you

“I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” – Johannes Kepler

Too many people today hang out in echo chambers and only want to speak to people who agree with them.

Not only do they refuse to listen to counter arguments from the other side, but they can’t stand to be corrected or criticized, or to have their beliefs challenged or scrutinized in any way.

Instead of listening to their critics, they’d rather silence them.

However, if you want to get smarter you must spend time reading/watching/listening to counter arguments from experts on the other side, and you must find out why they disagree and what evidence/reasons they have to support their beliefs.

For example: If you’re religious (Christian, Muslim, Hindu etc.) spend a month listening to the best arguments and evidence against your religion from famous atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence Krauss, and Sam Harris.

Most people won’t do this however for 2 reasons:

  • They’re intellectually lazy and can’t be bothered. It’s much easier to dismiss/label/ridicule the other side than it is to take the time to listen to their counter arguments and examine the evidence with an open mind
  • They’re closed minded and think it’s a waste of time listening to counter arguments/considering other perspectives because they already ‘know’ the ‘truth’. Why ask questions when you already know the answers? Why seek the truth when you already have it? Why listen to someone who doesn’t know as much as you do?

However listening to people who disagree with you (especially counter arguments from experts), is not only intellectually honest – it’s also smart…

Why you should listen to arguments from people who disagree with you

  • You’ll get a better understanding of their perspective (even if you don’t agree with it) and you’ll start to understand why they think/believe what they do, what evidence they have to support their beliefs, and how they came to those conclusions
  • Listening to arguments from the other side will enable you to think like the opposition and speak their language, which will make influencing and persuading them much easier
  • You’ll discover flaws in your opponents argument/logic/thinking, which will make defeating their arguments and proving them wrong even easier
  • You’ll discover flaws in your own argument/logic/thinking, which will help you to improve your argument/logic/thinking
  • It’ll open your mind and give you new ideas and perspectives to consider
  • Maybe you’re wrong. Just because someone disagrees with you, or has another perspective, or thinks differently, that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily wrong. Maybe they simply know something you don’t or have thought of something you haven’t. It’s not impossible. Why not listen to them and ask questions to find out?

Finally, think of it this way: If you were going to war you would first want to study your enemy in order to understand their strengths and weaknesses.

The same principle should apply to winning an argument or a war of ideas.

In order to persuade anyone of anything you should understand:

  • Their argument/perspective (what they believe)
  • Their evidence/logic/reasoning (why they believe it)
  • What objections they have to your argument (why they disagree with you)

Like a great debater or lawyer, you should be able to think like your opponent, see things from their perspective, and argue intelligently from either side of the debate.

You should know the strengths and weaknesses of their argument/your argument, what arguments and evidence they’re most likely to use in support of their position, and what arguments and evidence you can use to defeat them.

“If you can’t intelligently argue for both sides of an issue, you don’t understand the issue well enough to argue for either.” – Reddit user

But it’s impossible to know any of these things if you haven’t first taken the time to study their beliefs and listen to their arguments, to understand why they believe what they do.

So listen to your critics/opponents/people who disagree with you, and the next time someone challenges your argument or disagrees with you:

  • Don’t get angry or upset
  • Don’t take it as a personal attack and start acting offended
  • Don’t just dismiss their argument without first taking the time to understand it and why they believe what they do

“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Instead of dismissing your critics, treat them the way you would like to be treated:

  • Ask questions and listen to the answers with an open mind, without arguing, interrupting, or impatiently waiting to speak
  • Seek to understand why your opponent disagrees with you, and find out what evidence/reasons they have for their beliefs, before seeking to be understood
  • Give them the genuine opportunity to change your mind if their argument/evidence/logic/reasoning is good enough, without being closed minded, disagreeable or difficult about it

And if someone does defeat your argument or prove you wrong with superior evidence/logic/reasoning, it’s not the end of the world so don’t get angry or upset.

Instead change your mind and thank that person immediately, because they’ve just done you a massive favor by not only helping you to clear up some of your own incorrect beliefs and assumptions, but by giving you access to even better and more accurate information.

Instead of seeing it as a loss, consider it an education and a learning experience.

Isn’t that much better than stubbornly and stupidly continuing to persist in your error despite superior evidence to the contrary?

Of course it is.

Believe me: every cognitive bias/logical fallacy/wrong belief removed from your thinking, is just as good, if not greater, as the discovery of a brand new fact.

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Summary

This is part 2 of a 10 part series:

How to get smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies.

In this article we looked at truth seeking, realism, open and closed-mindedness, the danger of falling in love with your beliefs, and the importance of listening to counter-arguments from people (especially experts) who disagree with you.

Let’s do a quick recap:

45. Be a truth seeker

44. Be a realist

43. Open your mind

42. Don’t fall in love with your beliefs or your philosophy

41. Listen to your opponents and people who disagree with you

If you liked this article please subscribe to my mailing list below and I’ll email you my latest articles whenever they’re released. NO SPAM EVER.

If you would like to read the other parts in this series here they are:

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 1 

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 3

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 4

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 5

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 6

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 7

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 8

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 9

How to get Smarter: A guide to critical thinking, cognitive biases, and logical fallacies – Part 10

You might also like to check out my article: How to Learn: 21 Smart Strategies

Or if you would like to read my other articles: Life Lessons All Articles

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