“No concept man forms is valid unless he integrates it without contradiction into the total sum of his knowledge. To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one’s thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one’s mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality.” – John Galt, “Atlas Shrugged”, Ayn Rand.
This is so inherently, obviously, true that it continuously surprises me that so many, many people clearly don’t grasp it. Examples of this might include:
- The silly idea that taking away honest, law-abiding people’s guns will make them, and other people, safer.
- The present administration’s insistence, ignoring all evidence and history, that spending trillions of dollars that do not yet exist will somehow bring about prosperity and economic growth.
- Basing major-impact government policy on a hypothesis (global warming) about which substantial doubt exists within the scientific community.
- The ability of many religious fundamentalists to ignore the massive body of scientific knowledge that demonstrates without reasonable doubt the age of the earth, for instance.
- And many, many others.
First, what are the facts?
Second, how do they fit with what I already (think I) know?
Third, reconciliation of apparent contradictions.
Believe it or not, this requires a voluntary effort – it is not automatic. Many people never learn to do this. This skill is fundamental to any sort of critical thinking.
When the percentage of people who understand and practice critical thinking becomes too small, our civilization will fall. This is the main thesis of Atlas Shrugged, a very thought-provoking book.
It’s too soon to be sure, but we may be seeing this in action.