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Challenging the Pathological Tendencies of the Mind

It is not enough to recognize abstractly that the human mind has a predictable pathology. As aspiring critical thinkers, we must take concrete steps to correct it. This requires us to create the habit of identifying these tendencies in action. This is a long-term project that is never complete. To some extent, it is analogous to stripping off onion skins. After we remove one, we find another beneath it. To some extent, we have to strip off the outer layer to be able to recognize the one underneath. Each of the following admonitions, therefore, should not be taken as simple suggestions that any person could immediately, and effectively, put into action, but rather as strategic formulations of long-range goals. We all can perform these corrections, but only over time and only with considerable practice:

Correcting Egocentric Memory

We can correct our natural tendency to "forget" evidence and information that do not support our thinking and to "remember" evidence and information that do, by overtly seeking evidence and information that do not support our thinking and directing explicit attention to them. If you try and cannot find such evidence, you should probably assume you have not conducted your search properly.

Correcting Egocentric Myopia

We can correct our natural tendency to think in an absolutistic way within an overly narrow point of view by routinely thinking within points of view that conflict with our own. For example, if we are liberal, we can take the time to read books by insightful conservatives. If we are conservative, we can take the time to read books by insightful liberals. If we are North Americans, we can study a contrasting South American point of view or a European or Far-Eastern or Middle-Eastern or African point of view. If you don't discover significant personal prejudices through this process, you should question whether you are acting in good faith in trying to identify your prejudices.

Correcting Egocentric Righteousness

We can correct our natural tendency to feel superior in light of our confidence that we possess the truth by regularly reminding ourselves how little we actually know. In this case, we can explicitly state the unanswered questions that surround whatever knowledge we may have. If you don't discover that there is much more that you do not know than you do know, you should question the manner in which you pursued the questions to which you do not have answers.

Correcting Egocentric Hypocrisy

We can correct our natural tendency to ignore flagrant inconsistencies between what we profess to believe and the actual beliefs our behavior implies, and inconsistencies between the standards to which we hold ourselves and those to which we expect others to adhere. We can do this by regularly comparing the criteria and standards by which we are judging others with those by which we are judging ourselves. If you don't find many flagrant inconsistencies in your own thinking and behavior, you should doubt whether you have dug deeply enough.

Correcting Egocentric Oversimplification

We can correct our natural tendency to ignore real and important complexities in the world by regularly focusing on those complexities, formulating them explicitly in words, and targeting them. If you don't discover over time that you have oversimplified many important issues, you should question whether you have really confronted the complexities inherent in the issues.

Correcting Egocentric Blindness

We can correct our natural tendency to ignore facts or evidence that contradicts our favored beliefs or values by explicitly seeking out those facts and evidence. If you don't find yourself experiencing significant discomfort as you pursue these facts, you should question whether you are taking them seriously. If you discover that your traditional beliefs were all correct from the beginning, you probably moved to a new and more sophisticated level of self-deception.

Correcting Egocentric Immediacy

We can correct our natural tendency to overgeneralize immediate feelings and experiences by getting into the habit of putting positive and negative events into a much larger perspective. You can temper the negative events by reminding yourself of how much you have that many others lack. You can temper the positive events by reminding yourself of how much is yet to be done, of how many problems remain. You know you are keeping an even keel if you find that you have the energy to act effectively in either negative or positive circumstances. You know that you are falling victim to your emotions if and when you are immobilized by them.

Correcting Egocentric Absurdity

We can correct our natural tendency to ignore thinking that has absurd consequences by making the consequences of our thinking explicit and assessing them for their realism. This requires that we frequently trace the implications of our beliefs and their consequences in our behavior. For example, we should frequently ask ourselves: "If I really believed this, how would I act? Do I really act that way?"

By the way, personal ethics is a fruitful area for disclosing egocentric absurdity. We frequently act in ways that are "absurd"ógiven what we insist we believe in. If, after what you consider to be a serious search, you find no egocentric absurdity in your life, think again. You are probably just developing your ability to deceive yourself.

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