Is True Freethought Possible?

By Jin-yeong Yi

This blog of mine, which is not yet two days old, received its first comment today. The poster, who was commenting on my entry “The Catholic Atheist?,” wrote that it was suggestive of “a true freethinker….someone who maintains an open mind and contemplates the possibilities.”

Though I thought of responding to the poster directly, I decided that his or her comment called for an entry-length response of its own, and here it is. My apologies if it is needlessly convoluted or confusing. My thoughts on the subject have yet to be developed and organized.

Although I was quite flattered by the comment, it also made me ask myself, “Is there such a thing as a true freethinker?” If a “true freethinker” is someone who successfully avoids all logical fallacies and cognitive biases, I’m not sure if such a creature actually exists.

The development of opinion is, it seems to me, akin to the growth of a tree, the process being wholly accounted for by a long, unbroken chain of cause and effect. I strongly suspect that a thorough examination of a person’s history yields an explanation for the opinions he began with and how those opinions changed or remained the same throughout his life.

As I was shaped by the dual forces of genetics and environment like everyone else, none of my intellectual predilections or tendencies were determined by me. If I didn’t set the initial parameters of the trajectory that my mind is taking, and if that trajectory is unbroken, then in what sense am “I” directing it? Could it be that my thought process is something that is happening to me rather than something that I am guiding? Of course, there is always the possibility that, by sheer luck, my mind accurately processed and parsed all or at least most of the data relevant to the formation of my worldview…but what are the chances that I of all people managed to jump through all of the right mental hoops? Blind spots are so called for a reason. In any case, my views will continue to develop as they will, because I have little choice but to follow my reasoning wherever it leads. I have and intend to continue to strive for accuracy, for truth, but I also accept that, in the end, my worldview is nothing more than the product of a long chain of action-reaction/cause-effect.

As I see it, I’m solving equations for which no answer key was ever provided, as in a mathematics textbook. No matter how confident I may be in my solutions, in all probability I’ll never really know whether they are actually correct or not.

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