History celebrates the men and women who have dared to speak their minds and shun conformity. Throughout history, free-thinkers have developed their own conceptions of truth and morality, without being pressured or restricted by tradition or accepted forms of power and dogma, including institutions like the church or state. Free-thinkers believe that ideas about what is “true” or “correct” should be developed through logic, reason and empiricism. Often, they were punished for their revolutionary ways, forced to live at the margins of society, or even killed.
By nature, free-thinkers want to try and break down accepted views and truths which do not make sense to them. They believe in the value of change and challenge.
Here are a few tips to thinking like a free-thinker does:
1. Creativity is key
Most of us do not realize to what extent we, and our thinking, are products of the people, society and institutions that raised and educated us. Slowly, notions instilled in us repress our natural capacity for creativity, instead making us into replicas of our environments’ accepted norms, the “robots” of society and dogma, if you will. Students in this situation, for example, are discouraged from thinking in ways that can challenge established power structures. Creative thinking, however, is an inalienable power, and should be cultivated.
2. Avoid herd mentality
History, and perhaps situations in your own life, have proved the prevalence of the herd mentality. People love to follow a leader or trend, without questioning its merit, value or logic. This is the greatest antithesis to free-thinking. Practice the opposite action: challenging ideas and behaviors that are simply accepted by the majority, even despite glaring inadequacies. Is the convict really guilty? Is the law which made him guilty, logical? Is the judge who enforced the law worthy to pass judgment?
3. Change your perspective
A free-thinker realizes that perspective is the tool by which one can understand an issue more fully. The most logical assumption can change and be debunked by a simple change of perspective. We live in a 3D world – there is always more than one perspective on a given situation. A great way to test any idea is to view it from varying perspectives, including ones which are hard for you to agree with or rationalize.
4. Knowledge is provisional
Powerful institutions that control large groups of people often base their power on information or knowledge that is supposedly immutable or absolute. The free-thinker knows, however, that all knowledge – even scientific knowledge – is not 100% certain. Knowledge and truth evolve. What we knew years ago has been disproven. What we think we “know” today will certainly be augmented or changed in another 100 years. Just ask the people who thought that the earth was flat and the center of the universe, or that whales were a type of fish. The job of the free-thinker is to challenge all accepted knowledge.
5. The time bubble
One of the reasons that knowledge is so subjective is because of time and space. All humans live within a certain range of time and place – which affects what they think and accept as true. A man in Medieval Europe had a very different idea of reality than a man in the 21st century. A “primitive,” illiterate Papua New Guinean islander probably has a different concept of reality than a Harvard University professor. Moreover, both differing truths are valid, because both must be judged in terms of their time/space bubble. Likewise, what we humans on earth accept as the consensus, or “truth,” might easily be challenged by a superior alien with more information than us, who sees our world from an outside perspective.
A free thinker tries to see beyond his or her own time and place, in order to find the most absolute truths possible. He or she can also accept that this might be impossible.
6) Screw the man
In contemporary society, we are constantly more aware of how powerful institutions shape individuals’ lives, health, relationships and thoughts. Whether authoritarian, democratic or otherwise, all men are controlled by certain systems and power mechanisms. Free-thinkers are not afraid, rather very happy, to challenge these institutions – never succumbing to uniformity and control. The unlikely ideas of free-thinkers, throughout history, have somehow spread and eventually felled the greatest of giants. While institutions tend to want to preserve any given status-quo, free-thinkers promote change, renegotiation and renewal.