I listened to an interview with astrophysicist, cosmologist and planetary scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson yesterday. The interviewer asked Tyson, "What did you learn from your father?" This was in no way a light-weight question as Cyril deGrasse Tyson, Neil's dad, is an astrophysicist, cosmologist, author and science communicator. With no hesitation the answer came; "He taught me how to think." Then Neil went on to describe how in words and actions, his father taught him how to not simply accept what he was told to be true, but to test it, examine it and spend time with it before accepting it as truth. He also noted that a skeptic is a person who, while looking critically at a problem, statement or situation is not afraid to change their view based on what they find.
The ability to think critically. This is indeed a fantastic gift. It was my extreme good fortune while in college to have one very young professor who taught his class to think. Not parrot back to him what he had said, as so many other professors wanted, but to wrestle with a concept, challenge our beliefs on that concept and arrive at our own conclusions. Not what we had been told, or had read or had been conditioned to think, but what WE thought; then defend that position based on research and facts.
Embodying what Tyson says about being a true skeptic, this professor was not afraid to challenge his thoughts and beliefs daily and change them when new evidence suggested or demanded it. It was as much of an education for me to watch his thoughts and positions evolve over four years as he daily wrestled with the positions he believed. He was not afraid to modify or change his position when research showed he needed to change.
Much like the gift that Neil's dad gave him, this young professor understood that to truly think through an issue, he needed to gain access other views that people held on the same issue. Tyson talks about research bias, where people will only read articles or conduct experiments that will reinforce what they already believe. This is what people do when they only listen to or watch programs that agree with what they think, They close themselves off to the opportunity to learn, to understand and to grow. In short, they close themselves off to thinking and simply parrot what others program them to say.
Don't waste the gift of thinking. Challenge your fears, challenge your thoughts and learn to be a true skeptic and thinker.