Even more basic to functioning democracies than specified rights in a national constitution is the freedom from which those rights derive; to question our leaders, whether those of the government, church, a corporation, and any other large establishment.
Needless to say, despots don’t like it, and do what they can to restrict their citizens’ right, and even ability to question what they are told. In dictatorships, analytical thinking is ignored or suppressed, and this of course furthers the aims of the governing body to maintain their control.
More than anything else, the freedom, and the skill of systematic doubt and its ties to politics are a major motivator to many skeptics, and one of the reasons that irrationality is so strongly opposed by the same.
More than the sensationalized examples of the consequences of pseudoscience (and I’ve been guilty of using some of those myself) that have been mentioned before, the ability to think clearly is essential to good decision making, and a necessary means of avoiding erroneous conclusions.
After all, at least one rather infamous dictator has been attributed with saying, “how good it is that the people do not think.”
Thinking is our gift as a species, and we have an obligation not only to ourselves, but to our world and our descendants to use that gift for the benefit of all, no matter what our national affiliation or particular political leanings.
Here, Manhattan Project veteran and pioneer of quantum electrodynamics Dick Feynman discusses his take on this, and why it came about the way it did.
Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permit us to question — to doubt — to not be sure. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained.
- The Feynman Variations – Brian Cox presents a tribute to Richard Feynman – Discovery – BBC – World Service (richarddawkins.net)
- ‘No ordinary genius’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Generating Thoughts, or, the Feynman Family Phrase (jsomers.net)
- Symphony of Science – ‘We Are All Connected’ (ft. Sagan, Feynman, deGrasse Tyson & Bill Nye) (kestalusrealm.wordpress.com)
- Eivind: BBC News – How Richard Feynman went from stirring jelly to a Nobel Prize (bbc.co.uk)
- Richard Feynman: Uncertainty of Knowledge (milkandcookies.com)