Our culture praises originality and creativity. We want our students to think for themselves and not follow blindly.
But thinking for oneself does not mean zero input from others. It means, first, thinking through the ideas of other people. Creativity depends on copying others' ideas.
Our confusion stems from philosopher Rene Descartes, who decided to withdraw into his room and discard any knowledge that could be faulty. He chose to work from first principles on things he knew to be true from experience.
His new philosophy was formulated as, "I think, therefore I am." Modern philosophy is set in motion by his idea, except that his statement was not that original. Isaac Beeckman may have suggested some of Descartes ideas.
We learn to think for ourselves by learning the thoughts of other people.
The person who claims to think for himself, but rejects studying from other sources, is influenced by a source he is unaware of. The way to really think independently is to gain enough knowledge so that you can discover hidden assumptions in your views.
It would be mistaken to think accumulating knowledge always lead to independent thought. We are all aware of groupthink and conformity.
But, conformity and groupthink are solved by more learning. The more you come in contact with ideas, the easier it is to notice faulty reasoning.
We all start as captives of the beliefs that are in our surroundings.
However, if you want to have independent thoughts, you have to learn more from both those with whom you agree and disagree.
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