Once I ran across a song called “My Mind Is Not a Junkyard.” I had high hopes for the title, but it turned out to be just a complaint about Internet porn. What I hoped for was something about treating one’s own mind with respect. Maybe I’ll write that song myself.
What reminded me of that this week was a comment in an article by Andy Ihnatko. It’s nominally about whether religious people can believe in evolution (of course they can), but the part I want to focus on here is:
The folks who subscribe to that kind of idea readily concede that it’s a matter of personal faith, not a matter of provable science, and they know that the correct answer to the demand “Prove it!” is “Why?” You only need to prove something when you’re trying to convince the rest of the world they’re wrong, or impose your personal beliefs on them. And I think most religious people are secure enough in themselves and their faith to see the vulgarity of such motives.
He’s saying proof is only for persuading others, and even then it’s vulgar. Most people don’t say so outright, but it’s common for people to think of proof as something for public discourse, not for themselves. This amounts to making second-class citizens of their own minds. They’re granting a higher level of respect to other people’s minds than to their own.
It takes courage and practice to follow one’s own judgment. For most people, it’s easier to take something they’ve heard from someone else and toss it onto the debris pile of their minds. They don’t think about how well-supported it is till someone challenges it, and even then they’re more likely to care about winning an argument than checking their own premises. Or they may not even care that much about proof, taking the bumper-sticker attitude of “God [or some other authority] said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” They’re the mental equivalent of hoarders, hanging on desperately to whatever is inside their heads.