Be Cognitively Generous

Most people are cognitive misers. Humans are finite, so we cannot help this to some extent, but I think it is worthwhile to try to be a little less miserly, a little more generous, with our thoughts.

Politics, Religion, Money, and Sex. These topics are hugely important; fundamental to daily life-choices, and overarching life-paths. Yet, these are probably the four most actively avoided topics. It’s rude to bring them up around family. A debate on one of these topics can easily ruin a friendship, or stop one from forming. But how much careful consideration have you given to these topics?

Being cognitively generous means actively seeking new information that could invalidate your existing opinion. This entails holding your beliefs lightly. In a strange way it actually requires you to want to be wrong, so that you can be corrected and become right. Concretely, this means seeking out viewpoints that you have not encountered before.

Being cognitively generous means listening when someone says something horrifying. Because if it is horrifying, it is probably also novel–to you at least. It means holding back on your reactions until you can actually process the new information. Thinking well is difficult, and requires time. Einstein did not discover relativity in an instant. The pursuit of truth is just that–a pursuit. Don’t expect to know all the right answers, or to find them quickly.

It’s not easy. But it is good.

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