Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Thinking Free-Thinky Thoughts -- By Laura (Editor)

Ladies and gentlemen allow me to introduce you to your new agony aunt, your fountain of wisdom, your friend for life.  He’s about 1300-1400g when fully grown, composed of 77-78% water, makes up about 2% of your body weight, and can generate enough energy to light a 25 watt bulb.

Drum roll, please….

He’s your brain! – and whilst not much of a looker, he’ll serve you well. And here’s the great thing: you have one of these magical machines of your very own! It’s in that space between your ears. Yep, you’ve got it. That cavern you’ve been blasting your Ipod into all day.

In all seriousness, I think that we too often forget what amazing tools our brains are. We just have no need, for the most part, to exercise them. Information is available at the click of a button. Current president of Uganda? Why, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, of course. The year of Plato’s birth? Easy: 427 BC. Thanks very muchly, Mr Internet.

We can even have our opinions decided for us if we so wish. What do I think of AV?  If it’s good enough for Stephen Fry, it’s good enough for me. My views on euthanasia? Well, Mr Smith from the History department isn’t a fan, and he was right about the date of the Civil War…

I’ve been taking part in some debates at school this year, the most recent of which was on the monarchy. After talking to a staunchly royalist family member, I went home and reported to my dad that she was very cross he had brought me up as a republican. “Did I?” my dad replied. “I thought I brought you up to think for yourself.”

Now, my dad isn’t really a words-of-wisdom kind of guy. In fact, up until this point the best advice he’d ever given me was never to attempt consumption of a dessert bigger than my head (advice that I have ignored on many occasions, with varying levels of success and tragedy). But that one really made me think.

Somewhere along the way on the journey to adulthood, it seems we lose that spirit of inquiry we possess in childhood. I used to find my little sister’s constant questions irritating because, after three hours solid of interrogation, she never seemed to cotton on to the fact that maybe I just don’t care what makes salt water salty or whether chickens have their own language. But perhaps I should care. Think of the plethora of possibilities open to us, the things we can learn, the opportunities we can chase. What excuse could we possibly have for ever answering a question with “I don’t know”? What could we accomplish if we instead answered “I’ll find out,” or “I’ll give it a try”? 

So now I’m going to go completely contrary to my previous claims, and I’m going to give you some advice, instead of telling you to use your own brain. Cos, hey, I’m learning to think for myself too, and part of that involves changing my mind at least fifty times every day.

1)    Be wary of those who claim authority. I don’t mean that you should refuse to do your homework or sing loudly whenever your boss gives you an instruction, but don’t accept anything anyone says unquestioningly. Sure, maybe Mr Smith is a great History teacher, but does he really know a lot about euthanasia? And, yes, perhaps Stephen Fry is a very intelligent man, but that doesn’t make his opinion automatically correct (actually, scratch that, you are all commanded to immediately accept Stephen Fry as your personal God.)

2)     Keep an open mind. But, as is the sage advice attributed to Richard Feynman, “not so open your brain falls out.” Of course, we need to consider all claims equally at first, but we also need to recognise when they don’t measure up. The Earth is not 6000 years old and I’m afraid that homeopathic remedies are just water. But remember, don’t listen to what I say – last week I forgot the capital of Germany and had to Google it – find out for yourself (and then report back to me and I’ll say I told you so.)

3)     Ask Questions. Constantly. Take your natural-born teenage gift for causing perpetual irritation and run with it. Why does Mr Smith feel this was about euthanasia? What evidence does he have to support this? If nothing else, it will annoy the hell out of poor old Mr Smith until he agrees with you just to get you to shut up.

Maybe you won’t have an epiphany overnight, and I won’t pretend that following my advice will make you magically happy and prosperous. I guess you’ll have to take your 1300g of greyish matter and figure that one out for yourself too.

If you are a young non-theist who wants their voice to be heard, consider submitting an article of your own to Generation Atheist. Visit our submissions page for details. 

Tomorrow: "Are Proofs or Evidence for Deities Even Hypothetically Possible?" By Mike K 


  1. Yes, we must encourage the freedom of thought whenever we can!

  2. I agree, Alecks. Love the cartoon - so true! I feel that in school we are being told what to think so much, that we forget to learn how to think.

  3. That... is an excellent cartoon, Mr. Gates.

    When it comes to thinking for myself, I really feel like I'm re-calibrating at the moment. I find that my want to question kind of shuts down when I'm not paying attention.
    One problem that I notice is that other people don't. I don't notice a lot of people questioning what's out there or who says what or why, although everyone really should be. There was a survey done a few years ago that asked students if they thought that the government- or any other authoritarian body- should have the right to censor news papers. Around 45% said yes. 13% had no opinion. Which leaves around only 42% percent to say no. Personally, I find it horrifying.

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  5. Nearly all of that was self-evidence, maybe itll awaken the slaves of god

  6. Laura, thank you for creating this resource. I'm 61, so I don't fit your target audience, but many young people write to me who feel terribly alone as atheists. They fear losing their friends, being harassed, abandoned, or abused by their families, and so they suppress themselves, and spiral down into the beginnings of depression. I will be referring them to your site. I know it can be a lot of work, but please keep it up. What you do is very needed and welcome.

  7. Perhaps part of the reason we lose our innate need to question what goes around us is because we are discouraged by many from doing so. In my life, just about every time that I have asked the reasons behind my parent's actions, I have been told that it is their choice to do as they do, and to not ask why. In history classes, I have asked,among other things, about the reasons why certain events, such as the murder of John Brown for exacting revenge on murderers and slavers, have happened. I am told to sit there, and read and write until I can regurgitate little tidbits. When asking religious people about contradictions between reality and their beliefs, I have been scorned, belittled, ignored, and/or told off for being impertinent, along with being told not to question the word(s) of their individual deities. We are taught not to question so that we cannot force others to question.