“Freethought” for me means not being constrained by dogma. Going wherever the evidence leads, even if that goes against my previous understanding or societal thought.
There is one exception: the dogma of sound evidence. It’s the toolkit that prevents us from fooling ourselves about what we see around us. It means valuing QUALITY research by researchers who understand bias, controls, blinding, the law of small numbers, etc. It’s realizing that all knowledge comes in degrees of certainty and that certainty must be tied to the quality of empirical evidence.
Think those are space aliens? Cool, I’m open. But it’s an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence. It’s more than just questions about anomalies a HUD display, for example. Those are GREAT questions, and serve as a good starting point for discovery. We absolutely should investigate, but until more evidence is uncovered, the BEST answer is “we don’t know, and space aliens are the least likely reason, but we’ll keep trying to understand it.”
So Freethought, to me, includes having an open mind but not so open my brain falls out. It especially recognizes the value of sound evidence. It’s being free in direction, but following good evidence.
It’s NOT believing something because of some guys on YouTube, or by asking “how do you explain x?” while offering some extraordinarily unlikely conspiracy theory instead of the far more accurate “I don’t know.” Those questions ARE valuable when they’re asked by the truly curious who then go looking for actual evidence.
It’s starting an understanding from consensus. Why? Because in the last hundred years especially, that’s correct far, FAR more often than it’s wrong. But it *IS* sometimes, rarely, wrong. Freethought is also being willing to change. When? Yup, when better evidence comes along. History is replete with this observation: consensus follows the evidence, even if that takes years.
Freethought for me is giving more credit to those who share the respect of their peers over some some individual or small group. It’s recognizing that divergence DOES happen, but novel ideas must be well vetted because MOST of the time, they like Pons and Fleischmann (remember cold fusion?) rather than Albert Einstein.
Freethought is changing your mind when better evidence is presented. I may hold that “Loaded Riser Twist” explains certain phenomenon in paramotoring, but if someone presents a better explanation, and we can go test it, I’m the happy flyer who will do the test (if I can). And if I’m wrong, the explanation will be on FootFlyer.com and the book gets revised. That’s happened several times.
This view didn’t fully blossom until after I got into paramotoring in 1999 but then it was like being let out of prison, when I could truly let go of beliefs that I had held for years for little more reason than I was told.
Freethought is the freedom to say “I don’t know, how can we find out?” and “if that’s true, we should expect this, is THAT true?” And on and on. “I don’t know” may be the most common refrain of thoughtful people.
Freethough is the freedom of mind that takes us to really, really cool places. Reality rocks.
So who do I respect for knowledge? Those who share this version of Freethought. Not that I mind engaging others who approach knowledge differently, I’m simply nowhere near as interested once I find out that’s the case.