Do You Think For Yourself?

I had a professor in graduate school who said that we decide how the world works by the time we’re two and a half years old, and we spend the rest of our lives justifying and defending that idea. It’s a concept that keeps coming up and makes me think about what I believe and why I believe it. While the author below uses the term “programming”, I’ve also seen the terms domestication and enculturation used to describe the process.

I don’t think we have recognized the degree to which programming in our youth can affect our thinking in later years. This programming affects our scientific attitudes most pervasively. We surely did not recognize when we were being programmed – it proceeded in the most innocent circumstances, in the early years when we were beginning to learn a new discipline and were overwhelmed most of the time.

Remember the lessons that you were taught in a foreign language, chemistry, or geometry? The first terms were filled with memorizing a welter of disconnected, new information. The details floated in a kind of limbo, so you had to create jingles to remember them. Then, after several terms, the learning became much easier. I think that the change occurred because you had created a new scaffolding in your mind, a system into which you could fit the new things that you were called on to learn. I call that scaffolding a deep program. While you were creating the program, you entered ancillary material inherent in the scaffolding, and you were not conscious of it. You were vulnerable to what, if it occurred in other circumstances, might be called brainwashing.

You were not aware that while you were being taught chemistry, you were also being taught deterministic Newtonian reasoning, the assumption that atoms and molecules exist in stereotyped forms and will behave in exactly the same way regardless of sample; the changes that occur as concentrations increase will be exactly reversed as concentrations decrease. Later on it is difficult to know when you are thinking in ways that were programmed into you, and when you are thinking for yourself. The programs were put in places so deep in your mind that you cannot bring them up and consider whether you really want to think that way. I’m convinced that such programs seriously limit the way we think about nature and ourselves. The immediate and long-standing acceptance of the closed system models of W.M. Davis, Braun, and Clements are examples of this phenomenon. Thousands of naturalists and ecologists have become convinced of the validity of these ideas because they were not introduced to the alternatives and did not have a chance to formulate their own theories during a childhood outdoors.

– William Holland Drury, Jr. Chance and Change; Ecology for Conservationists, p. 5-6.

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