Back Goldfinch looking backwards

There’s something about reading alone when you have time to follow up a few references and check on some of the claims, something subversive to one’s own fixed and settled opinions. I say “reading alone” because I recognize that as a younger, busier person, I was usually reading with someone else in mind – not only meaning the students one is going to be exploring the text with the next day, but the people on the other side of whatever issue one might be confronting then, whether in one’s head or perhaps in the faculty lounge. Maybe global warming, or creationism. Almost no ordinary secular humanist working in the real world has either the time or the interest to explore the creationist challenges to neo-Darwinism, say, by actually reading a work that argues that side of the debate. Instead you go to the New Scientist summary of the arguments, knowing already that the magazine is on your side and confident that it is academically solid and reliable. And you go there reading with someone else in mind, namely those whose aggravating opinions are contrary to your own. They might be the commentator/journalists on the network you abhor (Fox or MSNBC perhaps) or they might be the irritatingly articulate and knowledgeable colleague with the opinion you abhor.

But when you’re just reading an article in the leisure of the declining years of your life, even though we naturally still live within the many walls of opinion and assumption we’ve built up over the years, it can happen to you — especially now that we have the internet — that you stumble on a contrary opinion that makes a little sense. And since you have the time and the means to explore these odd views, well, you may get in trouble with your own past. This is what has happened to me in a surprising number of areas of thought that I felt were completely beyond questioning. The secular humanist likes to call this cognitive dissonance, a term I only learned late in my teaching career, and one that I know from experience is used by those who are quite sure of the validity of their own beliefs to describe what happens to others when their firmly held opinions are challenged by unassailably persuasive evidence that they can’t avoid seeing and believing.

So that’s where I am — living in a cognitive dissonance that slowly is developing its own harmony. As I find time to consolidate my notes on my several discoveries, I will place them here.

I no longer quite fit the definition of secular humanist (see their website) but I did back when. However, I’m not a creationist either. At least not yet.

A grand supplement to the internet itself is the policies of public and college libraries that permit us to find a scientific or medical journal article in their electronic databases and save it to a flash drive or email it to ourselves as an attachment. This can save as much as 30 or 40 dollars per article. I have done this dozens of times.

Retirement Reading

or my real-life encounters with cognitive dissonance