Freedom of thought stands at a critical crossroads. Technological and psychological advances could be used to promote free thought. They could shield our inner worlds, reduce our mental biases, and create new spaces for thought. Yet states and corporations are forging these advances into weapons that restrict what we think.
To lose freedom of thought would be to lose something uniquely human. We share our basic emotions with animals. But only we can step back and ask “do I want to be angry?”, “do I want to be that person?”, “couldn’t I be better?”.
We can reflect whether the thoughts, feelings and desires that bubble up within us are consistent with our own goals, values and ideals. If we agree they are, then this makes them more truly our own. We can then act authentically.
But we may also conclude that some thoughts that pop into our heads are a force other than our own. You sit down to do your work and “Check Facebook!” flashes through your mind. Did that thought come from you or from Mark Zuckerberg?
Three threats to freedom of thought
The first threat comes from advances in psychology. Research has created new understandings of what influences our thoughts, behaviours, and decision making.
States and corporations use this knowledge to make us think and act in a way that serves their goals. These may differ to ours. They use this knowledge to make us gamble more, buy more, and spend more time on social media. It may even be used to swing elections.
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