Can you really think for yourself?

Reading Paul Graham’s essay on accidental moderates made me wonder: can anyone truly think for themselves?

Maybe this is more of a modern problem, especially seeing as we’re more connected than ever before, but how can you confidently say your thoughts are your own? We’re constantly bombarded with the opinions of others. Whether they’re your parents, friends, siblings, strangers on the internet, the role models you choose look up to or those in positions of power. We’ve created a world where it’s easier than ever before to express your position on something, meaning your exposure to potentially influencial thought is exponentially higher than it was even a decade ago.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been pushed further towards the belief that unique positions of thought are practically impossible. For a thought to be free of influence, you’d need to be secluded away from any form of society, possibly even living in a complete void. A lifeless, endless sea of nothingness. Maybe I’m being too reductive in my thinking but I think it’s important to understand how things influence the way we form our opinions. To put others on a pedistal of pure thought leads to what seems like an impossible version of opinion forming, versus something that can be controlled by the quality of your inputs. If you view your thoughts and opinions as a weighted average, with the weight given to each number being an influence score, you’re suddenly given a mapping to the origin of your opinions. This can essentially become a super power for personal growth.

With that mapping in hand, you can start tracing backwards to figure out why certain people or categories have such high influence scores. Peeling back those layers, and spending time to understand the why behind the influence can not only help you better understand yourself but find better sources to improve the quality of your thinking.