Almost anyone will agree that there are vast numbers of people whose understanding of major issues for human life is false, at least to some considerable degree. Those who have strong fixed opinions of narrow, primitive, ideological or patently false kind are relatively ‘mentally entrapped’ are highly likely to agree that the above judgement applies to others. Meanwhile, those a more open and flexible attitude will agree with this too.
Attitudes towards major issues can differ in a scale at one extreme of which is the utterly self-certain promoter of the truth of their views and beliefs to the defenders of uncertainty in most matters, due to the constant advances in knowledge and understanding, both in science and diverse other human affairs, which modify previously accepted answers according to new input. History illumines the fact of progress in human understanding, showing how once accepted universal truths have had to be abandoned in the face of developments.
Mental entrapment is a very varied phenomenon. It can arise in many ways and will not apply to all areas of a person’s mind. Some people will hold rigorously to, say, some religious or political doctrine into which they grew up, yet while having liberated understanding in much else, such as in carrying out scientific research. Where the two are incompatible, they may contrive live with this dissonance, such as through extensive rationalisation and unlikely but sophisticated defensiveness.
Firstly, some may be entrapped in the beliefs and precepts of a sub-culture into which they were born or brought up. This is exemplified especially in religious communities and sects or in ideological systems like Marxism-Leninism. These may persist until maturity or well beyond that, even for a lifetime. This can also be overcome by such means as wider socialisation, education and life experience.
Secondly, at various times in life, a person can adopt fixed ideologies, religious belief systems, conspiracy theories, cults of some variety. Those with most strength to entrap are so-called ‘total systems’, which means a doctrine that claims to express the undiluted truth and which has answers to refute all kinds of criticisms. There is often a supporting set of threatening consequences against those who criticise and or fail to accept the doctrines or behaviour of those involved. These rationalisíng answers are invariably based on anything from blind beliefs to speculative reasoning without substantive accordance with well-known facts or any proper empirical basis in reality.
In contradistinction to the above, what can be named ‘liberated understanding’ is of the open-ended kind, ready to examine all arguments for and against and modify opinion on the reliability of ideas, theories, of both belief and knowledge systems and independent opinion. The sciences and critical philosophical thinking exemplified this to a high degree. These liberate understanding from outworn and retrogressive traditions and beliefs.
Where can one draw the line between naive, well-meaning opinion and lacking insight or gross ignorance? There are many variants in quality, breadth and depth of knowing about matters so no clear distinction can be made unless one knows the determining details of fact, opinion and fancy. The insight of person who is to draw the line – to support or contradict an opinion – or ‘referee factor’ is itself part of the whole question.