Neuroscience of free thinking: Political correctness, free speech and the biological functions of the brain

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Credit: Newtown graffiti/Flickr
Credit: Newtown graffiti/Flickr

What if a person’s stance on free speech—her willingness to tolerate opinions she doesn’t like—is linked to her brain function, and how she perceives the world? Perhaps opposition to free speech is less based on malevolence than on mindset.

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When something new and important is perceived, the right hemisphere tasks the left with mapping it out. The map it produces is often mistaken for the real world, although it contains isolated parts lacking in context ([psychiatrist Norman] Doidge believes that the map is experienced as a kind of virtual reality). So, while the right hemisphere experiences a dynamic and complex world of individuals, the left hemisphere sees a “re-presented version of reality,” containing “static, separable, bounded, but essentially fragmented entities, grouped into classes, on which predictions can be based.” The result is what Doidge calls a kind of “know-it-allism” and infallibility.

Related article:  Orthodoxy v Heterodoxy: How our reaction to the coronavirus is challenging notions of verifiable science and truth

In debates over the role and limits of free speech, different sides of the political spectrum often appear to be perceiving alternate realities. While conservatives can’t understand how civil discussion can make someone feel unsafe, progressives can’t comprehend how somebody could tolerate hateful speech.

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