I love to think more than anything else in the world. I know that sounds strange, it’s not exactly a hobby that you would put on your resume, but it’s the truth. I love to think. And because I love to think I love ideas. There are all kinds of interesting ideas in the world, but the real trouble is that not many people seem to know about them. Recent world events bear this out. The world seems to be awash with some really bad ideas at the moment, I think we’ve all seen enough of the news to know what I’m talking about, and so I want to add some good ideas into the world. I want to add good ideas and some useful ideas, as well as tips for how they can enhance you and your life. So why do I think this is necessary?
In certain times in history, great thinkers were revered. Socratic thought and ideologies have guided numerous schools of thought in the western world for thousands of years, Aristotle argued his way into an idea of a good life that’s still fairly relevant today and a man named Hippocrates defined an ethos for the medical field that is still applied in practice and in principle in hospitals today. And yet thought is not valued as much as action in our modern world. Students who go to university to get a philosophy degree are faced with the tired joke about practicing how to offer fries once they have graduated and there is a lot of talk in numerous circles about how to get out of thought and into action. And I agree that’s a skill and one that I am continuing to work on to this day. But there is an implicit premise in that idea that I don’t agree with. The premise is that all those people who are thinking without doing are thinking well, and the only problem is that they aren’t following through. I think America’s situation at the moment is sufficient evidence against that idea. It really is compelling evidence that action without rational, critical thought is much worse than inertia can be. So to reiterate, just because someone thinks, doesn’t mean they are thinking in a way that is sustainable, kind or rational.
The idea is that we think naturally, so naturally we must be good at it. I thought that too, until a philosophy subject in my late twenties taught me that I knew nothing about how to think. I’d been through twelve years of school, a handful more years at the university level, and I considered myself to be fairly well informed and well read. And yet philosophy taught me that most of the things I believed, I believed them simply because I had always believed them. I believed them because I had been taught to believe them. I believed them even though I couldn’t rationally back them up or even really condone them once I followed the original premise to its natural end.
This all sounds terribly abstract and vague, so I’m going to give you an example. I once believed that capital punishment was a just punishment for certain crimes. I truly did. I knew all about miscarriages of justice in which innocent men were incarcerated for terrible crimes they were later acquitted of. I knew about the moral difficulty in state sanctioned killing in retribution for a private killing. I even knew about the problems regarding legal responsibility and the difficulty and subjectivity in defining when someone is legally and morally culpable. And yet I continued to support that people be killed for crimes despite all the evidence that it was not a good or moral idea. I simply didn’t think about it. My thoughts, my knowledge and my moral system were all in complete odds with this belief and yet I never once questioned it. And once I did, I couldn’t stop.
I went through all of my ideas, as many as I could find, discovering inconsistencies and some ideas that were completely contrary to everything I knew as true along the way. And I’m still in the process and probably will until the day I die. This is the beauty, the strength of ideas, of letting in new ideas and finding how they fit, how they don’t, and how your mind can stretch and change with each influx of light on the dark little world that is all our limited brains can let us see. Because that is the true power of ideas, they chip away at the dark, let us see more and further and clearer and better.
This is why I love to think so much.