How do I challenge my mind and become a deep thinker?
1. Watch deep thinkers think
I started reading philosophy when I was 17 after I bought a book on tape where this philosopher talks about his ideas about the world. He was a complex and interesting thinker and I liked listening to it because it put me in another world.
2. Question EVERYTHING
When I started with that philosopher I disagreed with a lot of what he was saying. I didn’t use his ideas. I used his ideas to inspire MY OWN ideas. He brought up topics that never would have occurred to me and I tried to think through those topics for myself.
2b. Question EVERYTHING (especially yourself)
Skepticism is the most important tool to making any argument strong. Many people pick apart other people’s reasoning, but that’s not skepticism, that’s criticism. Skepticism means questioning your own ideas as much as you question others. If you’re not skeptical you’re forming prejudices where you’ll find fault in others without admitting to, or even recognizing them in yourself. That isn’t deep, it’s narrow-minded and one-sided. It’s very conservative and leads to all sides escalating and doing whatever it takes to protect their prejudices.
3. Appreciate ideas because they’re ideas.
One person’s explanation doesn’t have to be correct. Explanations are like art pieces. Some are of poor quality…they lack detail, they’re unoriginal, while others have detail, uniqueness, color and wisdom. All thinkers though have some well thought through ideas, AND some ideas that aren’t as thought through. It’s nice to have someone to look up to, but it’s the ideas that people have that are true or false. The people who think them are more complex than that. If you appreciate ideas you’ll collect ideas and make connections between them. After that you’ll have them ready for use later on, AND THAT’ will make you a deep thinker.
4. Practice listening, reflecting, clarity, logic,using examples and thinking outside the box
LISTENING: Many people only want OTHERs to hear THEM. Those people aren’t understanding the world before they judge it.
REFLECTING: Other people like to veer off in random directions depending on where their reasoning takes them. It’s important to stay in the conversation, both the one’s you’re having with other people AND the one’s you’re having with yourself. Every so often think back to what you were originally trying to say.
CLARITY: Being as clear as possible about what you mean keeps you honest. The devil is in the details, when you’re explanations aren’t clear about the details, your thought process isn’t clear about them either.
LOGIC: Is part of being clear. A deductive truth is an unarguable conclusion. There are definitely
ZERO married bachelors. The more you can reduce your explanations to the logic of definitions, the less time you’ll have to spend defending them.
EXAMPLES: Help make your explanations clear to other people. How we present our explanations can get people to deny them because of a prejudice they might have. I might say something like “People AREN’T equal”….which is true, we’re all different, but without the follow up “we’re all different”, in our culture today, the person is most likely to assume that I think some people are better than others. Also, people have various ways of thinking. Some people don’t notice the pattern you’re trying to explain. If you’re discussing a topic with someone and you explain something in a way that for some reason they won’t recognize (which happens quite a lot) they’re more likely to respond objectively if they’re considering an example that they can be objective about.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX: is important for two reasons, first it helps you to act skeptically and look at your own assumptions from another perspective, and second, it’s creative, it allows you to come up with answers that you wouldn’t come up with otherwise.
5. Study classical thinkers
It’s great to learn through Facebook or through biased news or blogs, etc., but the great thinkers of all walks of life were people who weren’t trapped by the homogenization of Group-Think.
Bringing ideas down to the lowest common denominator dumbs down a lot of complex thought. You wouldn’t hire an electrician to do your plumbing and you wouldn’t hire a plumber to do your electricity. Everyone has an opinion but everyone isn’t an expert. If you want the most reflective and accurate ideas from art, science, philosophy, music, engineering, ethics, architecture, etc you need to study the thoughts of those experts. And people making tons of money speaking are more often than not NOT experts, but just salespeople. TED Talks for example, is a great source for pop ideas….but TED Talks are designed to interest people and not to get into the gritty details. Just like FOX TV TED Talks are packed with more flair than substance. If you really want to understand art, you’ll want to go to an art historian, not someone who’s going to find emotional meaning in every weird art piece because they’re trying to look smarter than they are. If you want to think deeply about science you need to get into it’s details and not just watch Science Fiction because it’s entertaining. If you want to learn about philosophy you have to learn about each of the philosophers and their lives and reasoning, why they came up with their innovations, and where they fit in the process that led to the evolution of modern thought. If it all seems like too much and you don’t know where to start, start with what you want to learn about and learn about how that person or those ideas fit historically. For example, Einstein wasn’t some lofty genius who was so far above everybody else that they wouldn’t understand him until he wrote his ideas down. He built his Theory of Relativity, and Special Theory of Relativity on the ideas of other people. Most of it wasn’t original at all. The thing that made Einstein great was that he figured out a way to make all of these other people’s ideas work together. If you understand the history of ideas you’ll have a much clearer context to work with, and recognizing that will allow you to make MUCH more accurate predictions as to where new ideas built on top of them will go from here. You’ll be reasoning along with the experts instead of just coming up with a dreamy fiction that’d be impossible.
6. Find ways that expose yourself to as many experts as possible
The first book on philosophy that I read was like a greatest hits of the big philosophers. It wasn’t a thick book, and each chapter tackled a different well known philosopher. From there I agreed with, liked and was hungry for more of some of them and wanted to read them in their own words…..and that’s where my thoughts became deeper and deeper. I really liked books like that, that highlight the greats. I’ve read a lot of them over the years. They expose you to a lot of different ways of thinking, some of which you’ve never imagined before…..and it sets you on a path because the more you learn the more you know about what you want to learn next and where to get that information from. Back then the internet didn’t exist and there are a lot more resources that one can get easy access to online. And what I was doing with books, was pretty much just surfing the web with paper.
7. Remain skeptical.
Experts are a vital part to developing your own reflective thinking, but they’re not the word on what’s what. For instance, there’s a new wave of closed minded scientists today that deny that philosophy even has a place in our discovery, AS THEY’re PRACTICING IT. Metaphysics, for example is REGULARLY used in theoretical physics (when deciding between the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics or Quantum Bayesianism, or coming up with concepts like the Multiverse, Dark Matter, that time can move backward as well as forward, String Theory, etc.), but high profile physicists,l ike Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson ignore it because the logical positivists (that they admire) denied that there’s any use for it, but denying the value of philosophy is just a cultural prejudice among a particular type of philosopher, the logical positivists that helped form modern scientific methods. If you understand what experts are talking about you can decide for yourself how valid their assertions are. If you don’t, you’re going to be more likely to accept outlandish opinions on JUST their authority, and experts are only human. They have prejudices and stop reasoning at a point like everybody else. Experts just stop reasoning at a different stage of complexity, or on different subjects, than you and me. Again, you don’t want a plumber to do your electrical work.
8. When you realize you’re wrong, admit it
When you’re in a debate with someone it’s likely that tempers are going to flair. Don’t fall into the trap of being unwilling to admit when you’re wrong. Becoming wise means respecting the truth. We all make mistakes and we learn from them. Show the person that you’re debating that you recognize that you made a mistake and that the truth means more to you than never admitting that you make mistakes. If you do you’ll set a mood and a standard for the rest of the conversation. It’s important for everyone involved to get passed petty bickering in order to figure out what’s important. I actually love being wrong. Being wrong is that moment when a light-bulb goes on over your head. If you live for ideas you live for those moments of realization when things suddenly become clear. One of those times when lightning bolts happen is when you recognize that you made a mistake and suddenly something makes more sense.
By Wayne Nirenberg