That's the default response. When you send an email. When you make a post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other social network. We have come to expect this default response. Everyone's too busy, too many people are posting. There's not enough time to give everyone attention.
What's interesting is that the phenomenon also affects our in-person interactions. I teach both online and in-person and see the default response in class all too often. No response. No questions. No interest.
What would happen if you did something different? What would happen if you responded? Would that make you memorable? Remarkable? Perhaps. Give it a try.
Quora Question: How do you start to look at things from a different perspective?
As human beings, we have a unique ability to see things in different ways. Two people can look at the same thing at see differences. Or, the same person can see differences when looking at the same thing at different times. This raises several interesting philosophical questions. What are things really like independent of how we see them? Can we ever know which perspective is the correct one?
Of course, for many people, the answer to the second question is very easy. The correct perspective is theirs! We often find it difficult to imagine how anyone could see things otherwise or that there could be any validity to a perspective other than our own. This inability contributes to many of our most contentious debates on topics of politics and religion.
The capacity for empathy is, in part, the ability to take the perspective of another person. It is a very powerful skill and one that is critical to good thinking. While it doesn't come easily this skill can be learned. But, it requires being open to asking a few difficult questions.
What if my view on this topic is wrong?
What if there is another equally valid viewpoint?
What if there is information I am missing which would cause me to change my perspective?
Here are some thinking tips from the C.I.A. which can also help with this:
1. Become proficient in developing alternative points of view.
2. Do not assume that the other person will think or act like you.
3. Think backward. Instead of thinking about what might happen, put yourself into the future and try to explain how a potential situation could have occurred.
4. Imagine that the belief you are currently holding is wrong, and then develop a scenario to explain how that could be true. This helps you to see the limitations of your own beliefs.
5. Try out the other person's beliefs by actually acting out the role. This breaks you out of seeing the world through the habitual patterns of your own beliefs.
6. Play "devil's advocate" by taking the minority point of view. This helps you see how alternative assumptions make the world look different.
7. Brainstorm. A quantity of ideas leads to quality because the first ones that come to mind are those that reflect old beliefs. New ideas help you to break free of emotional blocks and social norms.
8. Interact with people of different backgrounds and beliefs.
If you look closely at this list and compare it with your everyday life you will see that you mostly don't do these things. Most people mostly don't do these things. We tend to associate with people we already agree with, read material we already agree with, and watch media with views we already agree with. So, it becomes very difficult to even imagine someone thinking differently. And, next to impossible to imagine that someone could think differently for good reasons.
But, keep in mind that since everyone else thinks this way as well there are people who are listening to and watching media with which they agree but which disagrees with whatever view you hold. And, they believe the same thing about your view! Breaking out of this limiting perspective is an important part of becoming a good critical thinker.
Quora Question: Is modern society structured so that people don't have time to think critically of their life?
I’d like to take a contrarian position on this question and hopefully offer some useful insights.
I don’t think society is structured to work against people thinking critically. However, there are impediments to people engaging in more critical thinking.
I think the main impediments are several cognitive biases that prevent people from taking a critical look at their ideas and beliefs. Let me mention a few of these.
The knowledge illusion. The world around us is very complicated. But, while we tend to recognize this fact when prompted we routinely ignore it when it comes to expressing or examining our own opinions on the world. We tend to recognize the limits of other people’s knowledge while failing to recognize our limits. We all suffer from what Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach refer to in their book The Knowledge Illusion as the illusion of explanatory depth.
Consider the following example from their book:
This is the knowledge illusion. As they point out in the book, “Our point is not that people are ignorant. It’s that people are more ignorant than they think they are. We all suffer, to a greater or lesser extent, from an illusion of understanding, an illusion that we understand how things work when in fact our understanding is meager.”
Related to this is the bias we all tend to have of thinking that our beliefs are correct. This is well illustrated in Kathryn Schulz’s book Being Wrong. In her excellent TED talk on the book, she asks some people a seemingly easy question: What does it feel like to be wrong?
Their answers: “It feels bad.” “Embarrassing.” “Humiliating.” You’d probably agree. But, there’s a problem.
This is not what it feels like to be wrong. This is what it feels like to find out you’re wrong. What does it feel like to be wrong? Nothing. It feels just like being right.
So, we tend to think we know more about things than we do and we tend to believe that our beliefs are right. After all, they feel right. With those two things working against us, you can see why it might be difficult for people to engage in more critical thinking. What would be the point? Their knowledge and belief are already well justified and accurate.
Having said this, I will point out that several factors don’t help individuals to break out of this trap. We are constantly bombarded with news stories that are, in part, designed to polarize us and not require in-depth analysis on our part.
We are also inundated with several other life factors some of which are external and some of which are internal. These factors, such as the pressures of finding and keeping a job, raising children, etc., don’t always encourage critical thinking either.
The irony of this is that all of these other factors, which together you might interpret as society being structured to hinder critical thinking, would all greatly benefit from more critical thinking not less.
But, it will be difficult to see that because of the powerful effects of the biases I mentioned earlier. Overcoming those is the key to improving critical thinking.
Like most other things, people will make time for something if it is an important priority. The popularity of sports is a good example. No amount of societal influence will do much to diminish the drive to watch and participate in sports.
Until the motivation to examine your own beliefs and knowledge is as powerful as the motivation to watch your favorite sports team, critical thinking won’t improve much.
A good first step would be to read these books:
Steven Sloman The Knowledge Illusion
Michael Syed Black Box Thinking
Adam Grant Think Again
Julia Galef The Scout Mindset
Quora Question: Why isn’t everyone successful? Is it because only a few of us are selected before hand to be?
Success has nothing to do with being selected in the sense you raise. Success does have to do with a combination of factors some of which you can control and others of which you have no control.
Your genetics: Your genetic makeup is the result of the union of genetic material from your father and mother and this is a given. You can’t change your genetics, so this is a factor out of your control.
Your environment: Genetic traits get expressed differently in different environments and while this factor is not completely in your control there are aspects of it that you can control.
A major part this your environment that will impact your success is the network of people you engage with. Depending on what field you are in there may be geographic areas that are better suited to work in and seeking out those environments could make a positive contribution to your success.
Your talent: Part of this is the result of genetics over which you have no control. There are things that you are disposed to be better at than others and there are things that you are less well adept at. The part of this that is in your control is the ability to identify your talents and take advantage of them to the best of your ability.
Your effort: This is a factor you can control and can have a major impact on your success. Combined with the talents you identify it can be a major factor in your success. How much practice you put into the skills necessary to achieve success in your field is something you can control and is the major factor you need to seize control over the increase your odds of success.
Luck: Finally, a not insignificant factor in your ultimate success is luck. You have limited control over this but you can do things to increase the odds of good luck finding you. As Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared observer.” So, takes steps to be open to luck. Be open to new opportunities and put yourself in the right place to take advantage of them.
Ultimately, everyone is not successful because they do not take advantage of the factors mentioned above that they can control and optimize. Success requires the elements of talent, effort, and luck. Not everyone has talent, not everyone puts in the required effort, and not everyone is lucky,
Here are some books that might also provide you some insights into this question:
Daniel Coyle The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How
Daniel Coyle The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups
Leonard Mlodinow The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
Daniel Pink When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
Angela Duckworth Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Seth Godin Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Seth Godin What to do When It’s Your Turn
Scott Ginsberg Make a Name For Yourself
Quora Question: Why am I supposed to respect someone's deeply held beliefs if these are not rooted in facts?
People need to be respected. Beliefs need to be examined and adapted to reality. Beliefs require facts to be validated. Of course, anyone can believe anything they like. But, for beliefs to be respected in any rational sense of that term they need to be examined in light of reason and evidence. A belief without investigation and not rooted in facts does not require respect.
The notion that there are different facts for different people is incoherent. While people may disagree about what the facts are, there is a way that the world is. There are things we know about how the world works. And, to the extent that our beliefs stray from this, they are inaccurate.
So, the ultimate question is how we go about evaluating beliefs, both our own and others. A good set of criteria is outlined in How to Think About Weird Things by Theodore Schick and Lewis Vaughn. There are five elements to evaluate any belief or theory.
First, a theory or belief should be testable. If you cannot even figure out how to go about determining if your theory explains the evidence, you don't have a good theory. To be testable means your hypothesis "predicts something more than what is predicted by the background theory alone." In short, we need this criterion because if there's no way to tell whether a theory is true or false it's really no good to us.
Second, a theory/belief should be fruitful. What this means is that a good theory should make novel predictions. It should not only account for the evidence at hand but be able to address evidence that comes in later and even predict such new evidence. Einstein's theory of relativity is a good example of a fruitful theory because it made the novel prediction that light would be visible from a star behind the sun because the light would be bent by the gravitational field around the sun to be visible on earth. And, concerning criterion number one this was a testable claim. Once tested, it was verified.
Third, a theory should have a wide scope. That is, a good theory explains a wide field of evidence. One of the differences between theories and hypotheses is their scope. Hypotheses address specific questions whereas theories attempt to provide a broad explanatory device. Theories that can explain a wide array of things are preferred, other things being equal, to more narrow theories.
Fourth, a theory should be simple. This term should not be confused with simplistic. Many scientific theories are complex in terms of our ability to understand them but simple in the sense that they postulate fewer underlying entities or assumptions. A good example is a difference between Copernicus and Ptolemy. Ptolemy's geocentric theory could explain the orbits of the planets but it was quite complex whereas Copernicus' theory explained the same observable phenomena with less complexity. So, other things being equal, that theory was the better theory.
Think of it this way. Suppose I come up with a theory to explain how the lights in my housework but it involves little gremlins running inside the light bulbs. Someone else can explain the same phenomenon but without postulating gremlins. So, their theory is simpler than mine. It should also be pointed out that my gremlin theory may fail on other criteria as well such as being testable.
Finally, a theory should be conservative. Not in the political sense of the word. Rather, it should fit in with other things we know. If we have an explanation for something that we think is fairly certain and accurate then a new theory should fit in with that prior explanation. If it doesn't fit that may indicate our prior knowledge is flawed. We have to be open to that possibility but the burden of proof is on the new theory. An interesting examination of how this process works is offered by Thomas Kuhn's book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
Many people will be inclined to lodge the following criticism at this point: But, that’s "just a theory." The criticism here is supposed to be that any given theory is not a fact. But, this misunderstands the relationship between fact and theory. No theory is a fact because facts and theories are two different things entirely. The facts are what we observe about the world around us. But, these facts need an explanation. This is what a theory is designed to do. It is a well-formulated attempt to explain the facts we observe.
So, we observe the motion of the planets and the fact that an apple falls to the ground when we drop it. The theory of relativity attempts to explain these things. We observe different species and varieties of animals in the natural world and the theory of evolution attempts to explain how these varieties arose. We observe the motion of subatomic particles and the theory of quantum mechanics attempts to explain these observations.
In each case, we begin with observations and construct an explanation to account for them. In each case, it makes little sense to criticize the theory by saying it's not a fact. Of course not! Theories are not facts and do not attempt to be. Theories can be correct or incorrect and the criteria outlined above is the best way to determine this. But, you must also understand what a theory is attempting to do.
Going through this process with one’s beliefs is to be respected. Coming up with a belief without doing the hard work of understanding it, the evidence relevant to it, and evaluating the belief in light of what we know does not deserve respect.
However, the person, in any case, deserves respect as a person. We can disagree and discuss ideas, beliefs, and theories in a context of mutual respect, not for the beliefs (which are simply tools) but for each other.
Quora Question: I was raised that it is better to be kind then to be right. Sometimes this goes against standing up for what I believe in. Does this happen to you, and what do you choose?
If what you believe in entails being unkind to someone who differs from you, then it might be time to re-examine your belief. Unfortunately, most people are so attached to their own beliefs that they find it difficult to examine them in light of reason and evidence much less change them.
But, beliefs are ultimately tools for helping us to see the world. Like eyewear, sometimes they help us see better. But, they can also cloud our vision. In cases like that, it usually means that the belief is not very well aligned with the best reason and evidence. In such cases, the belief is what should be changed.
Another good indication of the need to examine and perhaps change a belief is if that belief is compelling you to treat others unkindly. We see several examples of this in the political world. People differ about all sorts of issues but in many cases, their beliefs about the issue in question seem to be compelling them to insult those who differ with them.
What’s interesting is how often this happens on both sides of a contentious issue. For the participants in such debates (or downright fights!), they see this as evidence that their view simply needs to be more forcefully defended while the other view needs to be more forcefully resisted.
But, what it probably suggests, in reality, is that both sides have some flaws in their beliefs and are ignoring important pieces of the puzzle. Neither side is engaged in an effort to arrive at the best possible explanation for how the world works and together they are certainly not engaged in a cooperative effort to arrive at the best course of action.
Too often, beliefs hold their adherents hostage and prevent progress on difficult issues. They also seem to compel people to believe that those who differ from them are not simply wrong but evil. As such, they feel justified in treating them unkindly.
Of course, this is a mistaken view of what is really going on. In reality, people are struggling to figure out how best to proceed and are working from imperfect premises and incomplete information. Neither side can solve these problems by themselves and arrive at a truly informative set of beliefs. But working together to achieve understanding, as opposed to the goal of winning, would allow everyone to hold more accurate beliefs, treat others with kindness, and make real progress in solving the issues in question.
Quora Question: Why should books not be censored?
There are a number of problems with the idea that books should be censored. Here are just a few.
Perhaps the better question to ask would be: For those who advocate banning certain books, what are your arguments for doing this? I can’t imagine any argument that would outweigh other more important considerations; chief among them the importance of the free exchange of ideas.
Ideas are inherently dangerous and subversive. They usually advocate some sort of change or reform. Those changes or reforms are threatening to those in power whoever they may be. As such, if you make an argument for banning books, there are very few books that would truly be “safe” from this practice. Those that would be safe would be so banal and uninteresting as to be not worth reading, to begin with.
Any idea worth writing about is an idea that will offend someone or disturb someone’s thinking, challenge their beliefs, or threaten the status quo in some way. But, that’s precisely why we need those ideas.
Freedom of expression is too important a value and necessary to a flourishing society to risk the chilling effect of banning books.
A2A on Quora
No one is open to all points of view no matter what they might say. There are almost always some views that seem repellent on the face of it and it is difficult to overcome that perspective. In some cases, this is a good thing since not all points of view are equal in terms of plausibility and validity.
Of course, for many people, this raises the question: Who decides what counts as plausible and valid? In reality, no one decides this. What ultimately ought to decide this is a fair and objective evaluation of the evidence. This is best done by several people each independently investigating the claims and evaluating them according to the best evidence and reason we currently have access to.
What is more important than being open to other points of view is being open to challenge one’s own point of view in light of reason and evidence. Since we all hold beliefs about a large number of topics and no one is infallible it follows that everyone is currently holding wrong beliefs. The question is what do we do about that.
For most people, it is difficult to have their views challenged from the outside. Studies have shown that even when presented with clear, objective, irrefutable evidence that their views are wrong, this causes most people not to alter their views but to dig in deeper, double down, and deny that evidence which shows they are wrong.
So, the challenges that we need to our ideas can often be most effective if they come from ourselves. How do we do this?
We begin by being open to examining our ideas and being open to learning more about the topics in question. This is the real value of open-mindedness. We all have to be willing to read more about topics and include in this reading material we may disagree with. We all have to be willing to question the claims made regarding these topics. Especially when the claims being made are ones we agree with.
Why? Because it is easy to find flaws with ideas we disagree with. What is more challenging is to find the flaws in the claims made that we are sympathetic to.
Our points of view are not infallible nor should they be unchanging. We should regard points of view as we do eyeglasses. Eyeglasses are designed to allow us to see better. When they work they are very useful. But, when they begin to fail us we do not cling on to them irrationally. We replace them with a better prescription.
Similarly, our points of view should help us to see and understand the world around us better. When they fail to do this (and we determine this by examining the available evidence; when it piles up against our point of view we know our POV is facing us) we should not hesitate to replace them with better ones.
This takes practice, diligence, courage, and work. Critical thinking is not a skill that comes naturally. The human mind is not wired up to find the truth about how the world works. It is wired up to help us survive, bond to others who are close to us and defend ourselves against others who are not close to us. So, we have to work against several cognitive biases to evaluate the evidence available for any given point of view. This is the work we should all be engaged in.
Quora Question: How do you do “slow living”?
Slow living will look different depending on what your focus is and how you integrate it into your life. The beauty of slow living is the variation. Here are some possible ways to bring more slowness into your life:
Reduce your schedule: If you can try reducing your schedule. Are you or your family involved in a lot of different activities, classes, meetings, etc? Are there some of these you can drop in the name of slowing down?
Be more mindful: Mindfulness has become a very popular word and pursuit but it can definitely help with slowing down. Whatever you’re doing, whether it’s washing dishes, cooking food, eating, taking a walk, just do that. Don’t multi-task. Focus on the activity itself and really take in the details of your experience. Notice your surroundings and your actions as you engage in them.
Turn off the tech: Another good way to bring slowness into your life is to reduce your use of tech. Don’t always be checking email, scrolling social media posts, watching television, etc.
Read a book: Reading is a great way to bring slowness into your day. Set aside a specific time, perhaps before bed or in the morning, to do some reading. Here are some good slowness suggestions:
Carl Honore In Praise of Slowness
Christopher De Pree Astronomical Mindfulness
Brooke McAlary Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World
Rachel Jonat The Joy of Doing Nothing
Each of these will give you more ideas about bringing slowness into your life in a way that feels right for you.
Life is limited but this does not negate its potential for value or meaning. The very limit to life is what enables us to give our lives value and meaning.
If no one ever died, there would also be no particular value to one’s life or individual moments in it. After all, you’re going to live forever. So, why treasure any given moment? Why think that there is anything particularly special about any given moment?
More than that, there would be no urgency or even very much reason to do anything if no one ever died. Knowing you had an infinite amount of time would likely lead many people to do nothing figuring they could always do whatever they were thinking about doing later. And, they could. But, this possibility would lead to many negative results. Among them: boredom, loss of motivation, loss of interest in friendship, love, life itself. After all, there’s just so much of it!
On the other hand, the fact that you are going to die and the fact that you only have so much time to embrace life means you’d better do something with it while you have it. It’s the only chance you have to: experience, love, wonder, think, ask questions, learn, build friendships, embrace others, experience nature, and on and on. But, there is an end to it so it makes sense to get to it now.
The biologist Richard Dawkins offers an interesting, and perhaps helpful, perspective in his book Unweaving the Rainbow: "We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born." You have been fortunate beyond belief in being alive. Also, you have been fortunate to be alive in a time when so many things are possible. But, your time is limited.
Questions like this about death implicitly seem to be questioning the very possibility of meaning in life which makes me think of the work of Viktor Frankl. He was an Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor who wrote extensively about the importance of meaning. His approach, called logotherapy, is based on the idea that the central feature of human existence is the quest for meaning.
According to Frankl “We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering" and that "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances.” (Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy)
It is up to you to discover the meaning in your life. This can be done despite death and suffering. It can only be discovered in light of these things. Perhaps it’s a paradox but that is how life is.
Perhaps this Alan Watts video will help:
KEVIN J. BROWNE
Philosopher / Educator