Deep think of the week
Yes, I know. Really? Deep think? Trust me on this, it’s a good read. Besides, if you can’t do some deep thinking on a Wednesday — far enough from the previous weekend to forget about your hangover and not near the coming weekend to be actually looking forward to the mayhem — when can you?
My main takeaways from this article? Two things: One, actively seek out opportunities (i.e., mistakes) just so you can recover from them. So true. What’s the joy in life if you’re always playing it safe and hedging your bets, eh? Two, know how to criticise and argue with someone without resorting to cheap shots. I see this all the time, especially online, where arguments quickly get reduced to name-calling and insults. Having someone — a philosopher, no less! — plot out how to make a successful argument in four easy steps? Go read and learn, is all I can say.
Click on the link above for the full article. But for excerpts, read below.
The writer presents seven simple rules for thinking:
1. Use your mistakes
“Try to acquire the weird practice of savouring your mistakes, delighting in uncovering the strange quirks that led you astray. Then, once you have sucked out all the goodness to be gained from having made them, you can cheerfully set them behind you and go on to the next big opportunity. But that is not enough: you should actively seek out opportunities just so you can then recover from them.”
2. Respect your opponent
“Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticising the views of an opponent? If there are obvious contradictions in the opponent’s case, then you should point them out, forcefully. If there are somewhat hidden contradictions, you should carefully expose them to view – and then dump on them. But the search for hidden contradictions often crosses the line into nitpicking, sea-lawyering and outright parody. The thrill of the chase and the conviction that your opponent has to be harbouring a confusion somewhere encourages uncharitable interpretation, which gives you an easy target to attack.
But such easy targets are typically irrelevant to the real issues at stake and simply waste everybody’s time and patience, even if they give amusement to your supporters.”
3. Heed the “surely” klaxon <—- (This is especially useful for writers and editors)
“When you’re reading or skimming argumentative essays, especially by philosophers, here is a quick trick that may save you much time and effort, especially in this age of simple searching by computer: look for “surely” in the document and check each occurrence. Not always, not even most of the time, but often the word “surely” is as good as a blinking light locating a weak point in the argument.
Why? Because it marks the very edge of what the author is actually sure about and hopes readers will also be sure about.”
4. Answer rhetorical questions <— also useful for writers and editors and for those who like being snarky
“Here is a good habit to develop: whenever you see a rhetorical question, try – silently, to yourself – to give it an unobvious answer. If you find a good one, surprise your interlocutor by answering the question. I remember a Peanuts cartoon from years ago that nicely illustrates the tactic. Charlie Brown had just asked, rhetorically: “Who’s to say what is right and wrong here?” and Lucy responded, in the next panel: “I will.”
5. Employ Occam’s Razor
“The idea is straightforward: don’t concoct a complicated, extravagant theory if you’ve got a simpler one (containing fewer ingredients, fewer entities) that handles the phenomenon just as well.”
6. Don’t waste your time on rubbish
“Sturgeon’s law is usually expressed thus: 90% of everything is crap. So 90% of experiments in molecular biology, 90% of poetry, 90% of philosophy books, 90% of peer-reviewed articles in mathematics – and so forth – is crap…. Let’s stipulate at the outset that there is a great deal of deplorable, second-rate stuff out there, of all sorts. Now, in order not to waste your time and try our patience, make sure you concentrate on the best stuff you can find, the flagship examples extolled by the leaders of the field, the prize-winning entries, not the dregs.”
7. Beware of deepities
Being guilty of a few “deepities” myself, this got me assessing my throwaway statements and faux-profundity.
[image of Rodin’s The Thinker borrowed from this article from The Huffington Post]