A mind is like a parachute
It might save your life,
but you have to know how to use it first.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Assume anything you want. Just don't believe it.

Earlier I said:
If you're going to allow your own preconceptions to rule how you think, you may as well make it easy on yourself and stock up on the microwavable answer packs that the conspiracy theorists sell. 

Which is all well and good until we realize that thinking RELIES on preconception.  As I said before, "context is everything."  And you can't have context without preconception.  In fact if you had to define "preconception" one acceptable definition for our purposes would be "context you have previously constructed."  In other words, we can't understand anything -- we can't put anything into context -- without building on what we think we already know.  We have to ASSUME that certain things are as we expect them to be or we are stuck re-inventing the steering wheel at every turn.  And the assumptions we have about the world, this context we have established to this point in our lives, these are nothing if not preconceptions.  So how could we not "allow our own preconceptions to rule how we think"?

Well, because there is a critical distinction which can be illustrated with a fun little dialogue.

Imagine that we are both sitting around without much to do.  You say to me, "Assuming you had ten million dollars and no commitments to worry about, what would you do with the money?"

I'd say something like, "I think I would buy a really big house in the woods and spend all of my time on the computer.  And in my game room.  I'd have a very nice game room.  What about you?"

"Oh you know, I'd give it to charity.  Except maybe I'd keep some for traveling the world."

"Uh-huh.  Say, do you want to come over and play pool tonight?"

"You don't have a pool table."

"Yeah, I do."

"Since when?"

"Since I got ten million dollars.  I have a huge house with a music studio and a game room and this beautiful pool table."

"Yeah, right.  You never had ten million dollars."

"I didn't?  I guess I just assumed I did."

And you'd clarify the situation for me.  "No, you see, it is fine to assume something.  But don't make the mistake of forgetting that you are only making an assumption.  Just because you assume something does not make it true."

"Yeah, see I knew that.  But it's hard.  I always forget that the things I assume aren't necessarily true."

Oh sure go ahead and laugh at how stupid I must be to forget that we were only pretending to have ten million dollars.  But the fact is that we all make assumptions all the time.  We have to in order to make sense of the world.  And most of us repeatedly forget that the assumptions we are making do not necessarily have any basis in reality.

So when I say, we shouldn't allow preconceptions to rule how we think, I am not saying that we can avoid preconceptions.  But we need to understand what they are and never put our faith in them.  It may save us some embarrassment and disappointment later.

No comments:

Post a Comment