On Thinking Right
“Most people would rather die than think and many of them do!”
After a long time, I had an
amazing discussion with a close friend. It is interesting how the pandemic has
shifted our attention from the trivia of on-demand entertainment and moved it
to things that matter most. For me, a stimulating conversation matters most. A
conversation where both parties present opposing point of views and have the courage,
humility, and open-mindedness to change or at least think from others ‘point of
view’. I have always believed in the power of Douglas
Adams’ most powerful weapon in the Universe – a point of view gun. So many
conflicts can be resolved by momentarily giving up our own POV and having a bit
of empathy for the other side. A conversation that allows you to learn and grow
is always the right kind of conversation. The only thing that is better than this
kind of conversation is if it happens without anyone raising their voice. This was
not a problem for me as ours was happening on WhatsApp 😊
This specific conversation
was about the importance of understanding Indian history from the perspective
of a religious-political organization. My friend shared videos, lectures and a
lot of material that was meant to change my view of the guiding principles of
this organization and the impact its core teachings will have on the future of the
nation. I enjoyed all the videos and I learnt a lot of historical facts that were
never taught in school. There was a lot I
did not know and my view of history from the lens of archaic British education
system was missing more than a few important pieces. I had full confidence that
the more I get into this, more my understanding will increase. But then I started
I had consumed too much
information and my brain was starved of carbs. I fixed myself an avocado sandwich lightly
toasted and resumed the video. But now that I had given myself this short
break, I started realizing the importance of being in the present. What am I doing?
What am I putting my time into? How will this knowledge change my life? Will it
bring food to my table or result in having a better life? What is the end game?
I thought about it for a few
more minutes and when I couldn’t see an answer, I asked my friend. He replied confidently
that knowing the past and not near past but 5000 years in the past is important
because at that time our nation was the best and if we can bring it back to that
stage of thinking our future will be way better. It reminded me of far-left and
far-right ideologies that have all failed with this mindset, but I still wanted
to keep an open mind about it. Maybe he is right, who knows.
But the devil is always in
the details. And it is important to know that ideological debates by their very
nature are unwinnable. There is no right or wrong, simply different point of
views and as long as the motive remains to convince someone of one point of
view the debate continues forever. Because both systems of thinking are never
entirely right or wrong. It is nonbinary. It is the grey area of 20th-century
thinking that is now leading to Hyper normalization. A stage of social conscience where the general
population is indifferent to socio-political-economic changes as it knows that
whatever it does is irrelevant, and nothing is going to change. The way they
are living is fundamentally the same as their grandparents and it is going to
be the same for future generations. This eternally pessimistic view of the
world is already splitting from the cracks of all broken systems of the last 200
years. Even the best intentions such as Climate change
mitigation lead to erratic outcomes – the solar industry scandals or band-aid
solutions that end up causing more damage than the problems they are
meant to solve.
What we need is a new way of
But before we do that, we
need to understand thinking itself. What I thought was an issue with my
thinking or my friend’s thinking or the mistake of the education system is a
problem with modern education itself!
Modern Education teaches us
what to think but it does not show us how to think.
So if you think about the
conversation above, my friend should be thinking about how best to improve life
for his family and improve himself, but because he sees a lack of opportunities
and a global shift to chaos (due to the pandemic) he is finding solace in political
ideologies. Because they are so easy to latch on to and so easy to be influenced
by, provided you have the right conditioning. It is an escape. Escape from the
present to the distant past where everything was perfect or to the distant
future if you are a sci-fi buff like me. And this escape is so much better than
the Game Of Thrones. GOT escapades last only till the episode lasts but this
one is always a work in progress. We will keep making decisions based on ideological
narratives and power structures will keep shifting, but what I will get is
absolutely nothing from this endless chase. If you think about it all that you
can change is yourself and all you are losing by feeding these chains of thoughts
are your energy and focus that will be better utilized in doing something
meaningful and useful such as learning Advanced
And I do the same.
I think about science, the future
and technologies and watch amazon,
apple, Facebook court hearings when I know that they are not going to have
any immediate or measurable impact on my life and are just an escape from the banality
of the present. I and my friend are part of the same illusion. Maybe this is why
we are lifelong friends!
This illusion, this
subjective reality has many sides and many proofs, but no substance. It is a
dream within a dream. This illusion of progress, of intellectual prowess, of moving
from argument to argument, from concept to concept, from fact to fact is a
black hole that has consumed generations and people much smarter than you and
But is there a way out? How can
me and my friend have the right kind of conversation? How do we move forward? Is
there a way to escape this black hole?
We need to learn how to
think. And we need to unlearn what to think.
So how to think?
It is a big question, one
that is more in the realm of philosophy a subject that has vanished from our modern
school curriculums. Considering where we are, I wonder if it was ever taught in
schools. No wonder our world has fallen into this state where a group of people
are just having endless debates with both parties on the losing side. All countries
all systems all processes are in dire straits and they will continue to be till
we figure out what is the right way to think. Only then will we think about the
right things and focus on the fundamental problems that matter. I see the
pandemic as a catalyst that will help us unlearn, re-learn & remake.
As a novice thinker, I have come
across two systems of thinking that have helped me in many situations. And even
though they are separated by aeons & cultures I think they illustrate the
same fundamental principle.
The first one is Feynman’s
way of thinking from the first principles. This has recently
been made famous by Elon Musk, though if you want to learn about it and how to effectively
utilize it all you need to do is watch this video. Keep the autoplay on 😊
Feynman Pleasure of Finding Things Out
And It’s Fun To Imagine
You will not entirely
understand a giant like Feynman by watching these videos once. In my opinion, Feynman
is not only at par with Einstein in theoretical physics, but he was something
that Einstein was not - an exceptional teacher. I prefer geniuses who can make more geniuses. What
you will take away from this video is the importance of cultivating a beginner’s
mind and thinking of things without the baggage of prejudice. Think like a child.
No preconceptions no foundations just pure simple thinking that is asking a
question for every answer and going deeper and deeper into the nature of
reality. It is not splitting hairs; it is splitting atoms. And you have the final
answer when you are not left with any more questions. This is the essence of
thinking from first principles.
Try it out. It's amazing and
way better escape than politics, history, and entertainment. It also has the
added benefit of making you smarter and empowers you to improve yourself.
The next how to think is an
ancient Indian system of thought invented in 500 BCE, solidified
in 13th century AD by Adi Shankara and re-taught
in the early 20th century by Ramana Maharishi &
It is the philosophy of non-dual spirituality or
Advaita which translates to indivisible or what you might call Unity. This philosophy
has stood the test of time and you will see a lot of 21st-century
thinkers influenced by this school of thought. Yuval
Harari amongst the most famous of these, his thinking is coming from the
clarity he has achieved by practising Vipassana meditation. The core
principle of separating objective from subjective explained so brilliantly in Sapiens is also the guiding
principle of Buddhism and Buddha’s meditation Vipassana. Non-Duality seems to
be the trending thought in 500 BCE.
amazing video on
Advaita: Non-Dual Spirituality -
from Ancient India to our Global Age
This is way deeper than Feynman’s lectures but what it does it to introduce your mind to different ways of separating the signal from the noise so that you can direct your energies into things that will help you improve. What you will take away from this is exactly what you will take away from Feynman’s lectures – thinking clearly, thinking deeply and improving your thinking machinery by challenging the status quo and being completely honest and unbiased in your journey of self-discovery and self-improvement.
Surprisingly, this is the
real Vedic India that my friend is unknowingly talking about and sadly it is not
5000 years old. It still exists but the reality is that once your mind is exposed
to it and you start utilizing the real teachings from it the first illusion it
will break is the hope for solace in past or future and the impermanence of
inspiration. Two illusions that are the basis of all modern ideologies.
What you will be left with is a well-oiled thinking machinery that always makes the right decisions and transforms
everything it touches into gold.
You would have discovered the
real philosopher’s stone – an unbiased, lucid, beginner’s mind that is capable
of infinite growth and sees infinite possibilities.
And that is a great start.