On Thinking Right

 Most people would rather die than think and many of them do!”

BERTRAND RUSSELL

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 feeling hungry.

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 thinking.

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 Excel!

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 I.

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.

 On Thinking Right

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 & Ramakrishna Paramhansa.

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.

Here’s an 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.

 

 Dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing in the midst of a deadly pandemic with the hope that even if some of us start thinking right, a lot will change.

Comments

Sanjay said…
Very detailed and good clarity of thought process... But we can do this kind of thinking only one you come above the daily thresholds of survival issues including money, and other basic needs not only you but ur families as well...
Devesh said…
That is correct Sanjay. It is the top tier of Maslow's hierarchy of needs Self-actualization. But we don't need to wait for that stage we can start managing our daily activities way better if we have the right thinking. All we need to do is block some time maybe 1 hour every week to just think about priorities and then delegate all lower ones and focus only on those that will result in the highest value for you and your future. If you want I can share the priority management system I use.

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