Monday, June 13, 2011

Raison d'etre

Ideas can induce change. Generally, people avoid change, and with good reason. A change is not always for the better. Mutations are one form of change, and their effect is more often detrimental than beneficial. You don’t often hear of cancer having a positive outcome.

But some of us are addicted to ideas. We keep exposing ourselves to their danger because occasionally, perhaps once in a million, a mutation results in an improvement. That’s the one I’m after. I accept the risk, because I trust myself to evaluate a mutational idea’s worth. I’ll happily sort through an unpromising bunch to come up with a winner.

For me to rate an idea highly, it needs to be something that improves my life. It needs, in other words, to be applicable and practical. I need to be able to utilize or consume it on a daily basis. According to Jung, “Philosophy butters no parsnips,” so I’ll stake out my area of research as Applied Philosophy and see what grows in that garden.

The best ideas lead me to some mental construct that helps to explain, clarify, or tie disparate threads together. I’m on the hunt for anything and everything that assists me in making sense of the world. To me, there’s nothing finer than to come up against—unless that be to come up with—a brand new idea. That's the main reason that I read. That's what I live for.

And by that I don’t mean that I’m after ‘the latest thing’ per se. It’s not about titillation. For me, the novelty of an idea does not lie in its newness. I couldn’t care less it it’s up-to-date and on TV, or if the ancient Greeks were the last ones to fool around with it. My only requirement is that it needs to have impact—that’s how I sift the wheat from the chaff. The sort of idea I value must have the potential to affect how I live in and relate to the world. I’m in the market for ideas that force me to see things in a different light.

But at the same time, you’ve got to beware. Ideas that have the power to infect your world view are dangerous medicine. They bring about transformations that may single you out from the crowd. They awaken you from the consensus trance. They’ll earmark you as being different, and to stand out invites being cut down.

Say that you stumble across a piece of evidence that doesn’t gel with what you know. If it doesn’t sit comfortably within your world view, what do you do? If you want to be honest with yourself, you've got to be prepared to evolve and grow. Don’t ever insist that your current framework it is set in stone. Don’t ever go along with a person or belief system that is similarly inflexible.

If a person is positive that they are right, then they’ll act as though they’re guarding something valuable. Using James Howard Kunstler’s term, the psychology of previous investment makes them feel obliged to defend the status quo. Also, because you’ll never hear unbiased information in an advertisement, you should only listen to humble souls—if that is the way you’ve chosen to go, rather than figuring it out for yourself—who express their uncertainty, or at the very least in other ways demonstrate that they are not attached to their kit-bag of thinking.

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