Learning about thinking

June 12, 2020

I listened to David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech, “This is Water” given in 2005 at Kenyon College. Its memorable opening is this parable:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

Lately I’m trying to become a better fish and learn more about my water. Which is…hard to do from inside it, but that’s the point, isn’t it?

So, okay, metacognition is defined as the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes. Recently, the things going on in the world have been more chaotic, confusing, and overwhelming than most of us are used to. When the world faces collective uncertainty and finds itself impassioned over social and political issues, talking about things gets tougher. Metacognition is not only applicable in times of unrest, but an evergreen area of edification/becoming better than Mara of yesterday.

This list of cognitive biases relevant to behavioral economics from The Decision Lab is a good starting point for learning about things that affect our decision making, oftentimes without us knowing it. One of my favorites is the default bias---why people like to keep things the same because loss is almost twice as painful as gain (loss aversion).

Farnam Street’s collection of mental models explained: As stated in its description, mental models are incredibly useful for simplifying the complexity in the world so that we can use more information in our everyday decision making and reasoning. For example, understanding the microeconomics concept of opportunity cost helps us navigate a world of scarcity that has inherent tradeoffs. (Read: There is always a tradeoff.)

Logic itself is of course something that has had centuries of dedicated thought. Crash Course Philosophy is an excellent starting point for those interested in learning more about philosophy in broad strokes. Learning about the history of logical arguments, major schools of thought, and the evolution of ideas is a useful way to seek parallels and suss out our own blind spots in today’s conversations (both in their content and the way that we have them).

Evolving on Race Issues Part I and Part II, The Myth of Systemic Racism with Coleman Hughes on Rubin Report is a relevant and refreshing example of a conversation that is more considerate of logic than some conversations that rely on emotional arguments or ad hominem attacks. Being grounded in reasoning rather than emotion provides a conversation with oxygen, and entertaining earnest discussions about things without being divisive or employing sneaky tactics to advance one’s own agenda is paramount.

All this is to say that I believe it’s necessary to examine how and why we think the way that we do. Just the same, I believe it’s important to consider the things we believe as exactly what they are: beliefs. So much of our water is made from our experiences and upbringing and just the very thought to try to examine it can open a lot of discussions with ourselves and others alike.

Also, I think it’s not a bad practice to give ideas a good amount of consideration. You may not end up at one extreme or another. That’s why I was delighted to find Squish Like Grape: Adventures in the Middle of the Road, a blog where “it’s safe to walk in the center without getting squished” --- and you can read its origin story here.

Here’s the link to get a little email when I write a new thing.