Chaos and the Open Mind

Posted on 2017 March 12


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If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. — René Descartes

Humans evolved in small tribal groups where everyone looked the same, spoke the same, believed the same, wore the same. And nothing changed … for thousands of years.

(Okay, maybe someone invented the wheel, and somebody else tamed horses, and somebody figured out how to melt metals together. But other than that, not much changed.)

Then, in just the past 150 years, most of humanity has moved from small farming communities to huge, bustling cities crammed with strangers who look different, speak different, believe different, wear different. And everything else is changing, constantly, faster and faster, so that we must adapt to new technologies and new ideas and new music and new slang on a weekly — no, daily — basis.

This can be stressful.

Humans are highly adaptive when they want to be, so maybe there’s a path through all this chaos. But what path should we take? And is there only one path? Or should we search for a new belief system that solves all our problems? A new political movement? A new religion? Better anxiety pills?

Are we asking the right questions? Do we even know what questions to ask?

Continual change demands from us different sorts of abilities than we normally bring to our work and social lives. Instead of polishing discreet sets of skills, we now must learn to adapt on the fly. In fact, we may have to learn to change our very attitudes about life, lest we harden in our ways and end up on the sidelines, shaking our fists at Fate.

This can be challenging.

A lot of smart people have given these dilemmas a good deal of thought. Let’s consider some of their ideas:

Early in life we read the world around us and choose life plans and paths matched to that world. During our life the world around us changes, and we make some adaptations to that, but they seem insufficient. — Robin Hanson

We cannot focus on one dimension of life and expect that focusing on that dimension is going to then give us a well-rounded life. — Susan David

The moment one gets into the expert state of mind, a great number of things become impossible. – Peter Diamandis

Just because a large number of well-credentialed experts believe something in common doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong. But if they preach consensus, that’s the way to bet. — Eric Weinstein

The four most dangerous words: “A new study shows…” — John Arnold

Albert Einstein called the intuitive or metaphoric mind a sacred gift. He added that the rational mind was a faithful servant. It is paradoxical that in the context of modern life we have begun to worship the servant and defile the divine. — Bob Samples

Losing our ignorance can be dangerous because our ignorance is a shield. — Dan Simmons

Perhaps wisdom, such as it is for me, means realizing how small I am and unwise and far I have yet to go. — Anthony Bourdain

And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. — Anais Nin

We know how to impart expertise, but we don’t know how to impart creativity and genius. — Eric Weinstein

Adults are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up because they are looking for ideas. — Paula Poundstone

Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos. — Mary Shelley

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. — F. Scott Fitzgerald

Being brilliant is no great feat if you respect nothing. — Goethe

Have an open mind – allow different ideas into your way of thinking. — Peter Diamandis

Always keep an open mind and a compassionate heart. — Phil Jackson

Strong opinions weakly held. — Marc Andreessen

The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge. — Thomas Berger

You don’t want a million answers as much as you want a few forever questions. The questions are diamonds you hold in the light. Study a lifetime and you see different colors from the same jewel. — Richard Bach

Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer. — William S. Burroughs

Take risks. Ask big questions. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not reaching far enough. — David Packard

The most important discoveries will provide answers to questions that we do not yet know how to ask and will concern objects we have not yet imagined. — John N. Bahcall

Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. — Rainer Maria Rilke