Tag Archives: problem solving

My Approach To Thinking/Problem Solving

 

This guide details the steps I use to solve problems. It’s also an excerpt from my first book, “Why: An Agnostic Perspective on the Meaning of Life.”  This isn’t the only way to solve problems, but it’s a good place to start.

1: Ask a question.

2: Gather data

3: Identify the variables you have.

4: Identify the variables you don’t have.

5: Sort the data.

6: Apply formulas.

7: Ask sub-questions.

8: Question your answer.

9: Apply the solution.

STEP 1: ASK A QUESTION

The first step in this process is deceptively simple. Anyone can ask a question; the skill lies in knowing which questions to ask, and, once you’ve picked a question, knowing how to ask it.

In your finite lifespan, there are an infinite number of questions to ask and thus an infinite number of answers to learn. So which questions should you ask? You could try to answer as many of them as possible, but that would be futile. You could focus on trying to answer the hardest ones, but that would be foolish because the hardest questions aren’t always the most important.

You need to answer the most important questions first, and if you have time after that you can answer whatever questions you want. Otherwise, you’ll waste your life fretting over inconsequential issues while ignoring the questions that truly matter and have the biggest impact on your life and potentially every other living creature.

So whenever you ask a question you should also ask yourself if there’s a more important question you could be asking instead. And at some point, you should decide what the most important questions in life are. Then you should systematically answer them in descending order. Obviously, the most important question you can ever ask is, what is the meaning of life?

Once you find an important question to ask you need to make sure you’re asking the right question to address the heart of the issue. Psychologists, doctors, and mechanics have to excel at looking past the symptoms of a problem and identifying/addressing the root cause/s. If you’ve ever been married you’ve probably had arguments that could have been resolved much quicker if you could/would have just addressed the real reason you were angry at each other.

Politicians face this problem every day as well. You can’t eliminate crime by asking, “Should the death penalty be legal?” or “How many times should you be arrested before you’re sent to jail for life?” Sure, those questions address crime, but they don’t address the heart of the issue. So to focus on them is to hack away at the branches of the problem but never touch the trunk. To end crime you first need to ask, “What is crime?” Then you need to ask, “What causes people to commit crime?” Then you focus on that/those cause/s.

 

STEP 2: GATHER DATA

The second step of the problem-solving process is to gather data (a.k.a. variables). This isn’t just a good idea or something that’ll help when you get stuck in a rut. You have to do it. If you don’t articulate the data then you don’t have any information to deduce the answer from. So you don’t actually have an equation at all.

Intelligent investors know this well. They would never buy stock in a company without knowing as many variables about the company as possible. You wouldn’t marry someone without knowing as much about them as possible. A jury wouldn’t pass a verdict on a defendant without knowing as much about the case as possible. If you’ve ever bought a used car that turned out to be a lemon you definitely know the value of gathering variables before coming to a conclusion.

Sometimes we refuse to even try to find any variables or we refuse to acknowledge the variables that are right in front of us. This is why people say not to talk about religion or politics. It’s common knowledge that people have already made up their minds on these topics and refuse to think about them. So discussing them (analyzing the variables) is futile.

Half-heartedly identifying the variables in an equation can ultimately be just as bad as not identifying any of them. Just missing a piece of the puzzle can cause you to hit a dead end or make a wrong decision. This is easily exemplified in war. A general can know everything about military strategy, but if the enemy has one secret weapon or launches one surprise attack the tide of the war can change. Rocket scientists are no stranger to this fact either. When you send a spacecraft to another planet you have to calculate every equation perfectly or years of work and millions of dollars worth of research and design are going to end in disaster, which has actually happened.

The principle applies just as much to everyday questions as it does with rocket science. If you’re only half-heartedly articulating the variables in the questions you ask then you’re only half-heartedly thinking, and that will get you half-hearted answer, and that will either produce a wrong answer or no answer at all.

 

STEP 2A: GATHER THE DATA YOU HAVE

When you’re solving an algebra problem in a textbook you’ll sometimes be given a few of the missing variables to plug into the equation. In real life, you’ll also usually be able to identify a few of the variables of a problem immediately, but inevitably you’ll realize you’re missing variables. If you weren’t missing any variables there wouldn’t be a question to ask. You would just see the answer.

To be successful at solving real-world problems you need to be acutely aware of this fact. After you ask a question, the next thing you need to do is articulate the variables you have while keeping in mind that you probably don’t know all of them.

Lawyers, auditors, and consultants all pay special attention to this step in the problem-solving process. When they’re faced with a new job they immediately try to gather all the information about the issue at hand. They know that they won’t have anything to do if they don’t gather all the data available. Then, only once that data is collected will they be able to find holes or areas of improvement on the data system they’re working with.

What’s the first thing a detective does after arriving at the scene of the crime? He analyzes the crime scene to gather any readily available data. When the murderer is standing over the victim with blood on his hands the detective doesn’t have to think any further to solve the problem, but if the culprit has fled the scene the detective has a missing variable on his hands.

 

STEP 2B: GATHER THE DATA YOU DON’T HAVE

Sometimes you don’t have all the data at hand though. In that case, you have to try to gather the data you don’t have.

Imagine you’re cleaning your house, trying to put everything where it should be, and you see a dirty sock lying next to the hamper. No big deal. You know all the variables to the equation of “What should I do with this sock?” You practically unconsciously pick it up and put it in the hamper. But suppose you saw a gun lying next to the hamper. Then there would probably be some variables missing from the equation that you would need to identify before taking actions, such as “Is it loaded?” “How did it get there?” “Where is a safe place I can put this?” etc.

What if, when you found the gun lying next to your hamper, you didn’t try to identify the missing variables before taking action? What if you assumed you knew them? You might end up shooting yourself or someone else. You might leave it in a place that a child will find it. The burglar who dropped it might still be in the house. Never assume you already know everything.

Anyone who has ever worked in an office with an arrogant manager knows the consequences of answering questions without trying to identify the unseen variables. Many businesses have been bankrupt by managers who assumed they knew everything and consequently made faulty decisions. Even in businesses that don’t go bankrupt, an arrogant and ignorant boss can make life a living hell for the employees who have to cope with his poor decision-making skills on a daily basis. Socrates would have made an excellent manager because he believed, “I know that I don’t know.” Or “I know that I know nothing.” (Depending on the translation)

If you’re humble and wise enough to try to identify the variables you’re missing there are countless ways you can go about doing it. Detectives extrapolate clues from the variables they already have to point to the variables they don’t have. Inexperienced small business owners who want their business to grow recruit marketing firms who already know the variables involved in increasing sales to tell them what variables they’re missing. Students writing term papers just have to study their topic to death until they learn what they didn’t know they needed to know. How successful you are at identifying the variables you don’t know depends on how creatively and persistently you search for them.

Inevitably though, you’ll have to make many decisions without knowing all the facts. That’s life. All you can do is minimize the risk of making an incorrect decision by identifying as many variables as possible. Then, after the decision is made you should be mindful of your ignorance and be ready to jump back into the problem-solving process if it becomes obvious you did, in fact, make the wrong decision because you didn’t take enough variables into consideration. If you can’t identify enough variables it might be wisest to abandon the whole situation altogether. If you’re a politician who wants to invade a country that you know very little about the wisest course of action is probably to just leave it alone.

 

STEP 3: SORT THE DATA

So you’ve asked a question and identified as many of the variables as possible. That information is only good for regurgitating until you make sense of the data. In algebra, this means finding meaningful relationships between the variables. If somebody told you that A=B and B=C then you could easily see the relationship between A and C. They’re the same. In the real world, you also need to sort data by finding meaningful relationships between variables. But don’t worry. It’s not always that cryptic.

Suppose you just got promoted to assistant manager at your high school job. One of your new duties is to make the work schedule for all the employees. You’ve identified who works at the business, what shifts need to be filled, who has asked for days off, and who has any other conflicting schedules. Now all you need to do is to determine the relationships between each of the variables to determine who should work when.

Answering the question of who should work each shift should be easy if you have all the information at hand. However, sometimes the data set you’re working with is much more complex than that. In those cases, you need a more powerful tool to sort the data.

 

STEP 3A: APPLY FORMULAS

A formula is defined as:

“a statement, especially of an equation, of a fact, rule, principle, or other logical relation.”

Every field of study has its own facts, rules, and principles for making sense out of data. The reason for this is because every data set has patterns whether you’re talking about math, farming, psychology, interior design, engineering, biology, chemistry, dating, raising pets, cooking, fixing a computer, or anything else.

Without patterns, data sets are just chaos. Very rarely in life do you ever find complete chaos. So anytime you’re trying to solve a problem try to identify patterns and figure out rules to explain these patterns. If you’re lucky, somebody out there will have already identified the rules you’re looking for.

If you want to find a mate there are patterns and rules for dating. “Rules of the Game” and “The Rules” are books about dating based on formulas (though their accuracy is debatable). There are definitely patterns and rules for making money. The book, “The Intelligent Investor” is one big formula. There are patterns and rules for making music. It’s called music theory. Social skills are merely formulas for interacting with people. You might want to read “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” There are even patterns and rules for everyday living. Collectively, they’re called wisdom. Religions and self-help books are little more than formulas people have developed by analyzing the patterns in life.

There are also formulas for thinking. This whole chapter is a formula for thinking, but there are countless more sub-formulas. The more of those you can find or create the better of a thinker you’ll be. Here are a few examples of formulas related specifically to solving problems:

The simplest way to make the broadest changes in a system is to change the basics.

If you don’t know which direction to take when solving a problem then just shoot out in any direction, and eventually, you’ll find a pattern to follow or a clue to point you in the right direction.

Make as general and as vague of an answer as you can and then slowly get more and more specific. This way you can always reference your more specific answers against your vague ones to make sure they’re in line with your overall goal.

Consider the unlikely.

The first step to finding the solution is finding where to look.

Find a parallel or analogy of your problem.  Seeing the problem in a different setting may give you a better perspective to see an answer.

Consider the extremes. They’ll help you put the problem in perspective.

Ask if the problem you are trying to solve is one among many that stems from a more basic problem.  If you can solve the basic problem then you can solve a slew of other problems in the process.  Maybe the basic problem is one stem of an even more basic problem.  Keep tracing back.

A sign of higher-level thinking is being able to think in multiple dimensions.

Another sign of higher-level thinking is being able to associate facts.  A sign of still higher-level thinking is being able to associate facts from distant sources.

A complex problem often has multiple causes, which would require multiple solutions.

There are always at least three solutions to any problem, and if you can find three solutions you can find more.

Formulas are an indispensable way of making sense of mathematical and real-world data. Undoubtedly you already use thousands of formulas in your life to identify patterns in real-world data sets without even realizing it, but once you do you can consciously and systematically develop them. When you do you’ll be a much more powerful thinker, and as a result, you’ll enjoy a much more successful life.

A word of warning though, many of the formulas people use to help them understand the world they live in and subsequently act upon are wrong. Surely you have a friend who is always asking, “Why do I keep dating bad people?” Your friend is probably using a bad formula for choosing partners. Countless people have lost fortunes in the stock market using faulty formulas. Wars are lost and governments crumble because of inaccurate formulas. So if you find that bad things are always happening to you it’s probably not because you’re the most unlucky person in the world. Realistically, it’s probably because you’re using bad formulas. You should humbly and brutally reevaluate your formulas.

 

STEP 3B: ASK SUB-QUESTIONS

This step is where you’re going to do the bulk of your actual work. The easiest way to explain it is to start with an illustration and go from there.

What’s the answer to the problem, 12X34? Work out this problem on a sheet of paper, and you’ll realize that in doing so you had to solve the equations 4X2, 4X1, 3X2, 3X1, 8+0, 6+4, and 3+1. You had to ask seven sub-questions to answer the one question you really wanted to know.

When you think about it every step in an algebra problem is asking another question. The same is true with solving real-world problems. If you’re not asking more questions then you’re not getting any closer to answering the first question. So if you can’t get any further on a problem you’re working on then you need to ask yourself, “What questions have I asked?” “What questions haven’t I asked?” “What questions do I need to ask?” etc. You might realize that you haven’t asked any questions at all, in which case it’s no wonder you haven’t found an answer.

If a detective is trying to solve the overall problem of “who done it” then the sub-questions would be, “What is the motive? What evidence is at the scene of the crime? Who was the victim close too? etc.” A computer technician will ask himself a series of sub-questions when trying to figure out why a computer doesn’t work. “Was there an error message? If so, what was it? Is the problem hardware or software related? Have any changes been made to the system lately? Is the computer turned on? etc.” If your question is, “Which couch should I buy?” you might ask yourself sub-questions like, “How much money do I have to spend on a couch? How much room do I have? What colors match the room I’m going to put it in? etc.”

Each sub-question can even have sub-questions of its own. The better you can get at finding the right sub-questions for the type of issue you’re working with then the better you’ll be at solving problems.

 

STEP 4: QUESTION YOUR ANSWERS

The next step in the problem-solving process is to prove your answer (or anybody else’s answer for that matter). If you get the wrong answer on a math test you might have to take the class over. Getting the wrong answers in life can cause misery, insanity, injustice, financial loss, war, etc.

A lot of times we don’t want to prove our answer. We get the answer we want to hear and stick with it, but all this really does is create a fantasy world that keeps us from perceiving reality correctly, which causes us to answer more questions wrong because we’re stuck calculating future questions using incorrect variables. This results in the illusion of a rosy world, but in reality, it only propagates a dystopian society.

This is why it’s important to be objective about your answers. If you’re not objective about your answers then you’re not a thinker, and all your answers are going to be wrong.

“Objective” is defined as:

“Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices. 2. Based on observable phenomena; presented factually”

On paper that sounds great. Nobody would say, “I prefer to base my decisions on emotional or personal prejudices rather than on observable facts.” But everybody does it. People go to mind-bending lengths to conform observable facts to their emotional and personal prejudices even if it doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes we do it loudly, and sometimes we do it quietly in the back of our minds.

Take this two question test.

1: What do you believe strongest in?

2: How often do you deliberately doubt and challenge the validity of that belief?

Ironically, the stronger we believe in something the less likely we are to question it. This type of stubborn faith is often praised as a virtue, but the less likely we are to question our beliefs the more likely we are not to take into account all the variables. The fewer variables we take into consideration the more likely we are to be wrong about it. So the stronger we believe in something the more likely we are to be wrong about it.

Furthermore, when you tell someone to have faith in something and that they shouldn’t brutally analyze it you’re really telling them it’s good to be uninformed. You’re being the enemy of truth. And for what? If we question an idea we’re not going to hurt its feelings. It’s not going to get back at us for cheating on it. All that can happen is we increase our knowledge and perceive truth more clearly. Whereas if we don’t question our beliefs all that can happen is we increase the likelihood that we’re wrong. When that happens there’s no end to the pain we can and will inflict on ourselves and others. There’s also no end to how much control we can give other people over our lives.

How many people do you think have read this and said to themselves, “I’m not one those people. I wouldn’t sell out truth for emotions or personal prejudices. I wouldn’t think less about the things I believe the strongest.” The people who say they won’t sell out truth are the most likely to do it. If you truly believe you wouldn’t then you won’t guard yourself against it. On the other hand, if you admit to yourself that you have and/or will sell out logic for a selfish answer you’ll be cautious not to let it happen again.

In fact, a wise person wants, yearns, begs to be proven wrong, because if you learn that you’ve been wrong about something then you can become right, and thus you’ll have gained. If you refuse to be proven wrong then you might keep your pride, but at the end of the day you’ll still be ignorant and will continue to make faulty decisions to the detriment of yourself and everyone else in your sphere of influence.

 

STEP 5: APPLY THE SOLUTION

 

On a math test when you solve a problem you simply write down the answer and wait to see if the teacher tells you that you got it right. In life applying the answer can be as easy as putting on the socks you’ve chosen to wear today or as complex as writing a book about the meaning of life. It can be as rewarding as choosing which foods you want at a buffet or as perilous as choosing whether or not to use lethal force against an attacker. The only advice there is to give for this step is to make sure your answer is correct before applying it. If you’re unsure whether or not to act or you don’t have the courage to act then you obviously don’t understand the situation well enough. If you did there would be no debate left. There would only be action.

 

THE LIFESTYLE OF A THINKER

Learning how to think doesn’t make you a thinker any more than knowing how to shoot makes you a soldier. Being a thinker is a lifestyle, and it’s not a lifestyle that’s only useful to a few people like the lifestyle of a soldier is only useful to a few people. It’s not even just a skill that can be useful to everybody in the sense that, for example, cooking is a skill that can be useful to everybody, but you don’t necessarily have to be good at it. Thinking is the way to be a successful, self-actualized person. It’s vital for everybody to master.

Why do some people make a lifestyle out of thinking and some people don’t? The answer isn’t genetics. It’s motivation. Either external circumstances forced them to come to a clearer understanding of life or they figured it out on their own. Either way, every thinker has come to some version of the same conclusion:

We’re thrown into this life with no warning and no preparation. We’re born lost. In fact, we’re so lost most people never even realize they’re lost, and nobody even tells us that. If anything, we’re encouraged to just accept the world for what it is and to not ask questions.

To make things more confusing for us, the few explanations and instructions we are given differ from source to source. It’s like trying to play a game you don’t know the rules to and where everybody you ask tells you something different. The result is that we spend our lives bewildered and in a daze. And in the end, all we have to look back on is chaos and anxiety.

But there’s hope. If we can make sense of the world we won’t be at the mercy of our environment. In fact, we can take control of our lives. How? We can perceive truth and empower ourselves using logic.

Being a thinker means realizing this and deliberately and consistently trying to make sense of the world you’ve been thrust into. It means the frustration of being lost and powerless fuels your curiosity to learn as much as you can. But this doesn’t just mean reading as many books as possible and cataloging the information in your brain. It means constantly looking at the world around you and questioning it. A curious person wants to know how everything works because the more you understand the more empowered you’ll be. So thinking isn’t a chore. It’s a never-ending opportunity to become more powerful.

The better you understand that the more you’ll want to think. Thus, the more you will think. The more you think the smarter, stronger, and happier you’ll be. The less you think the dumber, weaker, and sadder you’ll be.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

 

The Meaning of Life
How to Think Like a Genius
Knowledge and Learning
Biker Philosophy
My Tweets About Philosophy 

How To Solve A Problem With A Team

My collaborative problem-solving process:

1: Pick a speaker. The first person who volunteers gets to be the speaker. They receive the Speaker badge. They now act like a dungeon master of the group. He has the final say on who gets to speak and how long they get to speak. He is the authority that tells people what to do, when and why. The speaker can give the position to anyone at any time. A 50% vote can remove the speaker. The speaker’s seat cannot be vacant. The speaker draws his authority from the consensual agreement all players made by sitting down at the game and putting their piece on the board. Any member can leave at any time for any reason. The speaker is also the primary point of contact for receiving and conveying information between other groups and the public. But any member can speak to anyone whenever and about whatever they want.

2: Once all the players are the board and have placed their avatar on the board the speaker asks a question.: He says, “What is the question we’re here to ask?”

3: Each player provides an answer. Every player can take broad liberties in how they answer the question, but the question must be clear.

4: When everyone has submitted their final answer the group gets to see everyone’s answer.

5: The group identifies as many patterns in their answers as they can and turns in their answers to the host.

6: Everyone gets to look at everyone’s answers.

7: The process is repeated until an agreement on the answer is achieved.

8: When consensus is achieved the host will refine the answer into a written statement and will seek the turn-based agreement to refine the final answer.

9: When a final answer has been agreed upon and written down one of the team members will design a symbol for the question. One of the team members will make a piece for the symbol and put it on the center of the board. The question’s symbol piece on the board solidifies each member’s resolve to be a part of the problem-solving process and to do their best to work as a team member to accomplish a shared goal.

10: Once the question’s symbol piece has been put on the board and everyone has acknowledged the significance of the event, the host will ask the following question: “What are the variables in the equation.”

11: Each member will make a list of every variable in the equation they can think of.

12: They turn in their final answers to the host.

13: Everyone analyzes everyone else’s answers and looks for patterns and holes in the analysis.

14: The host refines everyone’s answers in a turn-based manner until everyone is in agreement on a final answer.

15: They make pieces symbolizing each of the fundamental aspects of the problem.

16: The host asks, “How do we solve this problem?”

17: Every member writes down answers and hands them to the host.

18: Everyone looks at everyone else’s answers.

19: Everyone looks for patterns and holes in the answers.

20: The host refines everyone’s answers in a turn-based manner until everyone is in agreement on a final answer.

21: The host asks, “What questions aren’t we asking?”

22: Everyone writes down their answers, turns them in and everyone looks at them. This goes around until everyone is in agreement to move forward.

23: They create a symbol and a piece for their call to action to solve the problem.

24: The host asks, “What part will each of you play in solving the problem?”

25: Everyone submits their answer to be analyzed using the turn-based method.

26: The host asks, “What is the first thing you are going to do to solve the problem.

27: Everyone submits their answers to be analyzed using the turn-based method.

28: After everyone has submitted their final answer the team breaks, and each player does not return to the board until they have completed their quest.

29: The process repeats itself until the final goal is accomplished.

Other useful videos on systematic problem-solving:

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

 

The Meaning of Life
How to Think Like a Genius
Knowledge and Learning
Biker Philosophy
My Tweets About Philosophy 

10 Steps to Winning An Argument

"Wow, that internet argument completely changed my fundamental belief system," said no one, ever.

 

Step 1:

When someone tells you something you disagree with, recognize the fact that you’ve been wrong before. Regardless of how absurd their idea is, remember how confidently you once believed the things you now know you were wrong about. The same thing could very well be happening again.

Step 2:

Assume that if this person believes what they’re saying, then they must have a compelling reason to. You might find in the end that it’s not logical, but since it’s strong enough to influence them, there must be something to it. Find out their reasons for believing what they’re saying before you disagree with them. Press them to keep talking. Find out everything there is to know about the topic before criticizing it.

Step 3:

Don’t respond yet. Tell the person, “Give me a few minutes to think about this.” or better yet, “Let me sleep on it. We’ll continue this conversation tomorrow.”

Step 4:

Assume/pretend the other person is right. Block out your beliefs for a time and look at the world through his eyes. Imagine living a life where you walk around believing what you were just told.

Step 5

Consider their arguments objectively. Imagine that you’re a scientist in a laboratory where ideas can be stored in Petri dishes. In one dish is their argument. In another is yours. Take your argument and put it on a shelf. Then take their argument and put it under a microscope. Use logic to dissect it and study it independent of how it relates to your ideas.

Put your initial hypothesis about the outcome out of your mind. This is a clinical study where scientific truth is more important than winning. In fact, the only way to truly win is to arrive at the truth. Furthermore, disregard the source of the idea you’re studying. Just because the idea came from a source you don’t trust, doesn’t mean it can’t be true. The source has nothing to do with the idea. So separate the two for the time being.

 

 

 

Step 6:

Take the results of your scientific dissection and file them away. Then take your own ideas and put them under the microscope. Even if you’ve studied them before, the fact that they’re being challenged means there’s a chance you might have missed something. Consider where your ideas came from. Did you really adopt them because you’d done all the math and arrived at the conclusion this is the correct answer yourself, or did somebody else tell you it was true? Dissect your arguments with the scalpel of logic again. Be brutal about it. Get angry at your ideas. Hate them. Tear them apart with the fury of a lover who just found out your soul mate has been cheating on you.

Step 7:

Compare the results from both of your studies, understanding that the goal of the study isn’t to determine who is right or wrong. Arguments are almost never black and white. You could both be right about some aspects of the topic and wrong about others. The goal of the study is to take the good and bad of both arguments and mix them together to create the real truth. If at the end of the study you accept or reject the opposing idea completely, you probably did your math wrong. If you do find fault on either side, don’t throw the whole petri dish away. If an idea has flaws, then fix them.

Step 8:

If you want, you can present your findings to the person you argued with, but this isn’t necessary. This whole process was never a battle between people. It was really an internal battle in your personal search for truth. Whether or not you can convince the other person of your findings is irrelevant.

Step 9:

If you do decide to continue the argument with the other person, don’t worry about winning. Simply explain your findings to them, and if they don’t like it, then end the conversation. Winning an argument won’t do anything for you except stroke your ego, which is pointless. Only proceed if the other person is willing to learn.

Step 10:

Watch for personal attacks. Once either side throws a personal attack, the conversation is over. Dialogue has broken down, and neither side is listening objectively anymore. So you may as well quit. If you draw first blood, you’re probably the more closed-minded person. If you had logical reasons for your argument you’d be using them instead of calling the other person names. The more you make fun of the other person, the more of a case you build that you either can’t handle the truth or just like to fight.

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

 

The Meaning of Life
How to Think Like a Genius
Knowledge and Learning
Biker Philosophy
My Tweets About Philosophy 

The Map Of Everything

Line drawing of a gear with an 8-pointed star inside, with every point connected by a straight line

 

Life is an absurd existential dilemma. There’s no map or instructions to tell us where we should be going or what we should be doing. The universe doesn’t have a center, and if it did, there’s no reason to go there. There’s no cosmic rule which says anyone has to be anywhere. We’re born lost. We live our lives so lost that we don’t even know we’re lost, and we’re destined to die lost never knowing for sure if anything we do matters from the cosmic perspective.

So while there’s no map to tell us where to go and what to do, I have a philosophy that provides some guidance. I call this philosophy “The Map of Everything.” It’s represented by a circle with 8 points evenly spaced along its perimeter. Every point is connected directly to every other point by a straight line. This “map” is a simplified 2D version of an impossible graphic where the circle is a sphere that has every possible point connected to every other point.

The 8-pointed circle represents an observation about the nature of the universe. There isn’t a physical line drawn between every atom in the universe, but every point in time and space are logically connected directly and indirectly, and every logical relationship between everything that exists can be traced and extrapolated. If you study the connections between the objects and events in the universe, you’ll find patterns in the behavior of everything. Chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, logic, and psychology are merely the study of patterns. Once you understand those patterns you can follow them, learn from them, and use them to find a way to logically orientate yourself and direct your actions. Then, instead of being tossed around aimlessly by the forces around you, you’ll be able to harness those forces to help you get where you want to go.

When you were born, you couldn’t see any of the lines connecting the objects and events in your life, but the more you learn the more you’ll see those connections. Still, you’ll never know everything. So you’ll never be able to see all the lines.  If bad things keep happening to you, it’s probably because you’re missing connections and patterns.  It’s like trying to find where you’re going with half a map. Your ignorance is the root of your problems, and the solution is to find the connections and patterns you’re missing.

As you’re going through life, if you ever get discouraged by the fact that you’re wandering in an open maze and it seems like you’re not getting anywhere, you can look at the Map of Everything and remind yourself that everything is connected. Everything is part of the same whole. You are a part of the whole. So wherever you go, and whatever you do, you’ll never be truly alone. From one perspective you’ll never be lost either. This universe is your home. This is where you belong.

 

 

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Enlightenment Through Logic

Line drawing of an Om inside a gear

 

Throughout my life, I’ve taken a keen interest in meditation and the concept of achieving enlightenment through reaching the ideal mental state. I’ve read a lot of books on the subject, which on a whole confused me more than they helped me reach Nirvana. I quickly discovered that no matter what method you used to reach this state you’d find someone who would disagree with your approach. Some would even say that the more you try to reach enlightenment the farther away you’ll get because the only way to reach enlightenment is to let go of all desire and ambition until you’re left in a state of immediate stillness and clarity.

I can’t argue with any of these self-proclaimed authorities, because arguing about what enlightenment truly is…is like arguing about what a party or a lover truly is. You can define any concept however you want and argue until you’re blue in the face about what the true meaning of a word is, and nobody can say who is more correct.

Despite the elusiveness of enlightenment, there’s something in the concept worth exploring. There’s value in the theory that an ideal mental state exists which can be achieved through some kind of mental feat (or the lack thereof). If an ideal mental state doesn’t exist then it doesn’t matter if you spend your life watching cheap sitcoms and reality television; it doesn’t matter if you go to school or think or don’t think about any topic in particular. Everything is equal.

But it does matter what you think. What you think defines who you are, and who you are defines what society is and where society is going. If there were no mental standards, then there would be no laws, religions, leadership courses, degrees or awards; we would live in anarchy. And on a personal level, we wouldn’t have any goals to strive for.

Some people would say this is a good thing; that our ambitions are chains that tie us to the vulgar world, and the only way to achieve true enlightenment is to let go of those anchors and simply exist in the here and now free from ego or wants. I’ve looked at life from that point of view, and I can see the value in it. At some point, you have to just stop and smell the roses and wallow in the grandeur of existence in its purest form. If you can’t do that, then what are we doing here? We’re just chasing after goals that are going to be rendered useless by time.

Still, every generation of humans has been faced with colossal questions and problems. If we made it a categorical imperative that every human being should spend their entire life escaping thought, then we’d still be living in caves and pooping in bushes. It’s only because of the conscious, ambitious, logical, scientific thoughts that humans have cracked the mystery of the Periodic Table of Elements, The Red Shift or the Big Bang. Without logical thought, we wouldn’t have invented fertilizer, antibiotics, stitches, hearing aids, refrigeration, human rights, legal processes or any other inventions or concepts that solve the problems of life.

If we hadn’t discovered these insights into life through rigorous, scientific thought, we’d still be worshiping the sun and sacrificing humans to appease the thunder gods. So I can’t make a moral imperative out of the idea that humans should abandon logical thought in favor of pure experience… until we’ve solved the problems that hurt us and force us to waste our lives toiling away just to survive.

I can’t empirically prove what “enlightenment” is, but I know what truth is. Truth is that which is, and scientific thought tells us what is true. So my theory (at this point in my life) is that in order to understand truth and live in reality you need to follow the path of scientific thought. Once you understand the scientific nature of the universe and master the art of reason then you’ll see reality as clearly as possible. Then, after you solve the immediate problems that cause you and the people around you suffering then you can relax and soak up the grandeur of existence in stillness. But until you know who, why, what, where, when and why you are, and until you’ve solved the very real, very tragic problems in front of you than sitting around mentally masturbating is inherently irresponsible.

That’s why I hold the philosophy that enlightenment is achieved through logic.

 

 

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Your Ability To Think Obligates You To

Picture of Dr. House holding a human brain, next to the caption, "If you have one, try to use it please!"

 

Human beings are biological, sentient, autonomous cosmic supercomputers. You’re smarter and more powerful than the most expensive computer in the world. You’re the rarest and most valuable thing in the universe. Regardless of your personal opinion of yourself, you’re capable of looking at the world around you, identifying problems, solving them intellectually and then enacting your solution. You’re the only being in the universe that we know of that’s capable of doing that. Celebrate that fact, but know that with great power comes great responsibility. It’s your responsibility to think about the world’s problems and then solve them.

That’s an intimidating responsibility, but you shouldn’t have to be guilt tripped into accepting it. You should already be doing it out of selfishness if nothing else. You want to live in a better world, and you have the ability to make it better. You don’t have anything better to do than making the world a better place.

Even if you’re content where you’re at, the future of mankind depends on everyone solving as many problems as possible. The future has to be built brick by brick, and the more people who pitch in, the faster the future gets better. The more people find excuses not to solve problems, the slower humanity progresses and the greater the chance of collapse; there’s a tipping point where if too many people ignore their responsibility to think, then collapse is guaranteed.

We’ve spent our entire lives on the wrong side of the tipping point and don’t even recognize we’re living in a collapsed society. We take gun violence, international wars, sweatshops, invasive, predatory police, corrupt politicians and inefficient bureaucracy for granted. We even celebrate them. What we don’t do though is take responsibility for the world’s problems. We throw up our hands and tell ourselves it’s somebody else’s responsibility to fix all the problems around us. But it’s all of our responsibility to go out of our way and our comfort zone to think and solve problems. The whole reason the world is awash with problems is because most people aren’t thinking. If you’re not thinking then you’re being stupid, and stupid kills.

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing. Doing nothing is evil. It’s the main ingredient in failure. If you want your life to be a success you need to think. If you want the world to become a better place then you need to think. Even if you don’t want to, the rest of humanity needs you to.

Think about this. The matter that makes up your body was present at the Big Bang. You’ve traveled through gas clouds, oceans and atmospheres to get where you are today. You’re a conscious being in a seemingly unconscious universe. You’re wasting your life if you don’t do the most amazing thing you’re designed to do. Think, and let’s build a better world brick by brick, problem by problem.

 

"What a man can be, he must be." Abraham Maslow

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10 Steps To Becoming A Genius

1: Accept you need to fulfill your mind’s potential.

Look at the graph below. Where on the graph would you mark yourself if the far left represented the ignorance of a newborn baby and the far right represented the genius of Leonardo Da Vince?

(Ignorance) 1—2—3—4— (Normal) —6—7—8—9—10 (Genius)

Okay, that was a trick. Without changing your position on the graph, replace the word “Ignorance” with “Insanity,” and replace the word “Genius” with “Sane.”

The definition of the word “sane” is: “having or showing reason, sound judgment, or good sense.”

Think about a baby. Does a baby think or act with sound reason, judgment, and sense? No. If an adult acted like a one-year-old, he’d be locked away in a mental institute. We’re all born insane, and our progress towards sanity doesn’t happen on its own. As we grow up, our brains develop and automatically make us more capable of sanity, but in to grow to your full potential you have to proactively use reason, sound judgment, and common sense.

Genius isn’t a condition you’re born with. It’s the process of pushing your mind to its unique potential. Once you’ve pushed your mind to what it’s capable of, you’ll be the person you’re capable of becoming.

 

 

 2: Accept you’re capable of becoming a genius.

If you’re smart enough to graduate high school, then you’re smart enough to become a genius. How many song lyrics, movie characters, book titles, sports statistics, telephone numbers and street names will you memorize in your life?  How many books/magazines/news articles/websites/blogs have you/will you read? When you add it all up, the number is astronomical even if you score low on a traditional I.Q. test.

You’ll never reach the limits of your mind. Therefore, the limits of your mental potential are defined more by what you believe they are than what they actually are. You have the potential to become an expert at just about anything if you would only allow yourself permission to become what you’re capable of becoming and push yourself as far as you can go.

 

 

3: Accept you’re ignorant.

Everyone is born insane, and we become saner by learning. But no matter how much you learn, you’ll always be an ant on a speck of dirt in an endless universe. Nobody knows shit about shit, and we’re all so lost we don’t even know how lost we are. So conceit is a delusion, and humility is sanity. The smarter you think you are, the less room and motivation you give yourself to grow. The more humbly you accept your ignorance, the more room and motivation you give yourself to grow.

 

 

4: Accept everyone is ignorant in different ways to different degrees.

Humanity doesn’t have life figured out. Our entire history has been a slow process of clueless adults raising clueless children. The younger generation always takes it for granted their parents’ generation has it all figured out. So children devote their lives to mimicking their elders only to waste their lives re-enacting primitive, obsolete customs invented by pompous monkeys.

Take everything you learn with a grain of salt. Even if someone teaches you something true, it’s probably still incomplete. Questioning people and their belief systems can only help you arrive at a clearer perception of the truth. Blind faith can only result in blindness.

 

 

5: Decide what you want to learn.

Nobody can know everything. The end goal of genius isn’t to master every field of learning but to master the one/s that are most important to you. The only way you’ll have the motivation to master anything, is to love doing it. Find something you love, and excel at that. If you try to master something you aren’t terminally passionate about, you’re either going to quit or be miserable, which would defeat the purpose.

 

6: Develop a systematic plan to understand life.

Imagine it’s Sunday afternoon, and you don’t have to go to work, but you’ve got a ton of errands and chores you need to get done. If you just wander around the house and do a chore here and there when you just happen to find yourself in a room that needs something done it’s going to take forever to get all your chores done. Imagine driving around town aimlessly and hoping you run across the store or business you need to get something done at. You’ll never accomplish all your goals.

Becoming a genius (aka growing up, aka becoming sane) is the same way. You’re not going to be able to wander through life aimlessly, casually doing the things you feel inspired or hungry to do and hope to make the most out of your mind. You need to plan out what you want to learn and how you’re going to teach it to yourself.

 

 

7: Learn as much as you can.

If you want to be smarter, then learn more. If you want to be exceptionally smart, then learn an exceptional amount of information. You’re going to run out of time before you run out of storage space in your brain.

 

 

8: Learn and practice rational, logical thinking.

To understand the information you learn and make the best use of it, you have to be able to process the information effectively. You can memorize the encyclopedia, but if you don’t know how to think, all your good for is reciting information. The better you are at thinking, the more valuable conclusions you can draw from your knowledge.

 

 

9: Ask the right questions.

You might be able to cram enough knowledge into your brain to win every quiz game in the world, but that doesn’t make you a genius. What separates the savants from the geniuses is meaning. Is the knowledge you possess and are the questions you ask meaningful? Do your intellectual pursuits make a difference in the world? Do they help people? Do they advance humanity? If not, then it doesn’t matter how many credentials you have or how many people pat you on the back. Your efforts are meaningless.

You don’t have to be smart enough to figure out why E=MC2 to be a genius. The world doesn’t need 7 billion astrophysicists anyway. We need geniuses from every walk of life. We need people who can solve meaningful problems in the fields that they’re suited for. Solve a meaningful question and that will be an exercise in genius, but that doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels for the rest of your life. Just because you did something genius yesterday doesn’t mean you’re a genius today. And just because you performed one stroke of genius doesn’t mean that you’re a genius in every other facet of your life. In fact, nobody is a full spectrum genius. Every genius is a complete idiot in other ways.

 

 

10: Question your answers.

Let’s suppose you questioned your personal beliefs and the foundations of your culture and found them lacking. So you went back and rewrote the rules and applauded yourself for fixing them. Then you lived the rest of your life by those new rules and taught them to other people. The only problem is you’re Anton Lavey, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Timothy Leary or Charles Manson. If you don’t question everything, especially your own answers, you’ll end up acting on irrational conclusions that will cause harm to you or others.

Question your answers.

 

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