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Not too much, Not too little

The first challenge is to see the value of an idea without romanticizing away its limitations.

The second challenge is to see the limitations of an idea without losing the ability to make constructive use of its value.

Most fallacies are not the result of placing faith in bad ideas, but in making too much or too little of good ideas.

Does it make you think?

The Myth: “If I disagree with an idea, it’s not worth contemplating. If I can find the flaws in an idea, then it’s a waste of time to analyze it.”

Not so fast!

Does it make you think?

Does it force you to achieve greater clarity about your own views?

Does it challenge you to deepen your understanding of other people’s logic?

If so, then it’s not a waste of time at all.

There’s more to the value of an idea than what can be determined simply by evaluating its truth or falsity.

The process of wrestling with provocative concepts, even if we don’t agree with them, helps us open what Maxine Greene calls “new vistas of possibility” in our minds.

If it makes you think, it’s worth something. If it stretches your imagination, it’s worth something. If it helps you relate to different people, it’s worth something. If it compels you on a journey to enrich your knowledge of self, it’s worth something.

An idea doesn’t have to be flawless in order to contribute value to our pursuit of truth.

Thinking in Different Philosophies

Polygots often speak of the worlds of art and literature that are made available to them upon learning a new language.

An English-speaking person who studies French, for instance, is able to be inspired and informed by a larger population of films, books, songs, and conversations. They are able to laugh at jokes that were previously meaningless to them. They are able to be moved by poems that were once unintelligible to them. They live in the same world as before, but the possibilities of that world are more fully open to their experience.

I believe that an analogous kind of experience is made available through the contemplation of unfamiliar ideas.

Every idea is a kind of language which, when understood, opens the mind’s ability to discern new meanings and messages from life’s experiences.

Whenever we make the effort to learn something new, life reflects our knowledge back to us in the form of a freer and more fulfilling existence.

New ideas produce new opportunities for exploring and engaging the world.

Being able to “think in different philosophies” is no less valuable than being able to speak in different languages.

All ideas are fragile

“And just as Steve loved ideas, and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.” -Jonathan Ive at the Steve Jobs Tribute on the Apple campus.

The potential usefulness of ideas should never be discounted merely because of the existence of counterexamples and creative challenges.

An idea doesn’t have to be applicable to everything in order to be applicable to some things.

If “yes, but…,” followed by the citation of some condition towards which an idea fails to apply, were sufficient grounds for the dismissal of every new proposal, all progress would be impossible.

Ideas must be groomed by our willingness to think critically and creatively about how we can get the most out of them. 

Their value, often disguised as vulnerability, has to be cultivated with patience and persistence.

There are no powerful ideas without powerful people.

All ideas are fragile. It’s only our willingness to work with them that makes them strong.

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