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People, Things, Ideas

Entry 2073, on 2020-09-03 at 20:49:41 (Rating 3, Comments)

They say that stupid people talk about other people, average people talk about things, and smart people talk about ideas. We should be fairly suspicious of anything "they" say, because we must wonder who exactly are "they", and what qualifications do "they" have which would encourage us to take their ideas seriously?

There might be some truth in the idea, though, otherwise I wouldn't be talking about it here. Look back through this blog and you will see a lot of posts dealing with ideas and much less dealing with things or people, although they do exist.

The reason I initiated this discussion was because I have recently listened to various people who seemed to spend half their lives "bitching" about other people. Not only was the complaining pointless, since it didn't address the issues directly with the person involved, but it also seemed rather unfair.

Here's what I see on many occasions: a person gets to the point where they feel negatively about another person for some reason - a reason which is often trivial or even a misconstrual of reality - and after that they seem to become more and more negative about that person. It's like they have decided the person is bad and from that point look for reasons to support that belief, leading to a feedback situation where their negative opinion escalates.

In these situations I remind the complainer that everyone has a mixture of good and bad characteristics, and it's important to recognise that and evaluate the overall situation looking at both the positive and negative sides. But, while they often initially agree that my suggestion is sensible, rational, and fair, that doesn't usually last long, and the "bitching" inevitably starts again before long.

It's unfortunate to see this happening in a friendship, where two people who might initially be able to get on quite well end up "at war" with each other, but it also happens in a more all encompassing way in politics and other areas of wider society.

I don't know how many times I see left-oriented people automatically reject everything Donald Trump says and does, with no real thought for how reasonable that criticism is; and the opposite happens with right-oriented people who criticise leftist politicians like our own prime minister.

I do try to show some nuance in my discussions of public figures, although I am - like everyone - biased to some extent. And I also try to avoid even talking about people where possible, and concentrate on the bigger ideas instead. That's not always possible, because people are important to how ideas are propagated and enacted, and avoiding talking about the person is impossible, even when the primary focus is on the idea.

But ideas are so much more interesting to me. I particularly like highly theoretical thought experiments, obscure scientific and philosophical theories, and clever psychological experiments.

One of my favourite examples might be the trolley thought experiments and their derivatives. These show how people's preferred actions often diverge from classical utilitarianism. I enjoy presenting them to people who have never herd of them before and having them admit that ultimately, their reactions are inconsistent and illogical, because I've never met anyone yet who will honestly say they will take the utilitarian option in every case.

Another favourite relates to the possibility of artificial universes, virtual worlds, and the true nature of reality (and if it even exists in any meaningful way). Again, people's reactions to the possibility of living in an artificial reality make no consistent sense, and it's fun to watch them trying to justify their responses to my hypothetical questions.

And then there are the cosmological questions, such as: did the Big Bang really happen or is it just a local manifestation of a greater phenomenon in a multiverse; or what caused the Big Bang, assuming it even had or needed a cause; or what will be ultimate fate of the universe.

Other deep physics questions are also worth thinking about. Like what interpretation of quantum physics should we believe, if any. Is the "Copenhagen interpretation" correct, or maybe the "many-worlds interpretation" is better. And what about the consequences of the double-slit experiment, the observer effect, or quantum entanglement? Sure, hardly anyone fully understands the maths behind these theories, but it's still fun to talk about them in more general, simple ways, and at least to be aware of the issues in general principle.

Finally, theological controversies can elicit some interesting responses. I particularly like talking about the problem of evil, which was first presented by the Greek philosopher, Epicurus. To me, none of the reactions to that problem make sense, and people usually resort to some fairly ridiculous justifications, or they agree with me that god, in the form most people imagine him, cannot exist. Related to this is the question of the origin of goodness and whether it even makes sense to say a god can be the origin of goodness.

I'm not going to rehash these questions here, but I have discussed them in many previous posts, such as "More Morality" from 2007-11-27, and "Would You Press the Button?" from 2013-07-16 which talk about the trolley problem; "Threat or Opportunity" from 2018-03-12 which covers artificial realities; "Evidence for a Multiverse?" from 2013-12-19 about multiverses; and "The Pope's a Millionaire" from 2020-04-17, and "Question of Suffering" from 2009-11-05 which discuss the problem of evil.

All of these ideas are so much more interesting than the more mundane stuff most people prefer. I totally understand that they have little practical purpose in the everyday world, but that shouldn't matter, because they are interesting and fun.

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