There is an often quoted maxim that when something is difficult to find that it is “Harder to find than a needle in a haystack!” If we think about the meaning of our haystack maxim for a moment I think we can all agree that a needle, often being a small metal object, would be difficult to find in a stack of hay. Hay is a long grass that is cut down and allowed to dry and is used to feed grazing animals through the winter months where their source of food would be dormant or covered by snow and ice.1 A haystack might contain millions of pieces of hay, most of them not much thicker around than the needle you are looking for and all tumbled together by the process of threshing and collecting. Looking for a needle in there would certainly be difficult. You know what’s even more difficult though? Looking for a particular piece of hay.
I stand by the assertion I made at the beginning of this series:
The ability to think critically, to examine ideas, to separate the known from what we believe we know, and to draw conclusions that match reality may be the most important quality we can possess.
There will be many days in your life2 that separating the known from what we believe we know will be very much like looking for that one piece of hay. It can feel daunting. I’m bound to call into questions things that you believe are true. I’m going to make statements that will contradict what you have learned from your parents, from your teachers, from your mentors, and the rest of the world out there (like television, movies, and books). That’s a good thing. I’ll repeat that, because I think it’s important. It’s a good thing to have ideas put in front of you that question what you believe. The questioning doesn’t invalidate the belief. For example if you love to drink a cold glass of water on a hot day and I step up and tell you that you should like warm water, my statement may cause you to question why you believe what you do, but that doesn’t suddenly mean that you were wrong to have enjoyed cold water all these years. Now, if I present you with evidence that says your body will more readily absorb the warm water and if you are drinking water to stay hydrated that skipping the ice cubes may be the way to go well now you may have to examine that evidence and choose between a known fact and something that makes you feel good. It’s perfectly okay at times to pick the thing that just makes you feel good, but I always want you to be questioning why you are making the choices you are. Socrates, one of the greatest Philosophers in all of history said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I often say when I am teaching decision making skills that “The unexamined decision can’t be trusted to give us the desired outcome.”
It’s a good thing to have ideas put in front of you that question what you believe.
The questions are good. They are healthy. The questions are part of keeping yourself open to new information. When we have a closed mind we will become removed from reality at an ever increasing pace as our lives go on. Thoughts are energy, ideas are energy, they are literally electrical impulses in your brain, and as such they behave according to the same physical laws as the rest of the universe. Thermodynamics is an aspect of the physical sciences that relates to the movement of energy. Believe it or not (and if you don’t this is an excellent place to start practice the inquisitive critical thinking I am an advocate of) the second law of thermodynamics can be seen in action when we look at people who keep a closed mind. We’ll touch on that next.