Do You Need a License To Think?

Do you need a license to think?

That may seem like an odd question; what is odder is that the prevailing answer seems to be “yes.”

Let me put it this way: I have a love of philosophy, but I do not have a philosophy degree. Does that mean that I can’t know, what I’m talking about?

What does a degree say, really? I could be cynical and say that a degree doesn’t prove that you know how to think, it proves that you know how someone else thinks. Specifically, the course instructor. However, I’m not nearly as jaded as that. While I have read stories about professors who only pass clones of themselves, I’ve also read stories about professors who learned from their students.

I will say that a degree can help to convince others that you can think, or at least know what you’re talking about. A diploma is basically a piece of paper saying that somebody else is satisfied that you read certain books, performed certain tasks, and have both studied and understood at least one subject.

A diploma from an accredited college says that lots of other somebodies else are satisfied that the somebody else who is satisfied with you, knows what they’re talking about. But now we’re running around in circles.

So let’s curve back around the other way, back out to where people distrust formal education. There are those who are disdainful of “book learning.” One reason for that is because any professor’s primary gauge for their students’ understanding is their own understanding, which is only natural, but not necessarily the best thing. You have to really trust that your professor knows what they’re talking about.

Back in my art school days, one of my classmates drew a really nice drawing of some eagles in flight. The professor came over to look, and I remarked on the pleasant symmetry of the drawing.

“That’s exactly what’s wrong with it,” she declared.

Thinking that I was going to learn something about design principles, I asked, “What’s wrong with symmetry?”

I was told, “It’s bad. We don’t like it,” before the “teacher” spun on her heel and walked away.

I dropped the class. The things I was learning, were not the things I was paying to learn.

And if you think that’s just an isolated incident, Google “Ferdinand Waldo Demara,” This sort of thing goes on more than you might think.

Another reason for a distrust of formal education is that real world conditions are not laboratory conditions. To illustrate that, just ask the owner of a hybrid vehicle how they’re enjoying that stellar MPG they’re getting.

So, who is correct? The pro- or anti- educationists?

They both are.

As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle; in the modern era the knowledge of the world is quite literally at one’s fingertips, with no instructor necessary. Try a “random article” search on Wikipedia sometime. I learned about Quantum physics and Zoroastrianism that way. Without having to enroll at college.

On the other hand, there are many things that may not require a formal education, but do benefit from it. Some things you might very much want someone to have a lot of mentoring in. Surgery comes to mind.

But thinking…thinking is something we all do, every day. There’s no reason we can’t think deep with a little practice on our own. Go ahead and think; you can read the same books that are on the required reading list of a philosophy class. You’re free to read books off to one side of the required reading list; compare, contrast, accept or reject.

Which brings us to a major pitfall of thinking in general: the trap known as “confirmation bias.”

In a nutshell, “confirmation bias” is the habit people have of accepting or rejecting new ideas based solely on whether or not the new ideas conform to old ideas that got in their head first, instead of listening and judging things on their own merit.

The most potent examples of that can be found in the wonderful funhouse world of politics.

Which is why I’m not going to cite any examples. If you want to see it for yourself, go to any political forum and say, “I’m not sure about this” about any random topic. See how long it takes you to be compared to Hitler. I’m betting “less than ten minutes.”

What I’ll do instead is give you a handy field guide to eliminating, or at least reducing, your own confirmation bias.

“Always ask why.”

That’s it.

If you agree, or disagree, with something, ask yourself why you do. And don’t give up until you have a good answer. If you agree with something “because it’s true,” well then why is it true? If you disagree with something “because it’s stupid,” then why is it stupid? The more specific, the more detailed, you can be in your answer, the closer to the truth you’ll get, and that is the purpose of philosophical inquiry. Asking “why” puts you right on the same highway as Robert Pirsig. It may take you a while to get up to his speed, but getting there is half the fun.

And if you find that the answer to “why” is “because someone told me,” well, then that’s still not a good answer. Confirm or deny on your own. Maybe that someone was right, but until you can say why, you’re more parrot than philosopher.

And if the answer to “why” is “because that’s the way I want it to be,” don’t be ashamed. Look at it this way: your certainty has just become a hypothesis. A starting point. In the words of my latest fortune cookie, “Everything must have a beginning.”

And if the answer to “why” is “I don’t know,” that’s best of all. In the words of Kwai-Chang Kane, “All learning begins with the phrase, ‘I do not know’.”

Just have the spine to admit the answer to “why.” Admit that someone told you and you don’t see a reason to doubt them. Or that you want things a certain way, or that you don’t know. The only shame in not knowing something, is when you pretend to know it anyway.

Pretending to be something you’re not, is not the Biker way.

Oh hi, were you wondering how I’d tie all this into the theme?

The motorcycle is a fantastic tool for eliminating the tendency for confirmation bias; an open mind is an absolute necessity when you’re riding. Until you get the hang of omnipotence, the world tends to be full of surprises. On a bike, you can’t just insist that a dog didn’t jump out from behind a parked car, or that oil isn’t slippery.

I know I keep making this sound really dangerous, but look around you; that’s life. On or off a bike.

And riding is only as dangerous as the nut between the seat and the handlebars.

That dog can be avoided. Oil may be slippery, but depending on circumstances, it’s only an instant crash in movies and on TV.

Mind you, in a complex universe, there is always the possibility for a situation in which you’re just fucked, but again, that’s life. Accepting this goes a long way towards keeping ulcers from forming.

If you keep an open mind, adapt to a situation, and above all don’t panic, you’ll be just fine. Remember that keeping upright is far more important than any embarrassment you might experience in so doing.

That’s one of the keys to riding. It’s also a powerful life lesson. If you apply this mentality at all times, like those Buddhist monks I mentioned last week who meditate while sleeping, it’s not guaranteed that your life will be as serene as a Quaalude addict getting a hand job, but in my opinion, it will help.

Just make sure that you never fall into the trap of thinking that you’re an expert. Thinking you’re an expert closes your mind. The people you read about, who get themselves killed going 140 MPH while doing wheelies in freeway traffic in the rain all have one thing in common: they thought they were “experts.”

Don’t be one of those guys.

As for me, while I do take credit for having a certain amount of experience in certain matters, I don’t claim to be an expert on any damn thing. Nor am I trying to get you to think like me.

I’m just trying to give you something to think about.

It’s not like you need a license for it.

And remember, Truth rides a motorcycle.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *