Becoming a Deep Thinker
If you want to be a deep thinker you have to get in the habit
of asking deep questions. Ask them about everything. But how
can we say if one question is "deeper" than another?
A couple examples will help make that clear.
Suppose someone has extremely offensive opinions and likes
to share them whether or not anyone asks him to. You might simply
say, "What a rude person!" True perhaps, but this is
shallow thinking. Deeper thinking asks why he believes what he
does. Deeper still are the questions of how people form their
opinions and why they feel the need to tell them to others.
To think more deeply one must look beyond the immediate questions
raised, and anyone can learn to do that. Identifying the more
fundamental issues is not all that difficult, it's just not always
a habit. Suppose, for example, you notice that a person fails
because he or she makes excuses for his or her behavior. You
might think that's insightful, and it may be, but what about
exploring why people feel the need to make excuses and lie to
themselves? You can immediately see that the second is the deeper
There is a good rule for these things, and it's that the more
profound questions are those which can produce ideas with wider
application. Knowledge about a particular man's personality,
for example, may be useful, but it's limited and shallow compared
to knowing principles of psychology that apply to all or most
people in the world. Questioning the practices of a particular
business is not nearly as deep as trying to understand or formulate
principles of success applicable to all business activity.
Here's another rule: When a question or idea is an example
of another, the latter is a deeper subject. For example, we can
ask at what temperature water freezes, what temperature range
keeps it liquid and what is it's boiling point? These are useful
scientific questions, but together they are an example of the
more fundamental principle that substances have three temperature
dependent forms (solid, liquid, gas).
Ask Why Repeatedly
Try to occasionally ask "why?" and then like a child
ask it again and again after each answer given. "Why are
people forced to pay income tax?" Because otherwise they
wouldn't pay. "Why not?" People would rather spend
their money on other things. "What are taxes spent on?"
Things that serve the public good. "But who defines the
public good?" Those who vote, through the representatives
they elect. "But what if the public votes for evil things?
Are they still considered a public good then?"
Ask such questions often enough throughout your day. Continue
doing this and it will become a habit within a few weeks. It's
making these "probing" thought patterns habitual that
makes you a deep thinker. Have a notepad or something to remind
yourself at first, or schedule "deep thinking" time
on your calendar or daily planner.
Challenge the Words
Don't take for granted the language which you and others use.
For example, what do the words "national defense" really
mean anyhow? Protecting the borders, or the government? Or perhaps
the flag, honor, the people, or the rights of the people in the
country? Each of these is a very different idea, and they are
not always compatible, yet most of us take for granted that we
all mean the same thing when we use the words, "national
defense" as well as other common expressions.
Understanding the metaphorical nature of language is essential
to growing our range of thought and expression of ideas. Referring
to the "memory" of a computer makes it easier to understand
and communicate the concept of digital information storage. But
this use of metaphor can limit our thinking as well. Saying the
sun "went down," is a small example. Intellectually
we know the spinning of the Earth causes this apparent effect,
but our language creates the impression that the sun goes away
each night and "returns" later.
Really think about the fact that the sun never sets and all
sorts of new ideas pop up. Why do solar panels only work part-time
if the sun never sets? Put them in space orbit and they could
beam electricity down to us using microwave transmission. Who
knows, a "night-less farm" might someday fly around
the Earth at a thousand miles-per-hour, growing vegetables in
the 24 hours-per-day sunlight that is always there. Though these
ideas may not be new, they occurred to me as I wrote this, but
only after mentally questioning the idea implied in the expression
"the sun went down."
Try hard to recognize the representative nature of language,
to see that words are only meant to point at things in reality,
and are not things by themselves. This may seem obvious, but
it is forgotten in common discourse. For example, if a man says
corporations are evil, another will typically and immediately
try to "prove" this idea wrong, rather than attempting
to see what the first man is pointing at with the words he uses.
The ancient puzzle called "Zeno's Paradox," proved
that motion wasn't possible. The perfect logic with which it
was demonstrated had some choosing to believe that motion really
is an illusion. Centuries later, philosophers, mathematicians
and physicists found acceptable challenges to the paradox - flaws
in the argument in other words. The lesson here is that perfect
logic can fail because language is imperfect, and if we are to
more fully understand the world, we have to allow for this.
To be a more insightful thinker and to have more profund understandings
then, ask more probing questions, and ask "why" more
often. Finally, use words as the valuable but limited tools they
are, but try not to let words use you.