Saturday, March 19, 2016

A receptive mind

We all carry preexisting beliefs, preferences, judgments. "An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head," Eric Hoffer said. We must be careful about the thoughts we cultivate. As Upton Sinclair put it: "And here is the crucial fact, never to be forgotten; what we believe about this spring [the wellspring of the soul] helps to determine what flows out of it!

One pitfall to avoid is obsessive thought or unrelenting inquiry. All thought is a kind of illusion, and to be unable to loosen one's grip is to drown what merit the thought might have had if it had been kept in its proper context. "To the mind which pursues every road to its end, every road leads nowhere," said Alan Watts.

One rule of thumb is K.I.S.S., "Keep it simple, stupid." Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it to a 6-year-old, you don't understand it yourself."

It's also important to admit when we are ignorant or uncertain, but not – depending on the degree of uncertainty and the relevance of the information – let our imperfection stop us from moving forward. Leah Hager Cohen wrote: "Firefighters, surgeons, triage nurses, hostage negotiators, miners, loggers, police officers, and soldiers all regularly face situations in which they have to take action based on imperfect knowledge – and where the repercussions of those actions might mean the difference between life and death. These are people who have to deal with the discomfort of acknowledging, 'I don't know,' and then get on with it."

Better to admit the gap in one's knowledge than to stuff it with rubbish!


Eric Hoffer, quoted in the Nashville Tennessean, quoted in The Week, August 10, 2012, p. 17.

Upton Sinclair, What God Means to Me. New York: Ferris Printing Company, 1935. p 4.

Alan Watts. Nature, Man, and Woman (1958). New York: Vintage Books, 1991. p 84.

Albert Einstein, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, Cited in The Week, September 14, 2012, p. 19.

Leah Hager Cohen. I Don't Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance (Except When You Shouldn't). New York: Riverhead Books, 2013. p. 33.

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