In previous chapters, we’ve discussed some of the specific ways of thinking about social interactions that can make them more positive. They’re a bit indirect, and have to do with perception, psychology, and how to position yourself for the best outcome. They draw upon our brain’s tendency to make positive associations, where perhaps none actually exist.
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A Rorschach test is otherwise known as the inkblot test. Certain types of psychologists show their patients an ambiguous image that vaguely resembles an inkwell spilled onto a piece of paper to gain insight into the perspectives and interpretations of their patient. The thought is that patients will see in the ambiguous image whatever they want to see in it, and that is representative of how they see the world, their emotional state, and so on.
Two people looking at the same blurry splotch of ink can see two vastly different images, and it will have nothing to do with the image itself. And so it is with philosophy.
I bring this up because philosophy isn’t always viewed with positivity or even interest. If you think of philosophy as time-wasting thumb-twiddling, then that is undoubtedly what you will get out of it. You’ll just hear a multitude of empty platitudes and wonder what the point of it all even is. This skeptical approach is fairly common and at times understandable. After all, what problems are being solved simply by thinking and pontificating about them? Indeed, if I’m hungry or in need of shelter right now, it’s difficult to see the value that philosophy can add to someone’s life.
What tangible benefit is there to figuring out the purpose of our lives?
Tangible? Zero. But philosophy was never about that. If you’re looking for a field of study to enrich your immediate surroundings, I might suggest that you pick up an engineering or finance book. Philosophy has always been about enriching your thoughts for greater happiness and fulfillment—an immeasurable quantity, but perhaps the greatest purpose of all.
Admittedly, this was a mindset I also used to possess. If you were to create a hierarchy in society, especially in more ancient and brutal times, surely a philosopher would rank far lower than the average hunter, carpenter, or fisherman—at least in terms of pure utility. What was the role of a philosopher in a society beyond their teaching duties?
But consider how our ancestors were able to figure out calculus, discern the relative size of the earth, and map out constellations. Eventually, when food and shelter weren’t immediate concerns, people were able to just sit and think about things, and this freedom of time is how humans were able to advance.Philosophers became repositories of knowledge and discourse. They became explorers, discoverers, and scientists. It is certainly no coincidence that when we look back at the lives of the most famous philosophers in history, they invariably were also scientists, teachers, and even mathematicians.
The human need for understanding (some might say a sense of control) of their surroundings is insatiable, and it’s only natural that it would eventually spill over from practical concerns such as agriculture and calculus into topics such as purpose, ethics, morality, meaning, knowledge, and how to live. To evoke Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, once our physical and then emotional needs are satisfied, we will inevitably turn our attention to learning, wisdom, exploration, and fulfillment.
The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek phrase meaning “love of wisdom.” And who doesn’t want more wisdom? Philosophers began with an intense curiosity about the mysterious world around them and sought out answers in the only way they could.
They didn’t have the benefit of science or technology to find answers, so they had to start from ground zero and use thinking, reasoning, and critical analysis to gain truth and knowledge. How might you determine why men and women are different or why the sun rises in the morning? The only place you can start is by thinking and pondering, making observations, and then challenging everything you thought you knew. This is perhaps why philosophy can appear circular and redundant, constantly asking Why do you know what you think you know? That’s all they had, and you’ll get a full dose of that approach when you read later on about Rene Descartes.
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Patrick King is an internationally bestselling author and social skills coach. emotional and social intelligence. Learn more or get a free mini-book on conversation tactics at https://bit.ly/pkconsulting
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