I just listened to a recent episode of The Tim Ferris Show. Ferris and AngelList’s Naval Ravikant chat with Nick Szabo, a pioneer in research about digital contracts and cryptocurrency. While the 2 1/2 hour long episode mostly focused on this topic, the trio also makes a brief foray into the art of thinking and debating.
Around 1 hour 49 minutes into the podcast, they start talking about an intriguing mental concept, dubbed “quantum thought” by Szabo. According to him, this approach to thinking comes from law school: “You need to take both the defenders and the plaintiffs side of the issue”. He continues:
“Run down the arguments as if each one of the would be true, even if they and their sub arguments contradict each other. You have to keep both of them in your mind at once”.
Naval Ravikant agrees with Szabo about the importance of this approach, adding:
“This is not how we are socially taught to think. Socially we are taught that you have to have a point of view, you have to have an answer, you have to pick a side, pick your tribe, fit in, then defend it, and be consistent. But the reality is really complicated.“
Then he adds:
“If you are really smart, and you are operating on the edge of any field, or try to figure out anything new, you probably need to have quantum thought. You probably have to hold both states in your head, constantly weighting probabilities. And if you are not shifting back and forth, then either you are not doing anything cutting edge, or you are not being intellectual honest with yourself.”
I don’t consider myself “really smart”, and I am not operating on the edge of a field. But in my opinion, quantum thought is worth applying nonetheless. Widespread practice of this method could make a lot of today’s polarized, heated and emotional debates turn more constructive and fruitful. My post “Binary thinking & jumping to conclusions” touches the matter.
As I see it, the habit of quantum thought requires constant training and awareness, since, as Ravikant points out, it doesn’t come natural. It is very easy to slip back into tribal, one-dimensional thinking. And that’s really what causes a lot of problems in the connected era.