On your Quora profile and in your blog I read that you are interested in conversations. I’m curious about your vision and perspective concerning this subject:
- What exactly do you find interesting about conversations?
- What do you want to achieve through conversations?
- What do you need to learn about conversations to get there?
1: I find conversations interesting because they are a source of insight. We learn through conversations. I mean that in a rather broad sense- we learn about ourselves through reflection, which is a conversation we have with ourselves. We learn about the natural world through scientific inquiry, which is a conversation we have with the world.
2: Insight. Understanding new perspectives and points of view, and through those, a deeper understanding of our own.
3: I think we have to learn that conversations aren’t just about talking- you can have some really meaningful “conversations” without saying anything at all, be it with yourself, with others, or with the world. Conversation is about mindfulness, it’s about paying attention, about listening.
Thank you for your question! Made me think, and made me clarify my own perspective.
Thank you for your answers. Here are more questions:
- How do you personally engage with the subject of conversations: Do you prefer to think about it in a generalized and abstract manner or do you seek to develop specific practical skills? Do you want to be more of a philosopher and observer of conversations or rather a practitioner? And what do you do to become either of these?
- I read in your answers that you see conversations as a means to understanding (a) yourself, (b) other people, and (c) the world. What are your personal priorities amongst these three different foci of attention? How would you rank their importance to you?
1: I think for the most part it’s something that happens quite naturally- seldom do I actually think “I am having a conversation”- or if I do, it is a fleeting, passing thought that quickly gives way to whatever the conversation might be about. For me so far it’s usually more abstract than specific, but I try to have a healthy mix of both. I would be discontent to merely be a philosopher/observer- I think life should be experienced, and that philosophers/observers are typically worthless if they don’t have any real-world experience. I don’t think becoming either a philosopher or a practitioner is an end goal- you philosophize and you practice every step of the way, or every alternate step, and that’s all that matters.
2: I don’t spend nearly as much time and effort understanding myself as I ought to. I think as we get progressively wiser, we realize that the only thing we have any sort of dominion over is ourselves. The only challenge that needs to be conquered is the understanding and mastery of self.
Ironically, as self-obsessed as I get- self-mastery is still quite an elusive target for me. I still make many juvenile mistakes and I hope to systematically eliminate them.
I can’t really choose, though, between myself, others and the world. I think the three are all critically intertwined- we learn more about ourselves through interacting with others, and with the world. We learn more about others by reflecting on ourselves. We learn about the world by observing others. To pick any single target seems a bit myopic to me. Rather I think we have to sort of transit from focus to focus, in a sort of “flow”. Ideally, I think, we enter a sort of cycle between self, others and world, between action and reflection, and when the cycle is smooth enough we sort of transcend categories and have a rather spiritual, blissful experience, living in the moment.