Programmers are, by nature, thoughtful beings. It’s in our nature–if we weren’t able to perform relatively strenuous mental tasks with ease, we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs. This ability can be applied to many tasks, from philosophy to music to writing to… well, programming.
This being the case, I often take some time to sit back and simply think. It’s a hard habit to acquire, certainly–at first, all the “thinking” I was doing ran along the lines of “I wonder what’s for dinner tonight?“. The key to this thought is simply to ignore everything. Learn to isolate yourself mentally from all the distractions around you.
It’s hard, certainly, but consider this: a habit of thought can be applied to anything, and I do mean anything. That latest political debate? Chances are you can’t form a logical argument for or against a position until you’ve spent time thinking about it.
This brings up another interesting point, however: thought requires time. You can’t consider all the ramifications of something, compare it to other options, or explore the nuances, conclusions, and evidence for it unless you spend time thinking. This thought is what is known as philosophy.
“So where,” you ask, “Does the culture part come in?”
In our modern culture, we have come to expect instant response. Type something in your computer, you’ll see it immediately. Click a link on this blog, you’ll start going to another page immediately. Want a book? Go to the library or bookstore and you can begin reading it immediately–and that’s assuming you can’t find the book in computerized form. Want to buy something? You can get it via credit or a loan without waiting, even if you can’t afford it.
This affects our thinking in two ways. First, we expect to begin thinking along the lines of Einstein immediately once we begin. This simply won’t happen. Your brain, like everything else about you, requires exercise–and this habit of deep thought isn’t something that comes easily.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, our very culture chastises those who stop to think and consider. Ever stopped in a line at a fast-food restaraunt to consider what you’d enjoy most from their menu? The people behind you probably became impatient, even to the point of cutting into the line in front of you. This impatience translates itself into every aspect of our lives, including our thought and debate.
In today’s debates especially, thinking during a debate is discouraged. Consider yourself in this situation: Your opponent in a debate poses an argument that you haven’t heard before. You take ten to thirty seconds, stare off into space, and concentrate on the problem. You come up with the perfect response, and deliver it perfectly. Will you convince people?
Far from it. Most people will, in that ten to thirty seconds, decide that you have no clue what you’re doing. Because you’ve stopped to formulate and deliver a good response, instead of pushing out some mindless drivel or changing the topic of conversation entirely, your response will be discounted. This holds true in almost everything from political elections to casual conversation.
What can be done to avoid this? Not much, unfortunately. All we can do is think the best we can, as quickly as we can. However, consider this: next time someone stops in a conversation to think, don’t discount their response. Rather, pay more attention to it–and perhaps they’ll return the favor.