Practicing Quantum Thought

“Not only should you disagree with others, but you should disagree with yourself.” - Nick Szabo in his post “More Short Takes”.

We like to believe that there is always a right and a wrong. It can be hard for us to acknowledge that reality is a lot murkier. To add insult to injury to those that desire a simple world, clear of conflict, we have to play to the faults of the human condition and provide a safe path for people to change their opinion. To do so, we often have to acknowledge positive elements of our opponent’s position in order to reduce their defensiveness. All the while, we need to go into such discussions with an open mind ourselves in case we should be the ones that need to review our beliefs, god forbid.

To me, keeping an open mind doesn’t just mean being open to changing our mind but also that we need to be conscious of our ability to hold two opposing statements at the same time. Something which arguably is a powerful component of our intelligence (and probably our stupidity at the same time).

Nick encourages us to foster this approach to thought. With totalitarian thought, discussing ideas from just one point of view can lead to painting ourselves a fake picture of consistency. It opens us up to a world of psychological flaws including confirmation bias. Nick says that in this “quantum reality”, we can be both for and against a proposition because we can be “considering at least two significantly possible but inconsistent hypotheses, or because we favour some parts of a set of ideas but not others”.

I find this admission of the complexity of life and philosophies comforting. It reminds me that no matter how confident we are, we should be the first to question our own point of view. When we see problems, whether at home, business or on a societal level, it can be easy to assign blame and provide our silver bullet answers. In this situation, it is a good mental practice to consider the eventuality where our solution is incorporated but fails to effect positive change. What do we think and do then? This can be a better way of reflecting as it acknowledges the complexities of life and is a practical response to those complexities.

When it comes to dealing with those that have an opposing opinion to ourselves, it can be easy to get angry and frustrated. Particularly so if they are in the realm of philosophy or politics. Our responses can include digging our feet into our own position or ignoring the debate entirely. Both tactics have a certain level of immaturity to them. We should more readily recognise that there are reasons for our opponent’s position and the more we attempt to understand them, the better we may be equipped to see their point of view, acknowledge and respond to it.

Following on from the idea of quantum thought, we’ve also arrived at a period in which we have so much quantitative data about our world and are equipped with the algorithms and processing power to put forward a range of solutions and our confidence in the likelihood of each one. We’ve seen this period arrive through terms such as big data, artificial intelligence and deep learning. An important component of these are the probabilities and confidence scores that are involved. This is becoming more readily visible in people’s lives, e.g. weather forecasting providing the chance of rain (though we might not understand them). We have to be ready to accept less definitive answers, and instead be provided with a range of possible answers along with their likelihoods.

While this should be more satisfying because it’s a more accurate representation of our predictions, often we prefer to focus on the most likely and often most desirable outcome. If and when that outcome doesn’t occur, we then adjust our expectations in order to resolve the disparity.

One practical example of this that Nick Szabo mentioned on his interview with Tim Ferriss was a CEO making their predictions to their board. They make a confident declaration of what they are going to achieve and what targets are going to be hit in the next quarter. In reality, the CEO likely is holding multiple beliefs about what the future holds but has strong enough confidence in the likelihood that the company will meet those targets. It makes sense that a CEO of the future will not hide behind the facade and instead will be able to lay out statistical analyses of how likely they are to achieve a range of growth levels. This kind of presentation paints a much more accurate picture of what’s likely to happen.

I’ve found considering the idea of quantum thought a valuable process. It’s encouraged me to reflect on my approach to discussions, reminding me of the value in being slow to come to a decision and quick to reconsider it. One line of Nick’s in particular that I love is: “If you are unable or unwilling to think in such a quantum or scholastic manner, it is much less likely that your thoughts are worthy of others’ consideration”.

View Comments