The three ideas introduced in the last page help us define the relationship between the physical and the abstract world of ideas:
So many self improvement evangelists and books tell you to throw out the ideas that are holding you back. They want you to adopt their ideas and promise you that their ideas will improve your life. This might sound great and motivate you to act. This is good because you must act to move forward, but what they don't give you is a method to separate the ideas that are holding you back from the ideas that are helping. The three ideas above give you a method. Before exploring the three ideas properly in the Tool Kit For Thinking I want to give you a small sample of how useful they are.
The idea that the physical universe exists independently of ideas and beliefs gives us a way to end arguments.
For example: there have been many ideas about light, color and vision. From at least the ancient Greeks onwards there have been arguments about these ideas. However, it was only when the ideas were tested against the physical world that their truth and usefulness could be assessed. One such idea was that white light was pure. People had seen that when it passed through glass a spectrum of colors were created. However, the explanation was that the glass had corrupted the white light. Newton performed a simple experiment. He placed a prism in front of a beam of white light. A rainbow of colored beams of light was produced. He then placed a second prism in the path of these beams and they were combined again to form a beam of white light. Newton used this experimental test to support his idea that white light was not pure but made up of many colors. If the glass had corrupted the white light then the second prism should have corrupted the light further not created white light. At this point it became much more difficult to argue that glass corrupted light.
People might still argue about the outcome of the experiment and there is a point that any evidence can be rejected. However, if the test has a clear outcome it becomes very difficult to argue against even if you are a respected authority with great influence
The second idea talks about testing and prediction. There is a relationship between prediction and usefulness: generally the more a statement predicts the more useful it is. It rained yesterday - not very useful. It will rain - is more useful but not precise enough. It will start to rain at 4:00 pm tomorrow. This is more useful. I can now decide to eat outside but must finish by 4.
So now you can explore an idea, see what it predicts and test the prediction in the physical world. The more the idea predicts the more ways it can be tested and the more useful it is.
This can save a lot of time. Don't focus on finding evidence that supports an idea, this is a waste of time. Look for evidence that challenges.
Take the statement: everyone has different finger prints.You could just use the brute force approach and compare fingerprints, millions upon millions. Even with computers this takes a lot of time. Or you could look for negative evidence. Evidence that might disprove the statement. People from the same family look the similar so they might have the same finger prints. What about identical twins? You only have to find two people with the same finger prints to really challenge the idea that everyone has different prints.
Expanding on the same theme: if you find something so surprising that it challenges your understanding of the truth then this is the subject worth investigating. Simply pursuing more and more positive evidence just isn't useful.
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