Best Kept Secret Everyone Seems to Know
- Author Milo Bono
- Published February 8, 2009
- Word count 4,935
The Unanticipated Discovery
Spending nearly six months of 12-hour days sorting and evaluating over 200,000 words for inclusion in Promptoria software was a long and arduous process. It was also very educational and enlightening. By the end of our endeavor we must have contemplated every thought that can be expressed by a single word, the sum total of shared human experience.
Dictionaries are normally used to look up specific words to clarify definition, check proper spelling and pronunciation, or find thesaurus relationships between words. Instead we sought to analyze each and every word individually to determine their value to the technique of Random Word Stimulation. Words that passed our selection criteria were then sorted into categories optimized for use in various products. Following this unconventional course afforded us the opportunity to experience the English language from a unique perspective and we inadvertently discovered some interesting patterns that emerged along the way.
As we all know - many words have the same or similar meanings, and many words pertain to different facets of the same subject. It seems reasonable to conclude that subjects with the most words attributed to them must hold a respectively higher position of popularity in the hierarchy of human experience. Some subjects have a great many facets to consider, many nuances that reflect the inherent depth and breadth of human perception attributed to a subject.
The Secret is Out
With respect to the above I felt obliged to report we couldn't help but notice one particular subject that came up with alarming frequency. In fact it came up so often we were forced to consider whether it warranted its own category (although ultimately we thought better of it). The majority of our categories were deliberately designed to be of a more generalized nature so we did not keep a detailed account of how many words were attributed to specific subjects. Nevertheless, looking back over this critical phase of our development cycle, the single most conspicuous subject that stood out head and shoulders above the rest, the subject with more words attributed to it than any other, the subject that we must assume is the best known and most widely recognized reality throughout the entire history of mankind, and as it happens the very subject that inspired this article, was - to put it bluntly - the stupidity of people.
There it is - the secret is out, and I realize just broaching this sensitive subject is committing figurative seppuku in light of the current prevailing culture of political correctness, but it had to be done. There is no escape from this uncomfortable truth, it's right there in print, carved in stone yet well hidden within the pages of what should be the most unbiased source of information we have - the dictionary.
The Quest for Knowledge
Promptoria is founded on the concept of self-propelled learning by exploring the unknown in the quest for knowledge, and without exception, never to discard or shy away from whatever is discovered. In this particular case we were not searching in the usual sense, the discovery appeared by its own volition. How this came about is irrelevant. All that matters is that the discovery was made and a question is raised. Curiosity must be satisfied. Discovery of any kind behooves us to explore the subject further to ascertain the balance of truth and falsehood, and determine what value can be gleaned from the experience.
So the question is - How could stupidity become the most universally acknowledged attribute of mankind?
A curious question to say the least. After all, one need only point to the remarkable achievements of modern technology, the sensitivity in orchestrating the delicate intricacies of a great symphony or masterpiece of art, the awe inspiring constructs of architecture standing in testament to our ingenuity, intellect, and imagination. Viewed in context of the many works of genius produced by mankind, the question itself immediately raises its opposing question - How stupid could we be?
Normally our exploration would begin by utilizing Random Word Stimulation to incite the discovery of new perspectives from which to contemplate the issue. However, in this unusual situation we are dealing with a subject that is already well known - rather incredibly well known at that. In fact in this particular case it is the very popularity of the contention itself that is in question. Under the circumstances perhaps the best way to start would be to query mankind directly and thereby challenge the veracity of the contention from its source.
To this end I began to make a point of revealing our unanticipated discovery to friends and acquaintances at social gatherings or casual meetings. For the sake of obtaining thorough and unbiased feedback from the largest possible cross section of people I made sure to broach the subject of our discovery with complete strangers at every opportunity.
What the People Say
As it turned out, their reaction was even more alarming than the contention itself. The response was consistent from everyone queried regardless of age, level of education, gender, profession, financial position, social stature or station in life, save only the odd rare exception.
Overall the response could be distilled into two distinct components:
By far the most startling revelation was that everyone was in complete agreement. Body language in this case was even more telling than verbal response. Each participant exhibited a characteristic medley of gestures. Predominate among these; it was the combination of a distant inward gaze focused in view of some inner vision, coupled with a gentle knowing smile, which signaled the unmistakable sign. I would never lay claim to psychic powers, and yet upon witnessing this classic reaction to my query I couldn't help but feel some kind of vague spiritual empathy, as if for those brief few moments a faded window in my own mind appeared through which their inner thoughts were revealed. My vision, though blurred to detail, revealed crystal clear that each person was experiencing their own intimate associations to past events of their lives, lucid memories that bore the undeniable truth of the matter at hand.
It was also clear by what people said, and perhaps even more by what they didn’t say, that the thought never entered their minds to consider themselves in personal possession of this most eminent attribute of humanity.
We must conclude the result of our admittedly unscientific pole did indeed confirm that the contention in question was immediately recognized throughout the brotherhood of mankind. Stupidity would seem to have earned its renowned status, though we are still left to ponder the most elemental question that must be repeated until it can be resolved no further - WHY?
Strategy of Exploration
Would examining stupidity as a concept provide some insight? What better resource could we ask for than the very one that prompted this exploration in the first place – the dictionary.
Here’s the definition according to Webster’s – Stupidity:
1 : the quality or state of being stupid
2 : a stupid idea or act
Not very informative is it. Here we have a subject with more words related to it than any other, yet the only definitions of the word itself merely refer to its root form as if it has no tangible meaning at all. I won’t bother referencing the root form "Stupid" since its definition is no more enlightening.
Search through the endless wealth of knowledge recorded throughout the history of mankind and you will find that definitive reference material pertaining to our subject is virtually non-existent. We are thus left completely on our own to continue our quest for answers. From here on we must rely exclusively on our skills of creative and critical thinking to blaze new paths of exploration and then employ decisive deductive reasoning to further our search of a final resolution.
The Journey Begins
Could stupidity be an organic phenomenon intrinsic to nature and born of the universe? Is it stupid how the sun radiates live endowing energy on our planet, how bees pollinate flowers to sustain new growth, or how rain falls to nourish the earth? Can any of the miraculous wonders of nature, even the very existence of mankind itself, be considered a manifestation of stupidity?
I think not (let’s hope not). No – stupidity would seem to be a concept created by, exclusive to, and firmly rooted in, the human mind. We can conclude therefore that stupidity is not absolute, rather it is a relative construct born of our own perception. Stupidity has no life of its own; it can only exist as a manifestation of mind entirely under the purview of the perceiver. Everyone thought the Wright Brothers were imbued with boundless stupidity for pursuing the ridiculous notion that man could fly like a bird. History is full of similar examples were popular perceptions held by the many, evolve beyond measure from challenges imposed by a daring few.
One person’s perception of stupidity can often be another’s perception of potentially brilliant innovation. How can we account for these discrepancies of perception? Or more to the point - How can we learn to leverage our seemingly natural aptitude and propensity to recognize the former, so that we may cultivate and amplify our latent ability to recognize the latter?
The Paradox of Perception
Understanding human perception brings us to the somewhat esoteric subject of the human trait known as EGO. I will not belabor this discourse with an in-depth academic exploration into the Id, Ego, and Super-Ego, popularized by the Freudian structural model of the human psyche. Nor will I make any distinctions in reference to the "Male Ego" (I’ve never even heard of a "Female Ego"). Gender not withstanding, for the purpose of our discussion regarding the ego, it will suffice to say that we all have one, and in relatively equal measure. For the sake of brevity the next few sections will focus attention on the predominant aspects of ego germane to our subject.
Ego breeds the evils of prejudice. And since I brought up this immediately offensive and politically incorrect "hot-potato" of a word, an explanation of context is clearly in order.
Most people think of prejudice in terms of its common social stigma, perhaps most notably in the form of racial prejudice. But prejudice is by no means restricted to race. Prejudice has evolved throughout our cultural history to include such things as women, homosexuals bisexuals (pretty much any sexuals), people with disabilities, the poor, the rich, the old, the young, drunkards (a personal favorite), and the list goes on ad nauseum. Name any single thing in the known universe and there will likely be someone somewhere that holds prejudices for or against it.
The preceding paragraph pertained to prejudice in reference to things from the world outside the mind. But ego breeds another kind of prejudice, a yin to the yang as it were. Instead of pertaining to things outside the mind this type of prejudice is decidedly in favor of everything inside the mind. This incarnation of ego is characterized by an inflated sense of self worth and extreme self assuredness were one's own thoughts and opinions reign supreme to the exclusion of all others.
It must be acknowledged this orientation of the ego does indeed pose some significant advantages. A mind that views the world strictly through the lens of a self-fabricated ego can move through that world with single mindedness of purpose, effortlessly brushing aside any considerations that could stand in the way of achieving its goals. But success thus derived does not come without cost. Also there is no guarantee an inflated sense of self will achieve great success, especially when said inflation consists more of air than of substance. The cost is the same regardless and one way or another the devil always collects his due. Those that suffer this affliction rarely find the strength of character to realize their plight or recognize its folly.
The concept of prejudice extends far beyond its contemporary connotations to political incorrectness (a type of prejudice in its own right). In the larger sense prejudice denotes the ego harboring a steadfast penchant to favor its own personal preferences. There is nothing wrong with preferences per se, we all have them, but it is not the acquisition of specific preferences that is at issue. The issue is how ego tends to dominate our thinking and how its prejudices severely narrow our field of view, crippling our capacity to fathom the alternatives that make up the full spectrum experience of life. Prejudice is the function of an ego that regards its own preferences, whatever they may be, as the ultimate benchmark by which all things are measured and judged.
Our Precious Gift of Creativity
Essentially ego is what we experience as our own self. The existence of ego in its purest elemental form may well be absolute, an intrinsic aspect of the human condition. But from birth the ego is subject to the forces of evolution, which means its development is ultimately self-determined and therefore relative to the individual.
Many would say it is precisely our ego that defines our individuality, something to be nurtured, cultivated, and refined. Promptoria on the other hand views ego as something to be restrained, minimized, and kept under constant observation and careful scrutiny. Ego is an integral aspect of our psychology that colors our view of the world, and all too often determines how we interpret our life experiences. When under the control of self-awareness the ego can serve as a powerful ally. Constrained and restricted to its own devices the ego tends to obscure any truths that conflict with its personal preferences by fabricating convenient new truths that favor them.
Are we not better off utilizing our precious gift of creativity to discover the reality of authentic truth, instead of creating a false reality based on self-serving lies?
The Challenge We Face
Cultivating the conscious awareness of our own ego so that we may understand how ego influences our thinking is actually a more difficult skill to master than one might expect. We must gain awareness that we humans are in reality a great deal more than what we appear to be.
There is no way to examine our own ego from within the ego itself. The only way to accomplish this prodigious feat is to find a new unbiased vantage point from which to view.
The Supreme Being
When we close our eyes, and thereby draw a curtain over the world outside the mind, we dwell in a space that at once seems localized inside of our head and yet, when viewed from inside, has no discernable boundaries. An infinite inner universe where we have the power and freedom to create whatever we wish. Absolutely nothing exists in this space except that which we ourselves manifest.
We all exist as the Supreme Being of this inner universe where the only limits of creation are those we impose on ourselves. Within this universe is the source of our true human nature where the ego is merely a superficial image that obscures the more profound reality.
It is within this universe we can find the mirror to see our own ego’s true reflection in realistic clarity. Only then can we bypass the ego’s normal filtering mechanisms and engage in sober contemplation of self from a new unbiased perspective.
One Way to Wisdom
An excellent way to start is to try understanding things from the perspective of others. Questions we could ask and answers we would expect in reply. Of course many of us do this already so the exercise will be somewhat familiar.
Usually we think about friends, family, and people we interact with on a regular basis. Their thinking will be easier to determine because of long standing familiarity. However, even though our intuition will be more accurate working with something familiar, there is actually much more to be gained from exploration inspired by the unfamiliar. Fresh insights evolve from inspiration derived by using our imagination to converse with people we don’t know at all, at least not on intimate terms. For that matter why restrict our exercise of intuition and imagination to conversation with people?
As evidenced by the many extraordinary examples of animation - animals, insects, or even inanimate objects can be endowed with robust personality and discerning their unique opinions can provide insights far beyond the expected. In addition to an endless plethora of characters we can also imagine these interactions taking place in any kind of environment at any scale, from the microscopic to the macroscopic and everything in between.
It does not matter if our imagination produces accurate determinations about the thinking of others. What matters is that the exercise allows us to examine our own thinking from a different point of view. By far the most important consideration when performing these exercises is to never loose awareness that it is our imagination creating a fantasy. Imagination is inspired by our intuition extrapolating what we think we know about someone else’s thinking, but it is still intuitive imagination at play. Awareness is especially important when imagining interactions with someone you know. When communicating with someone (or some thing) in your imagination it is critical to never loose sight of the fact that the other side of the conversation is still you.
Insights derived from these exercises will reveal a great deal about one’s own thinking, but virtually nothing of fact about theirs. In loosing self-awareness of our imagination we risk the danger of committing fantasies to memory and later accidentally confusing them with reality. False memories skew our perceptions of others along with our perceptions of how others perceive us.
Beware the Trap
Many will think it self evident, even laughably obvious, that one can always tell the difference between imagined fantasy and authentic reality. But therein lays a dangerous folly of human psychology many of us succumb to without ever realizing.
As we encounter things we don't understand we tend to rely on assumption to fill in the blanks. Where do these assumptions come from? You guessed it, assumptions are generated by our intuition and imagination, maybe with a dash of actual knowledge blended into the mix just to add enough flavor to make them believable. Left to simmer for a while without challenge or research and we have a savory dish of comfort with the convincing flavor of fact, or at least close enough to ignore the difference.
Making assumptions is so much easier than sourcing and verifying facts. We humans are lazy creatures of habit and making assumptions is an easy habit to acquire. Like a narcotic, the pleasant gratification we derive from those first few assumptions establishes a viable method of fulfilling a need. Fulfillment of need develops into a habit, which soon transitions to a comfortable addiction that alters our behavior the more we indulge. And true to addiction, the need itself grows in proportion with our ability to satisfy the need.
Over time our capacity of sound judgment diminishes while we compile an extensive inventory of cascading assumptions to draw from. In the process, what we come to believe in as rational fact grows into belief of irrational fiction. Eventually we become so comfortable and accustomed with our assumptions that what we come to perceive as reality is actually a life forever lived in self-fabricated fantasy. We may think this lamentable condition must be a rare exception, but the grim truth is that we ALL suffer from this malady; the only difference between us is one of degree.
I’m reluctant to call this stupidity but - We may well be getting closer to resolving our question than any of us would care to admit. How did we come to this state of affairs, and if true, what can be done to repair the damage and find our way free of false perception?
Tools of Enlightenment
The brain is an organ that enables thinking in the same way muscles are organs that enable movement. These organs are worthless without the driving force that brings them to life. The driving force that makes all things possible, including that of life itself, is personified as the power of thought. In spite of the many assumptions made throughout history to the contrary, the plain truth is that neither the rigors of science nor the blind faith of religion has adequately explained this miraculous phenomenon. But even though we don't know exactly what this power is, we do know something about its behavior, and so we can learn how to use it to significant advantage.
The brain develops its formidable capabilities through a built-in property called Neuroplasticity. Muscles respond to physical forces. The brain's Neuroplasticity, at least the part of the brain that endows our mental faculties, responds exclusively to the forces of thought constantly emanating from the mind. Ego, emotion, creativity, logic, intuition, imagination, all faculties of the mind are processes of thinking that are always in play, every single hour of every day. Everything that takes place in the mind, whether real or imagined, affects the brain in basically the same way.
Neuroplasticity does not know the difference between fantasy and reality, it simply responds to our force of thought. The act of thinking itself (or lack thereof) stimulates Neuroplasticity to restructure the brain in an ongoing effort to maintain balance with the forces of thought acting upon it. Essentially what this means is that however we apply our force of thinking, the brain responds by optimizing its internal electrochemical mechanisms in a precise and articulate manner to become better at channeling the forces generated by the mind.
Muscles become stronger when exercised. Neuroplasticity mimics this behavior in the brain. For example: using our imagination stimulates Neuroplasticity to enhance the brain's ability to channel imagination, which in turn improves our ability to utilize our imagination. This perpetual cycle of use and improvement is active from our birth and continues until our death. Neuroplasticity responds to the full spectrum of mental activity by enhancing whatever mental faculties we use, and always in proportion to how vigorously we use them.
Neuroplasticity is a built-in response mechanism that does not significantly diminish with age. Developing rigid patterns of thinking is not a physical manifestation of aging; it is entirely a matter of willful choice. Whether we realize it or not, we always have complete control, and we are always free to exercise our control. Mental evolution can only take place in a favorably willing environment.
Enemies at the Gate
The mental faculties we do not use become weaker and overshadowed by those we do use. This behavior is particularly relevant in context of the media saturated culture of today. Of the many forms of media at play in the modern world, television is probably the worst offender, especially considering how our children grow up watching. We sit and we watch like a one-way receiver tuned to the channel of our chosen broadcast, and putting aside for a moment the content of what we watch, the critical issue is that the thinking part has already been done for us. The time we spend absorbing pre-designed information robs us of the time we could spend designing our own. Media in effect trains us not to THINK at all, or at least not about anything worth thinking about. What kind of a brain does Neuroplasticity build in response to engaging in this mindless activity?
Neuroplasticity always responds by optimizing the brain's ability to support whatever activity the mind engages in. Activities like watching television optimizes the brain's capability to enter a passive vegetative state to assimilate information as it's presented. The information is presented complete and pre-formatted deliberately to unburden the mind from any need of active participation.
Approximately one third of broadcast content consists of advertisements, which are reinforced by the barrage of passive advertising that literally fills our world. Experts in content creation, working from decades of extensive research into human psychology, are paid billions of dollars to influence, manipulate, and outright control our thinking behaviors, and all to serve a corporate agenda that satisfies their best interests, not ours. We are led to believe that advertisements are a necessary evil to finance delivery of entertaining content. But let's never forget that corporate dollars drive the whole system. Never think for a moment that the remaining two thirds are not leveraged to compliment their corporate agenda. Like a cruel joke told at our expense, all media broadcast industries openly refer to their output signal as "Programming".
Remember that Neuroplasticity does not know the difference between fantasy and reality. The quality of our critical thinking and decision making depends on the information stored in the brain's memory. If this information was absorbed while the mind was asleep or otherwise engaged, then what forms the basis of our thoughts, opinions, and decisions? Shouldn't we be actually living and learning for ourselves instead of blindly adopting a corporate skewed vision of life?
Imagine a world populated by billions of people, never realizing their minds are not totally their own, and all under control of a dominating few with a diabolical agenda born of corporate self interest. No doubt the stuff of some great science fiction. But wait a minute - We don't have to imagine this fantastic scenario - We are in fact already living it.
Is human stupidity responsible for bringing about this state of affairs? Our initial question is starting to take on a frightening new dimension. But we're not finished yet.
It Starts at the Beginning
No exploration of human stupidity would be compete without a moment of contemplation about our systems of education. We spend our significant formative years participating in this system which shapes our minds in preparation for the rigors of life beyond. Presumably the intent of education is to transform us from a state of stupidity to a state of intelligence. Or is it from a state of ignorance to a state of knowledge? Either way, the most valuable attribute of wisdom has become an elusive byproduct, acquired more by accident rather than a deliberate outcome of educational training.
All systems are designed to accept some kind of input and process that input with the aim of producing some kind of output. The utopian system is one that accepts the widest range of input, and produces the highest quality output, within a process optimized for maximum efficiency.
Formal education has been conceived as a system producing uniform parts to be integrated into the massive collective of human machines that make up the mechanics of civilization. If an individual part goes bad for some reason there is always another to seamlessly takes its place.
Creativity could be seen as a disadvantage, for how can one conceive a functional machine were the individual parts had creative minds of their own? The performance of a single part could not be relied upon if one cannot predict with certainty how that part will function.
Production of machine parts may be the ultimate in mechanical efficiency, but is it consistent with our true human nature which embodies the rigid disciplines of logic and the imaginative freedom of creativity in equal measure? Wouldn’t we be much better off if the education system concentrated its efforts on producing genius? If genius represents the very best we can be, then formal education must be a miserable failure, considering how genius is such a rare commodity. If the individual parts were imbued with genius, we could envision a system were reliable machines designed themselves organically in a balanced response to fulfilling societies true needs.
The Truth of Stupidity
Truth is a universal constant of nature that could never be construed as a manifestation of stupidity. Truth is simply the conscience realization of authentic reality. The pursuit of truth is the most noble endeavor of mankind and AWARENESS is the key that opens the doorway to truth.
Awareness of our own ego opens our perception of reality far beyond the limits imposed by the prejudice of our personal preferences, and keeps our penchant for assumption at bay with a new preference for seeking the truth.
Awareness of the brain's Neuroplastic behavior gives us the tools to raise our mental faculties to Olympian levels. Awareness of the full potential of our gift of creativity allows us to utilize our imagination for purposes far beyond that of simple fantasy.
Awareness of the true intent of media advertising nullifies its effect on the psyche. Awareness reveals the intentions of anyone or anything that penetrates our sphere of perception. Awareness also empowers us to exert our own influence over our world to battle all forms of evil that seek domination, and help raise the awareness of others in the process.
Awareness that we are the Supreme Being of our inner universe leads us to realize the true nature of our existence. Imagine a world with billions of people working together in seamless harmonized freewheeling synergy, just like the very forces of nature itself. This is the true nature of our destiny.
Our seemingly natural aptitude and propensity to recognize the most universally acknowledged attribute of mankind offers us the greatest opportunity to expose the truth. The perception of stupidity can only take place in contrast against the background of the more profound reality. Recognizing stupidity is therefore a golden opportunity to nurture awareness of our own perceptions. By contemplating the shallow perception of stupidity we can reveal the elusive depths of authentic truth.
Milo Bono is the founder and lead developer of Promptoria - Software for Innovation and Creativity.
Promptoria is dedicated to helping people amplify their natural creativity and critical thinking skills. Each Promptoria product features a unique implementation of Random Word Stimulation, tailored to serve a specific purpose and with unwavering focus on producing practical real-world results.
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