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Can Philosophy Change The Way You Think?

pages from a stack of books

When I began studying philosophy i was often told “it’ll change the way you think”. Stubborn and naive me thought “we’ll see about that!”. However now, on reflection, I can see that my pre-philo days were spent being an information eating machine. Enter Fact A and Produce Regurgitated Essay B. I was next to incapable of exploring my own mind, despite having so many thoughts and so much to say.

Now, I see how in every day activities and tasks I am facing a more balanced attitude. Instead of taking things as gospel and pumping them out again and again I began to step back and think, why do I think this? What are the reasons and logical points that led me to believe this is so? Now, at the point where I no longer consciously think about this new-found thought process, it makes problem solving, reasoning, and thinking, a lot more structured.

I have always been someone with a busy mind. My brain can’t sit still. Philosophy taught me to be patient and figure things out step by step, and fit the puzzle pieces of whatever brain cacophony is occurring together. Best of all, as someone who has often struggled to have my voice heard or get my point across, it gives me clarity in thought and a more positive reason for why I want to say something. I found a way to be heard a little better, and justify myself in what I say. Therefore, philosophy not only changed my thought process, it improved my mental attitude.

It Takes Time 

The first philosophical work I read was Descartes’ Meditations. A great beginner book and full of ideas to pique philosophical interest, it’s a good foundation of concepts commonly seen throughout philosophy and I found it fascinating. I was motivated and eager to discover more and challenge my mind. However, I must admit that even while reading this I was pretty oblivious to how I should be consuming the content – I was reliant on teachers and peers to guide my thoughts. After a while, I began to think a little deeper for myself on topics that interested me.

You Never Stop Learning 

Even in my final years as a Philosophy undergrad and reading the complexity of Heidegger’s works I was battling bafflement and relying on the layman’s explanation to spell out what the hell was going on. Despite this, I somehow managed my second highest grade of my entire degree in this mindbogglingly tough topic – showing that even in the toughest challenges of figuring out what you think and understand you can surprise yourself.

Applying what I’ve learned in real life has been a challenge, and of course no two circumstances will be the same, which makes things even harder to stick to your thoughts and opinions. People are constantly changing and evolving, and that’s what makes humans so incredible. I have always had a weird curiosity for people and the way they work, the cogs that make them them and how, in turn, this makes them think. I try to be somewhat in tune to people’s emotions, and being able to understand more about those around me is something I wish I was better at. Crazy as it sounds, philosophical study helped me to channel this idea – intrigue in new ideas helped me to get outside my own head and learn more about who and what is around me. Adapting your thoughts is difficult, but with a strong foundation of how to reach conclusions it can help to make things a little easier in everyday situations.

It’s Not For Everyone

While I recommend and would 100% advocate for taking a stab at philosophy (or at least giving it some kind of a read), I realise it’s not for everyone. I have sometimes posed a philosophical question to someone with no prior knowledge or interest, and sometimes the replies were fascinating and insightful. Other times I was met with a “why would anyone bother thinking that?”. True to say that Hume might have been correct in thinking that philosophy  is best left at the classroom door.

Some are quite happy with their thought processes and are confident enough in their opinions to get along just fine. For the worriers like me however, philosophy was an academic outlet for all those Big Questions that crop up in an already cluttered mind.

Using it in everyday life

Moving away from academia, philosophy really can help in everyday life. In my own experience, I’ve struggled with articulating and making sense of my own thoughts on a regular basis. Philosophy helped this, as it provides a groundwork of thought process that can be applied elsewhere.

Best of all, studying hardcore philosophy isn’t necessary for developing the way you create thoughts. Just simply considering certain questions and training yourself to reach answers in a satisfactory and reasonable way is enough. Plenty of movies, art, literature and more use philosophy to challenge the audience – take any sci-fi movie as an example and you’ll see what I mean. Are the robots in Ex Machina minded? Is Bruce Wayne doing the right thing in The Dark Knight? These examples seem so simple, and so many have a response and theory. This right here? It’s philosophy. Asking the questions that can form opinions, impact further actions, or simply trigger a discussion.

Where To Start

Some easy going books, that I still enjoy reading, provide an introduction to key ideas while also remaining more relatable and relevant in a digestible format. A few of my favourites are: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy, A Graphic Introduction to Philosophy, Consolations of Philosophy, Justice, Think, 50 Philosophical Ideas… I could go on and on, but my top tip would be to pick a topic you already enjoy and find interesting, and seek out at least some “smart thinking” books or light philosophy based on that. For example, I enjoy morality, psychology and human behaviour, so started off with Justice by Michael J. Sandel. Failing tracking down the perfect book, try listening to the Philosophy Bites podcast, or take a look at one of the many movie lists famed for their philosophical outlook (a quick Google will find plenty, or find one such list here).

I hope you can learn a little bit more about the benefits of considering philosophy to help influence your through process, let me know your favourite works, thought experiments, and philosophical movies!

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