What Is A Thought Experiment, And Why You Should Care About It

What Is A Thought Experiment, And Why You Should Care About It

How this ancient device can transform your life.

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Have you ever asked yourself, "What if they don't like me? What if I don't get this job? What if I don't find true love?"

Or have you ever just assumed, "I know I don't really make a difference. I know my friend doesn't like me as much as her other friend. I know I'm not that pretty."

If so, you've engaged in a thought experiment.

A thought experiment accepts as truth a specific starting point and asks questions based on that anchor. You take a theory or idea, posit it to be true, and ask questions based on it to sort through its consequences. It's a mental device intended to help you explore the merits of a theory.

Thought experiments have been around for thousands of years, even before Socrates. We've all probably heard of Schrödinger's cat, even if we don't know what all the fuss is about.

But why do we care about some dead Austrian physicist and his ideas about quantum indeterminacy? Well—we don't. (Unless you do, in which case...good for you.) But I do care very much about the ways in which we use negative thought patterns to adversely affect our lives—often completely unconsciously—and how utilizing thought experiments can break us free from their chokehold.

By realizing that when we're fretting over anxieties or making a difficult decision based on unconscious negative thought patterns, we can make the choice to reexamine our preprogrammed thought patterns and, perhaps, choose to create positive thought experiments for ourselves.


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Anxiety disorders are a real and growing thing—and even people who don't have an anxiety disorder can experience heightened levels of anxiety. Our current automatic thought patterns will be most obvious during moments of anxiety or stress.

These thought patterns, constantly running in the background, actually began as their own thought experiments and were eventually repeatedly drilled into us by multiple sources: society, parents, personal perceived failings or insecurities, friends, lovers, even the media. No child is born believing themselves to be inherently flawed, misunderstood, undesirable, and alone. But at some point, that child had the horrible thought: "What if they don't like me? What if they don't want to be my friend? What if Mom doesn't care? What if I am all alone?", and with repetition, these negative thought experiments became automatic reactions: They don't like me, they don't want to be my friend, my parents don't care, I am alone.

If you find yourself believing that your significant other won't find you as attractive as other people, that's a preprogrammed thought experiment: you just assume, "I'm not as attractive as ____" and operate based off of that assumption. If you meet a new friend or go out on a date and hold yourself back from trusting them with personal facts or your real self because everyone, at some point, leaves—you're assuming that, well, they'll leave. Or maybe you hold yourself back from trusting people because once they see who you really are, they won't want to stick around. That's an automatic assumption that you are inherently messed up—and that you are messed up more so than other people.


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When you walk into a room, do you assume that no one (or not many people) are really interested in seeing you? Maybe you think, it wouldn't make a difference if I were here or not? When you meet a new friend and they don't text back quickly or reach out to you as much as you do to them, do you think you're not that important to them? Do you assume no one would really understand your nerdy side or your favorite book or how you relate to music?

These pre-assumed thoughts are I'm not important. No one cares. I don't make a difference. No one understands me. I'm all alone. These all started as thought experiments by a child: "What if I'm not important? What if they don't care?" Babies don't even know other people exist (as people) when they're first born. All of this existential despair and self-doubt is something we discovered, not something we were born with.

One of my automatic thought patterns is that no one understands me—my favorite poems, or books, or songs; why I do what I do, and all the complexes and failures and strengths that make me up. No one sees me. The natural consequence of such an isolating belief is that I've often felt lonely all my life, even when surrounded by incredible and intimate friendships. My starting point was that no one understood me, and so I was always surprised when someone did.

Last year (2018), I was done with being lonely all the time, even (or especially) when surrounded by people. I still didn't know how to resolve loneliness, or how to not feel alone…especially if I was. But one of the antidotes to loneliness, for me, was love: experiencing and creating connections and warm affection with other people.

So I took on a thought experiment: what if (when I walked into a room with new people and old friends), rather than assuming that most wouldn't understand me or see me and that I was alone—what if I assumed that I already was in relation to everyone in that room? What if people did see me? Did care about me? Would get my favorite poem?

Because of this thought experiment, I started so many interactions on a basis of warmth and trust, rather than holding back and waiting to see if someone really got it. (Whatever "it" was.) I began relationships already several steps ahead: warm, and connected, and seeking for connection points rather than assuming we didn't have any until proven otherwise.

What are your automatic assumptions about yourself or your interactions with other people? Your well, this just is the way they are assumptions? What would happen if you reframed your thoughts to ask, "what if…", and took on a positive pre-assumption? Stepping away from our preprogrammed negative thought patterns by asking ourselves, "What if they actually DO care, and maybe just don't show it in the way I prefer? What if I actually AM beautiful? What if I do make a difference? What if my friend DOES care (and maybe just doesn't show it in the same way I do)?What if they actually DO love me?"

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Moment of truth—maybe you AREN'T as objectively attractive as other people. Maybe that person won't understand your favorite song, or your favorite poem—or you. Maybe that friend will drift away, that lover will leave you. Maybe your parent is neglectful or isn't around. And yes, maybe sometimes, you will be very, very lonely.

The point about thought experiments is not that they're true. I'm going to repeat that: the point is NOT that these thought experiments are true. In fact, they may often not be true whatsoever. (I mean, can we ALL be the most attractive person in the world? According to Syndrome in the Incredibles ["When everyone is super, then no one will be.] —no.)

The point is to see how your automatic thought patterns are affecting your life—and how a thought experiment could have untold positive consequences, even if it's not true. Even if you aren't the most popular person, imagine the emotional difference between walking into a room and saying to yourself, "No one really wants me to be here," as opposed to walking into a room and saying, "I care about every person in this room. I want to make every person in this room smile. Everyone in this room does care, about me or someone else, in one way or another." Even if you're not the most attractive person, imagine the difference between, "My date will never find me attractive," and saying, "I have beautiful and expressive eyes. I love how strong or how healthy my body is. I really like how my hair looks today."

Have I actually met more people this past year who have understood me? Have I actually been seen by more people? Have I really met more people who have gotten Rothfuss and Poindexter and Hozier and Raymond and Lewis—and me?

I don't know. But what I know is that by using my loneliness thought experiment—by asking myself positive what-ifs instead of starting from my predetermined negative assumption—I have been far less lonely in 2018 than I ever have been in my entire life.

Take one of your negative thought patterns and construct a what-if thought experiment based on countering it: what if I brought meaning to others, what if my life had value, what if I could do it, what if I was beautiful. Each time you find yourself living into your preprogrammed pattern, ask yourself your what-if. Start taking it as a thought experiment: pretend it's true, and just act like it is.

Who knows—eventually, it may become true all on its own.

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The Coach That Killed My Passion

An open letter to the coach that made me hate a sport I once loved.
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I fell in love with the game in second grade.

I lived for every practice and every game. I lived for the countless hours in the gym or my driveway perfecting every shot, every pass, and every move I could think of. Every night after dinner, I would go shoot and would not allow myself to go inside until I hit a hundred shots. I had a desire to play, to get better and to be the best basketball player I could possibly be.

I had many coaches between church leagues, rec leagues, personal coaches, basketball camps, middle school, and high school. Most of the coaches I had the opportunity to play for had a passion for the game like I did. They inspired me to never stop working. They would tell me I had a natural ability. I took pride in knowing that I worked hard and I took pride in the compliments that I got from my coaches and other parents. I always looked forward to the drills and, believe it or not, I even looked forward to the running. These coaches had a desire to teach, and I had a desire to learn through every good and bad thing that happened during many seasons. Thank you to the coaches that coached and supported me through the years.

SEE ALSO: My Regrets From My Time As A College Softball Player

Along with the good coaches, are a few bad coaches. These are the coaches that focused on favorites instead of the good of the entire team. I had coaches that no matter how hard I worked, it would never be good enough for them. I had coaches that would take insults too far on the court and in the classroom.

I had coaches that killed my passion and love for the game of basketball.

When a passion dies, it is quite possibly the most heartbreaking thing ever. A desire you once had to play every second of the day is gone, it turns into dreading every practice and game. It turns into leaving every game with earphones in so other parents don't talk to you about it. It meant dreading school the next day due to everyone talking about the previous game. My passion was destroyed when a coach looked at me in the eyes and said, "You could go to any other school and start varsity, but you just can't play for me."

SEE ALSO: Should College Athletes Be Limited To One Sport?

Looking back now at the amount of tears shed after practices and games, I just want to say to this coach:

Making me feel bad about myself doesn't make me want to play and work hard for you, whether in the classroom or on the court. Telling me that, "Hard work always pays off," and not keeping that word doesn't make me want to work hard either. I spent every minute of the day focusing on making sure you didn't see the pain that I felt, and all of my energy was put towards that fake smile when I said I was OK with how you treated me. There are not words for the feeling I got when parents of teammates asked why I didn't play more or why I got pulled after one mistake, I simply didn't have an answer. The way you made me feel about myself and my ability to play ball made me hate myself, not only did you make me doubt my ability to play, but you also turned my teammates against me to where they didn't trust my abilities. I would not wish the pain you caused me on my greatest enemy. I pray that one day, eventually, when all of your players quit coming back that you realize that it isn't all about winning records. It's about the players.

You can have winning records without a good coach if you have a good team, but you won't have a team if you can't treat players with the respect they deserve.

SEE ALSO: To The Little Girl Picking Up A Basketball For The First Time


Cover Image Credit: Equality Charter School

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​Life Is Sometimes More Sour Than Sweet

There's nothing you can do sometimes...

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Life sometimes gets you down and there's nothing that you can do about it. It isn't going to be all sweet all the time, it actually may be more sour than sweet because of the events that end up panning out. As a young adult, you have a lot of events that happen in your life that you have to navigate. The thing about life sometimes is that you can't always have it your way all the time. Sometimes you have to do what others want you to do when it comes to getting tasks done whether that is spending money or spending time with those in your circle overwriting more in your book.

But does that mean that everything in your life is going be all sour because of certain things? The answer would be no, there are going to be certain moments that are going to be sweeter that we may not know about because we are too worried about focusing on the sour or more so the negative moments. But when we truly take a look around we should not be seeing negative things or more so seeing negative people. There should be positivity being thrown around like confetti and others around you should take note of that so that they can also be apart of your sweet moments.

So always remember that it's important to always know that life will be ok even in the moments that are sucky and not as nice as they seem to be. I think that having the most positive thoughts in your brain as you are coming into your own is going to help you better yourself in the long run, even though it may be difficult. Definitely, keep plugging along even when you are not feeling your best in your moments of struggle & negativity whether its on social media or in real life.

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