Unconventional Thinking vs. Conventional Facts

Unconventional thinking can be seductive, as it is alluring to have more knowledge than another has. When we hear more conventional knowledge, we’re skeptical, we consider the source, we frame it accordingly, and we fact check. Yet, some suggest we have an instinctive, emotional attachment to alternative theories, and that such notions have such a magnetic, gravitational pull on us that we must make a concerted effort to avoid falling prey to their seduction. Those who fall prey to this should heed the warning that quantity does not always equal quality. There is only so much conventional knowledge available, but there are numerous avenues for those seeking unconventional answers to explore. Most of these avenues contain information that conventional thinkers have never considered before, and in some cases those arguments should be considered, but in my experience most of these arguments provide nothing more than provocative distractions and obfuscations from the central argument.

Those of us who enjoy hearing alternative theories and unconventional discover, at some point, that these thoughts is that they are not always true. This may seem like such an obvious truth that it’s hardly worth mentioning, but how many people put so much stock into unconventional thinking that they consider conventional thinkers naïve for believing everything they’re told? Unconventional thinkers are more apt to believe an alternative truth is out there, and it’s their mission in life to find it. 

Police officers, working a beat, have a modus operandi (M.O.) they bring to their job: “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” This is the ideal mindset for a police officer to have. Is it ideal, however, for a casual consumer of news, an employee who learns information regarding their employer, or a friend listening to another friend tell a story?

A top shelf media personality suggested that skepticism of the press undermines their authority, but the vaunted role the press plays in our culture should require them to endure constant, intense scrutiny, skepticism, and cynicism that makes them uncomfortable. Members of the media should conduct themselves in a manner that welcomes all of that from their audience and defeats it with performance that leads to a solid record they can point to whenever anyone questions them. Wouldn’t the members of the media say the same thing of the subjects they cover? 

There is a point, however, when a healthy sense of skepticism creeps into a form of cynicism that believes “none of what I hear and half of what I see.” Such cynicism breeds holes in people that allow “other” information to fill it.

As an individual that has an insatiable curiosity for unconventional thinking, specific to human behavior, friends introduce me to a wide array of alternative outlets. They’ve introduced me to various definitions of human psychology through astrology, numerology, and witchcraft. I also had one friend introduce me to a book that suggested aliens from other planets could teach us a lot about ourselves.

This book contained transmitted (or transmuted) messages from aliens of another planet to earthlings. A thread emerged from the messages, that the tenets of my political ideology were wrong. The implicit idea was that while we humans can argue over such messages, who do we think we are to argue against a superior life form. The first question this skeptic would love to ask an author of human psychology, by way of alien scripture, is why do we assume that aliens from another planet are of a superior intellect? The collective thought, among certain corners of human authority, suggests that not only is there intelligent life out there, but it’s more intelligent than anything meager humans can conceive. This notion is equivalent to the unlimited omniscience that the religious assign their deity of choice. It would be just as foolish as those who suggest that there are no superior intellects out there, as it is to suggest that all other entities are of a superior intellect, but those that suggest the latter often have an agenda for doing so.

What would be the point of worshiping a deity that had a level of intelligence equal to our own, and what would be the point of reporting on the transmissions from space if the aliens were not of a superior intellect that could teach us a lot about human psychology? My takeaway from this book is that most of the alien transmissions submitted for the reader’s pleasure suspiciously aligned with the author the work. 

The next time an alien transmits a message that has something to do with humans being of equal to inferior intellect (“We are in awe of the capabilities of the new iPhone X, and we have not found a way to duplicate that technology in our labs”), will be the first time I take an alien transmission seriously. The next time an alien transmits a message that has something to do with a compliment regarding human technology in agricultural techniques (“We find the techniques developed by Monsanto Co., to be awe-inspiring”) will be the first time I re-read an author’s interpretation of their message. For some reason, most aliens want us to know that the author of the piece, who characterizes their message, is correct about the dystopian nature of human beings.  

Another friend of mine has mined alternative outlets to such a degree that he thinks he’s found loopholes in our legal system, our financial system, and in the systems we use to maintain health. These arguments often devolve to him arguing from an inferior standpoint, and me guarding against sounding too superior. I don’t consider myself superior to him in the strictest definition of the term, but when he informed me that he was going to risk it all based on the alternative information that he has attained, I feel the need to warn him. In that delicate warning, delivered with genuine intentions, however, I might sound superior. 

My friend suffers from “dumb guy” disease. He did as poorly in school as I did, and he decided to educate himself in his adult life to try and catch up with all of those who were more interested and engaged in school. The difference between the two of us can be explained in one scenario. If I were approached by a used car salesman, and that used car salesman began employing various sales tactics, I would either shut that conversation down in one way or another or walk away. My friend, however, would begin using all the resources he’s discovered over the years for outdoing a salesman at their own game. He would attempt to better the used car salesman, whereas I would recognize the limits of my intelligence while on a salesman’s home turf. What I believe would happen to my friend, in this scenario, is that the used car salesman would begin using my friend’s newfound confidence against him by flipping the conversation into one that focused on my friend’s level of intelligence. The used car salesman might compliment my friend for his level of intelligence, or he might use some other crafty technique to ease my friend into paying more for the car. 

The thing of it is that concerned parties cannot tell those who rely on alternative sources of information that they might be vulnerable to half-truths that lead them to put too much stock in unconventional beliefs. Many unconventional thinkers now consider themselves more knowledgeable than those who ascribe to conventional truths, because they have different knowledge that they believe equals more knowledge.

Another problem inherent in unconventional thinking is that its disciples fail to focus on results. How many outlets, of this nature, provide straight verifiable points that pass peer review? How many of them can point to a verifiable track record of being correct, as opposed to providing the anecdotal evidence that they promote? How many of their messages devolve into speculation regarding motives and round about speculation that no one can refute? It’s that kind of information, in my opinion, that leads to confusion.

Those of us who ascribed to unconventional thoughts at one point in our lives began to see them for what they were, and we discovered that just because a thought is unconventional does not mean it’s correct. We enjoyed the offspring of the counterculture for what it was. We all thought they were so hip that our interest in their thoughts led some TV programmers to identify and capitalize on the purveyors of unconventional thinking, until those thoughts seduced us into incorporating them into our conventional thinking on some matters.

Whether it is political, social, or any other venue of thought, some people derive definition by fighting against the status quo, but we could say that the status quo is an ever-shifting focus that can lead to so many beginning to convert to such thoughts that they end up espousing status quo, conventional thoughts. 

I no longer buy a book of unconventional thinking, or befriend an unconventional thinker, with the hope of having my mind changed on a subject. If their ideas do change my mind, that’s gravy, but I have learned that such thoughts, are often best used as a challenge to my current worldview, and/or to bolster to my current view, as I attempt to defeat them. I do not then write of this discovery with the intent of changing anyone else’s mind. I do enjoy, however, taking the conventional standpoint and melding it with unconventional thinking to arrive at what I consider a hybrid of the truth that neither party has considered before.

The best illustration of my methodology exists in a piece I wrote called He Used to Have a Mohawk. In this piece, I documented the conventional thinking regarding an individual that would decide to have their hair cut in a thin strip upon their head. If that person grows the mohawk to eight inches, and dyes it blue, conventional thinking suggests that that person deserves any ostracizing they might receive. Unconventional, or non-traditional thinking observes that there’s nothing wrong with a person who decides to shave their head in such a manner. This mode of thought suggests that it’s on the observer to accept the mohawk wearer for who he or she is as a person. They also suggest that the observer might discover the limits of their preconceived notions or conventional thoughts of a person, by finding out that a person that leaves a thin strip of hair on their head, grows it eighteen inches, and dyes it blue is actually a beautiful person inside. The approach I took, with this piece, combined the two modes of thought and examined them through the prism of an individual that used to have such a mohawk.

What kind of person asks a hair stylist to cut their hair into a mohawk? What happens to them when they age and go back to having a more traditional haircut? Do others’ perceptions of them change? Do they miss the altered perceptions they used to experience when they had the haircut? Do they regret having the haircut in the first place?

One of my favorite critiques of this piece stated that the immediate components of this story could lead a reader to find an instinctual, emotional offense, until they read the piece carefully to understand the complex subtext of the piece through deep analysis. “I like the way you take a mohawk and turn it into something greater than just a simple hairstyle. You give it character that I feel not many others could appreciate,” Amanda Akers wrote. 

No matter where the reader stands on the conventional fulcrum with this subject, they must acknowledge that an individual who asks that their hair to be cut into a mohawk does so to generate reactions, or different reactions, more than a person with a more traditional haircut could procure on any given day. Some would say that mohawk wearers generate unwanted attention for themselves by wearing such a haircut, but others could say that no attention is unwanted for some.

If a mohawk wearer detested those who judge them for such a haircut, he or she could allow the hair to lay flat. They don’t, I pose, because they enjoy detesting straight-laced people that will never try to understand them as a person, they enjoy the bond they have with those that sympathize with their plight, and they bathe in the sheer number of reactions they’ve received since they made the decision to wear a mohawk.

The people at this wedding party stated that they wanted to get to know the groom that used to have a mohawk, when he had the mohawk, in part because he had a mohawk. As they learned more about him, to their apparent dismay, they discovered that he was a nice man. As an uninformed bystander, I considered the shock they displayed that a man with a mohawk could be nice, a little condescending. I considered it odd that one man would say that he wanted to get to know a man that wears a mohawk better –based solely on that man’s haircut– a little condescending. This groom appeared to bathe in all of it. I watched this man react to these statements, and I couldn’t tell if he considered it a mark of his character that he had befriended people regardless of the haircut, or if he missed all of the reactions that haircut used to generate for him. My money was on the latter.

The point, as I see it, is that conventional thinking has potholes, and we should remain skeptical of everything we see and hear, but those who put so much energy into unconventional thoughts often end up more confused on a given subject than enlightened. Forming a hybrid of sorts, is the ideal plane for one to reach as it suggests that while we should remain skeptical in nature, we should also maintain an equal amount of skepticism for enlightened, unconventional thoughts. Yet, the seductive nature of unconventional thinking rarely calls for a ledger on which one can score their thoughts, theories, and ideas. 

Most people hate being wrong, and for unconventional thinkers one would think it incumbent on them to establish their bona fides. What often happens is that either the unconventional thinkers adapt a linear adjustment to their way of thinking on the issue when the facts come out, or they move on. Those who move onto other alternative theories often do so without reservations or recalculations. They move onto the next conspiracy theory, or unconventional mode of thought with the idea that comprehensive unconventional thought lends itself to an invulnerable fool proof status. Few in their audience are secure enough in their own being, or in their knowledge base to ask them why they continue to believe such things when they have been wrong before. Conventional thinkers are also forever vulnerable to the charge that they believe what they tell them.

It’s been my experience that if an unconventional thinker were able to proactively turn off their susceptibility to unconventional thinking after charting and graphing their previous thoughts on such matters, they might not devote so much energy to being the smartest person in the room, with the most knowledge. If they charted their hypothetical guesses, based on alternative thinking, against the time-tested and boring conventional thoughts their grandma taught them, I think they would find that more often than not, the conventional, generalized thoughts that their grandma believed are generally true.