Unconventional Thinking vs. Conventional Facts


Unconventional thinking can be seductive, as it is alluring to think we have more knowledge than another thinker has. When we hear conventional knowledge, we’re skeptical, we consider the source, we frame it accordingly, and we fact check. When we hear unconventional knowledge, however, we have an instinctive, emotional attachment. This attachment can be so strong, in some cases, that we put our skepticism aside to embrace them, and we must make a concerted effort to avoid falling prey to their seduction. Those who fall prey to the desire to have more knowledge should heed the warning that quantity does not always equal quality. There are only so many facts on a given issue, but there are numerous avenues for those seeking alternative facts and alternative ideas about the conventional facts. Most of these avenues contain answers that conventional thinkers have never considered before, and in some cases, we should consider those arguments. In my experience, however, most of alternative theories provide nothing more than provocative distractions and obfuscations from the central argument.

Those of us who enjoy hearing alternative theories and unconventional information discover, at some point, that these thoughts are not always true. Conventional information, reported by conventional outlets, is not always true either of course, but I would suggest their batting average is far superior to alternative outlets. The battle between the two results in some unconventional thinkers putting so much stock in the unconventional ones that they end up consider everyone else naïve for believing what 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 law enforcement official working a beat 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 high profile media personality suggested that skepticism of the press undermines their authority, but the vaunted role the press plays in our nation should require them to endure constant, intense scrutiny, skepticism, and cynicism that make 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 tipping 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 who has an insatiable curiosity for unconventional thinking, specific to human behavior, I have had 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 once had a friend introduce me to the idea that aliens from other planets could teach us a lot about ourselves.

This friend relayed to me a collection of transmitted (or transmuted) messages from these superior beings to earthlings. As I read the information he amassed, I found that the theme of these messages was that my philosophy was wrong. I found them somewhat humorous, but before I could entirely dismiss them, I learned that my friend considered these messages proof that I was wrong. Although he didn’t say these words exactly, the import of his message was that I could not argue with superior life forms. 

The first question this skeptic would love to ask authors of human psychology, by way of alien scripture, is why do you assume that aliens from another planet are of a superior intellect? The collective thought, among certain quarters of human authority, suggests that not only is there intelligent life out there, but it’s more intelligent than anything we meager humans can conceive. We don’t know what lifeforms exist outside our planet, much less what they think, so the only conclusion we can reach is that we base our theories on alien life form superiority on our own inferiority complex. It would be just as foolish to suggest that there are no life forms out there, as it is to suggest that they are of a superior intellect, but those who think this often have an agenda for believing it.

What would be the point of worshiping a deity who 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 our way of life? My takeaway from this friend’s collection of transmitted (or transmuted) messages is that most of the alien transmissions submitted for the reader’s pleasure have an agenda that suspiciously aligns with the author of the work. 

The next time an alien transmits a message that suggests has humans are of equal or superior intellect (“We are in awe of the capabilities of the new iPhone X, and we have not found a way to replicate 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 attained, I felt the need to warn him. In that delicate warning, delivered with genuine intentions, however, I think I might have accidentally sounded condescending. 

My friend is a fellow sufferer of “dumb guy’s” disease. He did as poorly in school as I did, and he decided to educate himself, after his school years, to try to catch up with all of those who were more engaged in school. He and I share so many unfortunate circumstances that one could consider us similar by many calculations. Yet, we can illustrate the differences between the symptoms of our shared disease in one scenario. If a used car salesman approached me with his persuasive sales tactics, I would either shut that conversation down as quickly as I could, or I might run away. My friend, however, would begin employing all of the alternative knowledge he’s attained over the years to try to outdo the salesman at his 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. If this salesman knew his craft well, he would begin flipping the focus of the conversation into my friend’s arena, until my friend ended up paying more for the car than he planned.

Concerned parties watching such a scenario play out, might want to caution our friend from relying too much on alternative sources of information. We might want to tell them that doing so could lead him to being vulnerable to half-truths and greater confusion. They will tell us that they’ve done massive amounts of research on this subject, and most people don’t know the truth, “I know I didn’t,” is something they add before they launch into their theory. The questionable outlets they research often provide them information that confirms their biases and leads them to believe they are more knowledgeable than those who ascribe to conventional truths, because they have massive amounts of different knowledge that they believe equals greater knowledge.

Disciples of alternative knowledge also 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 their assertions, as opposed to providing the anecdotal evidence that they promote? How many of their messages devolve into speculation regarding motives that no one can refute? How many of us are skeptical enough of information that seems so right it has to be true?

Those of us who ascribed to unconventional thoughts at one point in our lives began to see them for what they were, and we came to the uncomfortable conclusion that just because the information we hear is unconventional, alternative, and “what your father doesn’t want you to know” does not mean that 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 converting to such thoughts that those thoughts could eventually become status quo, conventional. 

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

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The best illustration of this methodology occurred in a piece that I wrote called He Used to Have a Mohawk. In this piece, I document some conventional thinking regarding an individual who would decide to have their hair cut in a thin strip on 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. It also suggests 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 who used to have such a haircut.

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 what we consider a more traditional haircut? Do others’ perceptions of them change? Does some part of the mohawk wearer miss the altered perceptions they used to experience when they had the haircut, or do they regret ever having the haircut?

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 re-read the piece to carefully 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 to have their hair cut into a mohawk does so to generate reactions, or different reactions, more than a person with a more traditional haircut might invite 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.

I knew another mohawk wearer, and he surprised me one day by wearing it to a Halloween party. I told him that I enjoyed his costume, but he told me it wasn’t a costume. It was his hairdo. When I asked him further, more prodding questions, he said, “I wear my hair flat in the office, but I wear my mohawk when I go out.”

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 best man and the bridesmaid both stated, in their toasts, that they wanted to get to know the groom who 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. We could view a traditional thinker’s views of a person who has a mohawk as condescending, as they may make generalizations about mohawk wearers, and they might stereotype them. Listening to these toasts, I heard sympathetic souls who I presumed aligned themselves with unconventional thinking, sound just as condescending as one who might generalize or stereotype. The only distinction was that they were trying to ingratiate themselves to the groom, but I still found it just as condescending. 

The groom appeared to bathe in all of it. I watched this man react to these toasts, 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 the haircut used to generate for him, but my money was on the latter.

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The point, as I see it, is that conventional thinking has potholes, and we should remain skeptical of anything 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 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 any reservations for how inaccurate their previous, alternative theories were. They move onto the next conspiracy theory, or unconventional modes of thought with the idea that comprehensive unconventional thought lends itself to an invulnerable foolproof status. Being wrong on some matters naturally leads others to call the incorrect a fool, but how many in their audience are secure enough in their knowledge to call another a fool for believing in alternative theories. Thus, even if they have been wrong numerous times before, the idea that their information is alternative prevents others from calling them a fool, under the guise that believing otherwise is believing what they tell you.  

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.

 

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