What it means to have an active mind

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means for a person to have an active mind that is constantly thinking and questioning (as opposed to a passive one).

For example: we’ve all heard in some form or another that “coffee is good for you…coffee is bad for you” and it’s always backed by some sort of ‘study’ done up by some ‘scientists’. I think that most people would just accept which ever conclusion suited to their own beliefs and reaffirm it to themselves with the claim that the study was conducted by a group of scientists. Most people wouldn’t even question the validity of the study nor question the actual scientists because the general view is that they’re all rational, intelligent people who are not swayed by personal beliefs and as such one can leave all the thinking up to them.

Now someone with an active mind would take the time to research into the effects of coffee, look into these studies and form a conclusion on their own, based on their understanding. A passive type of person wouldn’t think about it, but would say “if it was done by scientists, then that’s good enough for me” and they go about their usual routine of seeking out distractions rather than exercising their mind. Now I don’t mean to say that any person who doesn’t go out of their way to research into a study (such as the consumption of coffee) about some topic, doesn’t have an active mind. Seeking out an answer for something as trivial as coffee consumption doesn’t determine whether you have an active mind; rather my point is that a person with an active mind is someone who seeks answers and the truth in any facet of their life (even if it’s about one topic of interest).

A person with active mind will know to be alert and to always be questioning and formulating answers, not evading them. Having said this, I don’t think that many people (at least the many people I’ve had encounters with) have this type of active mind where they’re always questioning and seeking answers. Sure you have your varying levels when it comes to the type of (active or passive) mind you have, but I think that most people lean towards the passive side.

I’ve noticed that with a lot of people that  I know (ranging from friends to co-workers, to acquaintences), when ever they have some spare time (so whether it’s on a lunch break, on public transport, or just a free day) they don’t use that time to be productive, rather they usually have a smartphone in their hands or a Nintendo DS or watch some TV show or some other form of entertainment that’s designed to assist you in seeking out those everyday distractions that don’t require any serious thought. It’s so easy to take the ‘easy way out’ when given the option of exercising your mind or playing a game on your phone. All my friends are like that and I’ve noticed that there’s only so far I can take an intellectual type of conversation with them.

I think that if you spend most of your free time (so by free time I mean any time outside of work, university, or whatever your daily routine is) preoccupying your mind with mindless entertainment (so anything that requires next to no effort from your mind), you put a halt on the development of your intellectual self (this is particularly true of children, then again most adults who take this path started off like that as children) and you reach a certain mental level where you subconsciously go for the easy way out when there’s no immediate benefit to you (as opposed to thinking about the long term benefits, for instance: actively working every day to better yourself in a chosen field, whilst painstakingly difficult at the time, rewarding in the long run). I know it’s hard to change certain aspects of yourself after years of making such habits, but I don’t think the majority of people realise what this does to your mind.

Since you’ve allowed yourself to think only about the immediate benefits, on the short-range, you condition your mind in such a way where you actively seek out anything to preoccupy your mind with, and that doesn’t always contribute to the advancement of your life/career. You won’t know how to challenge certain ideas, how to challenge politicians and other people who are more knowledgeable than you. There’s a saying that goes “knowledge is power” and it’s very true. Those who don’t possess any knowledge are leaving their minds at the mercy of anyone who can identify their vulnerability and use it against them by persuading/convincing them to adopt their views. Once someone comes onto the stage who seems to know what they’re talking about, who shows some form of confidence, well who is the average person who has never bothered to exercise their mind to question them? How would they know to question them? What questions would they bring up? etc.

The type of society that the Western world has reduced itself to encourages this type of thinking, of taking the easy way out, of turning to your smartphone to play that game, of doing anything that will preoccupy your mind for that moment, and this is all so easy to do owing to the countless TV shows, electronic devices and other products that we have (I’m not attacking technology though). This all reminds me of an interesting ‘comic’ I read a while ago entitled “Huxley vs. Orwell” and I think that it’s very much true. Then again hasn’t humanity always been like this? Thinking back to the Roman empire where they had those gladiator games that would get the local population worked up and have them something to look forward to. In a way it is a form of control and the Roman leaders knew this all too well that pacifying a people is the best way to rule them. These days it isn’t the government that’s doing that, but the culture and the so called ‘intellectuals’ who seek to undermine what the Western world really represents. The worse part about it all is that I truly believe that any Western government could care less, that it wants its population to preoccupy itself with mindless entertainment, to leave everything up to the government, to not bother themselves with thinking, but to leave that up to politicians and ‘intellectuals’.

I’ve even found myself giving in to such mindless distractions every now and then, and I understand how hard it can be to get yourself out of such habits when you’ve conditioned your mind to such an extent. But that’s when I remind myself to ‘step out’ and take a look at myself from the outside, see what I’m doing wrong and how I should go about to rectify it. Whilst I’ve always focused mostly on exercising my mind, on reading a book on a topic that interests me, reading a magazine on engineering related topics, or anything else that makes me think, I’ve only just identified the nature of this ‘habit’ or ‘thought pattern’, within the past year or so, and I’m glad that I have since I realised how easy it is to find yourself wound up in your life, in obligations, paying bills, trying to make ends meet, etc. I realise that once you get into the cycle of preoccupying your mind with mindless entertainment, once you’ve conditioned your mind to only expect that, it’s incredibly difficult to change.

Pretty long post so I’ll leave it there.

 

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About engineerdude

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4 responses to “What it means to have an active mind

  • Rattlesnake

    I think that most people would just accept which ever conclusion suited to their own beliefs and reaffirm it to themselves with the claim that the study was conducted by a group of scientists.

    I can attest to that; as someone who drinks several cups of coffee a day, I tend to favour studies that say coffee is good for you. 🙂 But I think it is best to say that coffee has both positive and negative health effects.

    Most people wouldn’t even question the validity of the study nor question the actual scientists because the general view is that they’re all rational, intelligent people who are not swayed by personal beliefs and as such one can leave all the thinking up to them.

    I admit that I once trusted scientists at their word, because they are more rational and much more intelligent than the average population. But once I started thinking critically, I realized that scientists are fallible just like anyone else, and science itself can rarely lead to absolutely certain conclusions. That is what I despise the most about the global warming debate; that people say that “the science is settled” and that scientists themselves stifle dissent. Doing so, especially in the name of dogma, is anti-scientific. It disgusts me to think that science could be politicized to such an extent, but that is why it is always good to be reasonably skeptical.

    I don’t think that many people (at least the many people I’ve had encounters with) have this type of active mind where they’re always questioning and seeking answers.

    I think that is true, especially considering how popular shows like “Entertainment Tonight” are. I can’t think of anything less important than what dress some actress wore to some award show, but some people are apparently interested in that anyway.

    Those who don’t possess any knowledge are leaving their minds at the mercy of anyone who can identify their vulnerability and use it against them by persuading/convincing them to adopt their views.

    Exactly. One good example of this is the guilt people have over the actions of their ancestors or the desire not to be identified as a racist or a homophobe, which people exploit for nothing but political gain. If those people exercized some critical thought, they might realize that what they support does not benefit anyone but politicians and lawyers.

    The type of society that the Western world has reduced itself to encourages this type of thinking, of taking the easy way out

    I would attribute this to the rise of the welfare state and its resulting cutlure of dependency. Capitalism forces people to work hard, be creative, be independent, and make wise decisions; otherwise, they will have a very unpleasant life.

    This all reminds me of an interesting ‘comic’ I read a while ago entitled “Huxley vs. Orwell” and I think that it’s very much true.

    That was a very interesting comic, and I think both Huxley and Orwell are absolutely correct.

  • engineerdude

    I agree, coffee is good for you 😉 But several! I’ll stick with two.

    We’ve all had our moments where we don’t think critically and simply accept everything that scientists say. What matters is whether we’re able to see the error of our ways and rectify them.

    Yes, it’s a shame that such celebrity shows, and any other form of entertainment that centres around the lives of others, are so common and widely accepted.

    The terrible thing about the welfare state is that it’s hard to undo it all once the people become so dependant on the government.

  • Rob

    I’m always thinking of everything and anything not bad things just working everything out and how and why

  • nithyaprakash

    What will happen while i improved it or i myt be continues it am jst afraid…

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