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speculation by Vincent H. '23

also a post about touching grass

i’ve known for a while that i’m a pretty awful conversationalist. my strengths in conversations are listening and asking questions, but when people ask me questions i often pause for a while to think before giving a badly formed answer. for the longest time i wondered if this was because i think more slowly when under social pressure or if the right way to answer questions is to just go with your initial instinct instead of trying to actually come up with the most accurate answer on the spot. there’s probably some truth to both of those explanations, but i think another relevant factor might be that the presence of other people forces me to think at a higher level of rigor than i’m used to

the other day i called a stranger on twitter because they tweeted saying they were looking to meet 100 new people online (i ended up being number 42/100). they mentioned that they like skiing because it forces them to confront reality – it’s easy to theorize about what you would do in certain situations or how your body works or how you respond to specific emotions, but most of your theorizing will be wildly inaccurate and the only way to really understand your behavior in a given setting is to experience that setting

i liked that comment a lot, and i think i’ve definitely been guilty of excessive theorizing quite often (of course this entire post is just me theorizing some more, but i hope you can bear with me for a bit), as are many of my friends. there are a variety of reasons for this: for one, theorizing is a natural human behavior in the same vein as anxiety; in addition, there’s definitely a correlation between intelligence and overthinking, and people here are pretty smart

but i wonder if this habit of excessive theorization can also explain why i am slower in conversations? as in, i find it very easy to think and form words when i’m by myself and only need to confront my internal headspace, but when i’m in a conversation the other person is constantly providing signals and so my thoughts must conform to both my internal headspace as well as the perspective they are communicating. for example, when you’re by yourself it’s very easy to convince yourself that doritos are the best snacks without thinking very hard about it, but when you’re in a conversation and someone is telling you about their experiences with doritos and other snacks it’s much harder to come up with the right things to say because you now have to match what they’ve told you

people often think i am smart because i think a lot and can solve a lot of math problems, but none of these are actually indicative of the kind of intelligence i want to have – i want the ability to adapt rapidly and accurately to whatever real life throws at me, in the way that exceptional conversationalists can quickly come up with things to say that are relevant and true and meaningful, or in the way that lebron james understands and responds to new basketball plays in fractions of a second. it turns out the kind of intellect i have doesn’t help with this much – thinking a lot doesn’t really matter if all the thoughts are squarely from your perspective and generally of an abstract nature, and you can get pretty far on math just by reading a lot and attacking problems the way you expect them to be solved without truly communicating interactively with the problems

so i’ve been trying to cut down on excessive ungrounded speculation. i don’t think this means i think less nowadays, just that i try to keep my thoughts closer to relevance. i try to fill up my time with work and conversations and other actions that force me to engage with reality. i believe the hypothesis that too much ungrounded thinking can worsen mental health, and i believe that any sufficiently meta thought isn’t that useful, and i also believe that “a person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts, so he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions”

tldr excessive thinking bad, touching grass good