Let’s hope we all have the sense we were born with–or at least the sense God gave a goose. What is common sense? Actually you might call it critical thinking lite. It is the ordinary way of synthesizing experience, the information that comes in through the senses, and a commitment to simplicity. It partakes of conventional wisdom without being limited to it. Put simply, it is thinking for yourself while acknowledging consensus reality.
It is also currently in short supply–in our politics, our pandemic response, and in our understanding of our own lives.
And common sense is NOT magical thinking. Magical thinking at its most extreme can be full blown paranoia. Even a mild case can obscure reality in dangerous ways.
To practice common sense, consider the following approaches.
1. You Cannot See The Future.
No one can. No expert, no psychic, no adamant friend or relative can. Human beings are not designed that way, and that is probably a good thing. Ursula Le Guin says it is the thing that makes life bearable–and if I examine this I can see she is right.
Years before I was born my dad Eli and his father George were at the race track. George wanted to buy a tip sheet. My dad said: if the tip sheet is right, the guy selling it would be busy betting and winning. He’d be rich today!
In today’s world, people are selling doomsday advice. No need to buy it.
2.The Simplest Explanation Is The Most Likely.
This of course is Occam’s Razor–which is such a cool idea. And you can use it right now! Here is the Oxford definition: The principle (attributed to William of Occam) that in explaining a thing no more assumptions should be made than are necessary.
Conspiracy theories are the exact opposite of this. They aren’t just elaborate, improbable, and often full of prejudice and hate. They are very very unlikely.
No need to buy these either.
3. Actions have consequences.
Not always, and not always clearly. And indeed, evil isn’t exactly punished nor good rewarded. However, common sense tells you broken plumbing will not fix itself, nor will Brownies write your novel while you are sleeping.
Human action is limited. The random quality of the universe, invisible causation, and just plain fate play their daily parts in our lives. Can you have good health habits and still get sick? Of course. Conversely, can you have terrible habits and enjoy perfect health? Not for long.
So my current goals do not include “do not get covid.” Why? I do NOT HAVE GOALS THAT I CANNOT MEET. For example, “wash my hands” is under my control. The trajectory of a pandemic is not.
For me a goal might be to plant a garden, read or write something difficult, show up consistently for friends and family, or cook a nice meal for the homeless shelter. I can do these things, set the goal, and follow through on the action items. I don’t have magical thinking goals like “be famous” or “get rich” or “live forever.” I hate to fail, and don’t want to set up for failure.
Annie Duke, world poker champion, who wrote “Thinking in Bets” says it is difficult to practice critical thinking all alone. And she is right–it’s good to have a partner–or several. Who can help you keep your mind on a rational track, avoid extreme thinking, and never believe giant reptiles in disguise rule the world?
Find that person–or people–and spend your money on a nice treat for them, not a tip sheet at the track.