The Shoe Box and the Skip

 The Shoe Box and the Skip

Ideas can be held as strong or weak beliefs, and I would like to share a useful metaphor for how we relate to them.

Perhaps the very definition of an excellent idea is that it offers useful simplicity. I would like to briefly share one such thought that I hope has value to you when debating issues with your family and colleagues.

I was staying with friends recently, whilst recuperating from illness. We were discussing various events and possibilities, from the more mundane to the truly exotic:
What is the significance of the Prince Andrew interview about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein?
Do things like human clones exist? Could such technology have been developed in military “black projects”?
Is consciousness local and physical to the human body, or is there an aspect of consciousness that transcends the space and time boundaries of our mortal experience?
No matter what you think the answers to these questions are, they invoke particular beliefs. In terms of classifying those beliefs, my host offered a metaphor from his own personal philosophy:
He holds a very small “shoe box” of things he believes to be absolutely and inviolably true.
This is paired with a “skip” into which all kinds of possibilities are being held, but aren’t yet accepted as being completely true.
Together this allows him to hear what people have to say, and “accept” an idea to go into his “skip” without having to reject or discard it.
By implication there is also a “landfill” of ideas that have indeed been permanently discarded as they are unworthy of the cost of “skip hire”.

What I like about this metaphor is that it allows us to get away from a “true or false” binary perspective, and instead have some nuance about foundational beliefs, fallibility, and uncertainty. The physicality of the metaphor makes it relatable rather than abstract. It allows for a graceful acceptance of someone’s beliefs as at least having “skip value”, rather than having to reject them or overpower their arguments.

Here are some questions that this “thinking device” triggers for me:
Does there also need to be a “matchbox” containing just the famous quote from Socrates that “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”?
What is the relative size of your “certain” (shoe box) versus “possible” (skip) containers?
Is your “shoe box” the size of a “tea chest” (am I showing my age?) and overfull of certainties that might be held more lightly?
What is in your “shoe box” that ought to be in your “skip”, and vice versa? How might you know?
Do you have multiple “shoe boxes”, so are confused about what your foundational beliefs are?
Is your “skip” too empty, having taken every “challenging” idea straight to the “landfill” for disposal?
What in the “landfill” needs expensive and messy retrieval, because you were overconfident that you would never face paradigm changes or radical new perspectives?
Who knows, this might be a helpful framing device for cooling the fierce arguments of holiday period family and work gatherings!

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December light on Canary Wharf, London

Martin Geddes

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