Dug Campbell

Sandbox In Your Brain

No, it’s not a new track by They Might Be Giants

As always, anytime Stripe CEO Patrick Collison gives an interview, it’s worth listening in – and the recent chat on the Tim Ferriss Show is no exception.

One of the ideas that I particularly liked from the discussion was the approach towards continually testing your opinions – in effect, running a sandbox (Virtual Machine) within which you can test out different ideas that conflict with your own, without feeling that your whole identity is in some way being challenged. Indeed, that’s often the sign of an intelligent thinker: someone who can really interrogate an opposing idea.

Perhaps it’s my legal training working in the background in my own (subconscious) operating system – but I’ve always been attracted to the idea of steelmanning another’s opposing viewpoint (as opposed to constructing the straw man argument, where you simply attack the weakest possible variation of an opponent’s belief).

As I’ve mentioned before, I try (not always successfully) to go for the position of strong views, weakly held.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:-

“[my advice is]……just to not get mad and to not get offended, in that outrage and offence and anger are – they’re sometimes useful, of course. But I think they’re less useful than – well, they’re over utilized. They’re not useful as often as they are invoked. And I think for whatever reason, the ability to not take offence and to inspect and to try to understand and even try to really extrapolate from an idea or a set of ideas or a worldview without taking offence at it, that’s not something that for whatever reason is really valued in our culture but I think is actually super important.”

“As has been said, can you run an idea in emulation in your head – in computers, people talk about it running VM’s [Virtual Machines]. Take AWS [Amazon Web Services]: You upload your software, your code. They run it on their servers, but they run it in emulation and in a little sandbox to make sure that it can’t break out and affect other users’ applications.”

“And so similarly, can you run an idea and scrutinise it and inspect it and follow its consequences without it bleeding out into the rest of your brain and infecting your whole worldview?”

“And I think the ability to do that without getting angry or taking offence is really super powerful because if you can do that, you can then afford to – in a way, you can be less careful about what ideas you inspect and scrutinise. And so you can just – you can be much more far-reaching and broadly ranging.”

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