What Are You Thinking About?

Every week, Michael and I meet online to talk about questions for Intellectual Roundtable. These conversations always start the same way: with the question, “What are you thinking about?”

The discussions we have are wide-ranging. They might cover interesting things we have read, from online articles to non-fiction books, from novels to blogs. Sometimes we discuss thought-provoking conversations we have had with others.

The topic of our health, mental or physical, occasionally comes up. How we make the decisions about how to stay as healthy as possible, from the food we consume to our exercise routines.

We also talk about politics. We don’t spend too much time on the latest happenings in Washington D.C., but rather what we consider the ways to make life better, both for us individually but also for society in general.

Sometimes, these conversations can be distilled down to particular questions for this blog. Some of them are obvious, and make for insightful questions. But not always. Sometimes, we can’t quite get the wording right. Or the content can’t be boiled down to one sentence. Or a question just isn’t apparent.

But what we have to say is always engaging. We never run out of things to talk about, and I always end our meeting having been exposed to ideas or perspectives that I hadn’t before.

And it all comes from a simple question: What are you thinking about?

Related questions: How much of our thoughts are our own? Where do shared ideas exist? What do you think about when out for a walk? What are you reading?

Why Are Bad Words Bad?

@#$%!

We are all familiar with swear words. Whether they are taught to us by an older sibling, or a particularly mischievous kid at the playground, or you happen to overhear adults swearing, these words often fascinate us as children.

It makes sense. Children, particularly very young children, are among the most powerless members of society. They have to be fed, clothed, taken everywhere, they don’t have or make money. And yet, just by speaking a particular set of words, they can elicit a reaction from adults all around.

These words also hold some fascination, even for adults. You may or may not swear yourself, but cursing is everywhere. Certain words are bleeped on broadcast TV, sometimes with humorous effects. For example, late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel has a recurring segment called “This Week in Unnecessary Censorship“. In it, non-swear words are bleeped, with the intended effect to make seemingly innocuous speech sound dirty.

But what is it about these words that makes them bad?

$#*!

To help examine this question, let’s look at the word shit. What makes this word bad? What are the qualities that make it so offensive that it can’t be spoken in polite conversation?

Certainly it isn’t the action itself. We are all familiar with going to the bathroom — it is among those things that everybody does. There is even a children’s book called “Everybody Poops”. The concept of pooping is something that is explained to every child in every language and in every culture. It has to be, because, well, everybody poops.

So there must be a difference between the word poop and the word shit. They can’t simply be synonyms, or else why would you be able to say “poop” on broadcast TV and not be bleeped, but “shit” is censored every time?

What is the difference? Is it the context in which it is used? Is it simply that everyone agrees that it is a bad word? Would it be possible to just agree that a bad word is no longer a bad word? Why are bad words bad?

Related questions: How does your vocabulary influence how you think? Where do shared ideas exist? What do we have in common? What words have the most power?

What Is Intelligence?

Are you book smart, good at math, or a logic problem pro?  If so, you are likely labeled as intelligent.  We see people with a command of language, numbers, or puzzles as highly valued in society.

But is this definition of intelligence too limiting?  Could there be different ways to measure the capacity of a brain?

Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University, argues in his theory of multiple intelligences that there are eight different intelligences.  They are:

  • Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
  • Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  • Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
  • Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

What is intelligence?  How could society benefit from a broader view of what it means to be smart?  How would we be different?  On a personal level, how are you smart?  (Traditional intelligences are okay too.)

Related questions: How Do You Learn? How Are You Special?  When Is It Useful To Fail?