Inner Space
Hi, I’m Diana Demco and this is the Inner Space newsletter about my reflections on living an examined life. If you're new, you can find old editions here. You're getting this email because you signed up on my website. If you'd like to unsubscribe, click here.
Today I want to explore one of my guiding principles in life, which is living life as a question. In recent years, I've come to appreciate the flavors of thought it exposes me to. This is a practice that embodies more than skepticism or an insufferable penchant to remain unconvinced even in the light of the most robust evidence.

When going about your day, the volume of information you're exposed to is astonishing. I'm not only talking about the surface-level aspects - such as the ads around the city or the way people dress - but also the finer, sometimes hidden details that nevertheless impact our existence: people's faith in a higher power (or lack thereof), the layout of your city, or the attitude of people towards women's rights, to name just a few.

Perhaps you have very strong opinions about all the matters exemplified above. That's alright. The act of questioning isn't asking you to abandon your convictions, but to put them under the microscope and examine them closely, to start asking questions, with an curious mind, as a child would.

Probably one of the most annoying answer we can get to a question is "it depends." The murky waters of "it depends" or the gray areas of most of our knowledge leave us on shaky ground. But the uncomfortable truth is that most of the things we take for granted can actually be found in that subtle area inhabited by nuance, between shadows of "pretty sure that's correct" and "we need more data."

One of the most powerful practices we can employ, that will hopefully grow into a habit, is to embrace the unknown, but more importantly, to question the known. With so much uncertainty already in the world, it feels counter intuitive to welcome additional ambiguity in our lives. But I believe if we're deliberate about how we direct our questioning, we will access a new dimension of life.

Being unsure brings with it feelings of frustration and doubt. That's natural. Humanity has survived and developed by building on pre-existing knowledge and adding new bricks of progress to our civilization, one discovery at a time. However, that knowledge first beings with a question, one that's rooted in uncertainty. Or, more accurately, with a thought experiment.

In the early part of the 20th century, scientists still used Newton's mechanics at the benchmark for how the universe works. But a young German physicist shook up the consensus by daring to question the nature of space and time. He proved that the speed of light was a constant for all observers, and that time is relative, based on the object's motion. That person was of course, Albert Einstein. Through his famous thought experiments, he could envision a world that went against the accepted paradigm.

Or take Sigmund Freud, who revolutionized the field of psychology by literally going deeper. He ventured to explore a wild forest no one had set foot in before: the unconscious. Before Freud, psychologists dealt mainly with observable behaviors when studying people. The Austrian thinker, however, wondered about the unseen qualities of our mind that influence our actions more than we could imagine: thoughts, feelings, desires, all lurking in the depths of our consciousness. As you may already know, his pioneering work contributed to the development of psychoanalysis.

And there are countless more stories like these. What I'm trying to illustrate with these examples is the importance of not taking anything for granted. Your questioning practice probably won't revolutionize a whole scientific field, but it might make you consider a new perspective or broaden your understanding.

Here are some places where you can start to direct your questioning.
  • our identity and place in the world
  • our self-image and beliefs about how 'we operate'
  • the different customs and practices of our culture
  • political and social systems
  • the truth of our convictions around morality
Here's what the practice of questioning can look like in your daily life:
  • don't treat your beliefs as static, but instead be open to having them challenged
  • refrain from concluding that you've reached the "ultimate truth" in any matter
  • call into question even your most beloved beliefs
  • practice asking "what if this isn't the only way?," "what invisible assumptions do I bring to the table in this matter?" or "how would this look if it were different?"
  • take inspiration from the greats of history (like Socrates, David Hume or Richard Feynman) and probe into the most clear-cut subjects: you may be surprised what you discover
I can only hope you will consider my proposal and start embodying, in little steps at first, but greater over time, the spirit of living life as a question.

Timeless Content

An Instruction Manual for Yourself
Chris Guillebeau | 2 minute read
You've probably amassed enough data about yourself that you know exactly that gets you motivated, the best way to start your week or how you can tame your public speaking fears. Author Chris Guillebeau suggests you should use that information to compile an "instruction manual" for yourself. Think of it as the resource you turn to when you're in a rut or when life gets overwhelming and you feel lost and disoriented. I've been in those situations myself and I could have used some expert advice - namely, from me.

Picture of the Week

Still life by investor and essayist Paul Graham
Source: Paul Graham

Quote I'm Reflecting On

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman on not having an answer:

I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here. I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.

Source: YouTube

Question For You To Ponder

Is there anything that should never be questioned? Why?
Thank you for reading.

Until next time,
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