The importance of documenting and sharing your ideas
Being more intentional about changes in your beliefs
As we grow, our ideas change. We update our political inclinations, philosophical stances, personal values, and understandings of how things work. The way we see the world shifts.
Sometimes this is a sudden shift, precipitated by a profound experience or insight. But it usually happens more slowly than that. It can occur so slowly that it’s imperceptible, and you only notice it after your worldview has already changed dramatically.
The point of documenting your ideas is to establish a reliable method of communication between the different versions of yourself as your views change. It’s to inspect the shifts in your ideas a little more closely, to see why you’ve been bouncing from one view to another.
My thinking about many things has changed over time:
I used to think anger is strictly bad, and now I think anger is neutral: it’s a signal generated by your brain that would be wise to listen to, but should be employed carefully.
I used to think you should set long-term goals to get to where you want, but now I think it’s more important to focus on habits, short-term plans, and doing what you enjoy today.
I used to think self-coercion is a virtuous and effective way to live, and now I think it’s generally ineffective and irrational.
I used to think that ‘knowledge’ was meaningless and we can never know anything, and now I’m convinced we can know things (and we can know more over time), though we can’t be certain of things.
I used to think the most important force driving our civilization is our economic resources, but I’m increasingly convinced the most important force is our ideas and knowledge.
I used to think morality was entirely subjective and arbitrary, but now I believe there is at least some objective element to it.1
It’s great to change your ideas over time, but it’s even better to understand how they’ve changed and why your current view is better, more nuanced, more comprehensive, or more mature than your previous view. This is really only possible if you write.
Writing an essay on your thinking helps you capture a snapshot of your worldview at a particular moment. You capture the things you believe, the arguments that are compelling to you, the feelings you have around the beliefs. You open up your worldview to observation by others and by your future self.
It’s especially helpful to actually publish your thoughts rather than just documenting them for yourself. Exposing your mental models to others requires you to be more precise—you have to go into a little more detail than you get away with when you’re just talking to yourself in your head.
Of course, this is scary because you might be wrong. Most people have the expectation that if you put something on the internet, it needs to be correct. But it’s never going to be perfectly correct. That’s the point: you put something out there, and later, you can look back and see what you were missing at the time. And in any case, almost no one is going to see your writing anyway—the very few people who do will usually be supportive and helpful.
As Karl Popper says, we may differ in the small number of things we know, but we are all alike in our infinite ignorance. One of the best ways to become a little less ignorant over time is, as strange as it sounds, to put your ignorance on full display on the internet.
When you don’t do this, it becomes surprisingly hard to actually see what has changed about your ideas, to maintain access to your old self’s view of things. And that in turn makes it harder to see what you might have wrong now. In short: it makes it harder to learn.
But who knows? This is just what I think right now. Maybe in a year I’ll look back and see what I was missing.