What Is Geek Philosophy? Part 1: The First Rule

Learn more about our unique Geek Philosophy method!

Geek Philosophy is our name for the holistic, Socratic method that our trained facilitators use to guide all of our book discussions. This series of short posts will present the ideas and techniques of Geek Philosophy, including how our discussions can help us to live thoughtful, examined lives. For an overview of the technique, take a look at this post on the blog for our young adult chapter, Grey Havens YA.

The first rule of Geek Philosophy is this:

Statements are propositions. Propositions are questions. Questions are more important to us than answers.

All of the discussions hosted by Grey Havens Group take the form of dialogues. “Dialogue” literally means through (dia) talking (logue). Our goal is for each participant to arrive at something new–an understanding or perspective–through talking but we have no wish to dictate the form that something will take. Through talking and listening in community, everyone gets something out of our discussions that is for them alone. 

Geek Philosophy is not didactic. The role of the facilitator is to suspend personal judgement in order to make room for questions. Facilitators participate in the discussion along with everyone else but do their best to identify when they are stating an opinion and give everyone equal authority to do the same. We believe that it is not possible to instruct people in creative and critical thinking but we can model and encourage these kinds of thinking. 

We believe that everyone has a philosophy of life, even if they are not always able to articulate it. This philosophy can shine through the statements we make in response to literature and popular culture. By reading these statements as propositions then helping each other to turn those propositions into questions, we reveal how much richness there is to explore in our own minds and hearts. It also encourages flexibility, rather than rigidity, in thinking. A willingness to question our assumptions and beliefs and even change them allows us to spend our lives creating a bigger, more nuanced picture of the universe.

Here is a broad example of teasing the inherent questions out of a statement. This one will be particularly familiar to Star Trek fans.

Statement/Proposition: Vulcans are logical.

Questions: Are Vulcans logical? Are all Vulcans logical all the time?  How do they achieve logic? Why do they value it? What is the evidence from the text? 

What does it mean to be logical? What is logic? How does logic work? How does it compare to/work with emotions, aesthetic sense, intuition, etc? What does it mean to be reasonable/ rational? What would the world be like if we were all always logical? Is it possible to be completely logical all the time?

You can see that just one aspect of a story can generate many questions and hours of discussion. It is okay and even desirable if some of these questions seem unanswerable. It is not the job of the Geek Philosophy facilitator to teach participants what to think, but to join with them in the process of thinking. That process is never-ending and full of endless rewards!

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In our next post, we will examine why we take our time with the texts we discuss. Live long and prosper. #BoldlyThink. 

 

 

GHG’s Guide to Civil Discourse

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If you follow this blog, you know that Grey Havens Group is a non-profit committed to the values of literacy, imagination, community and inclusion. We host thoughtful book discussions, both online and in person, for children, young adults, and adults. We work to maintain civil discourse in every forum in which we speak as a group. Each of our values plays a role in that.

Literacy is more than the ability to read; it is about our relationship to information. One can be considered literate in a number of areas. People commonly speak about cultural literacy, political literacy, even computer literacy. To be literate is to value curiosity enough to want to look thoroughly at a topic and to be willing to allow yourself to grow based on what you learn. It is both the starting point and the goal of civil discourse. We believe that there is always more to learn!

Imagination is also vital to civil discourse. Imagination is what makes it possible for us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It is where empathy comes from and, without empathy, we would not get very far in our attempts to understand each other.

Community and inclusion are complementary values. We strive to create communities around books and the imagination where everyone is able to feel safe and heard. A commitment to civil discourse is the first step in making this possible. It is a responsibility that we take very seriously. It means that we have high expectations for our members but the rewards are tremendous. Here is a basic guide to keeping conversation thoughtful and respectful.

Hate Speech: Let’s start by looking at something that we wish we did not have to examine–hate speech. Hate speech is defined as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” Just don’t do it, ever. Do not make generalized statements about any group of people. To do so denies the richness of the human experience and seriously undermines our group’s commitment to inclusion.

We do not want to remove anyone from a group but we believe that a reasonable person should be able to recognize hate speech. Using it is always grounds for removal from both online and live discussions.

Logical Fallacies: One way to keep a conversation from becoming heated and possibly hurtful is to be conscious of the ways we structure our arguments. Looking out for logical fallacies is a way to keep ourselves honest in discussion and to look more deeply at the source of our opinions. Logical fallacies include ad hominem attacks in which one attacks the person making the argument rather than the argument, itself. Other examples are stereotyping or making an argument that relies on a false generalization, and a straw man attack in which one sets up a simplified version of an argument only to knock it down. Straw man attacks typically involve characterizing a point of view in a way that robs the point of view of its complexity.

This is a good resource for learning about logical fallacies. When our young adult group, Grey Havens YA, read Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, we put together this short, fun guide to clear thinking that we call “Think Like Sherlock.” We hope it will also be of use.

Statistics: Statistics are a powerful way to communicate information. They can be very persuasive because numbers do not lie. Numbers do not necessarily tell the whole truth, however, and, precisely because they can be persuasive, we should be careful about how we use them. Fact checking and citing sources (to the extent that this is possible in a spontaneous conversation) is a basic responsibility when it comes to using statistics but it is also important to recognize the limitations of numbers. The statement that 3 out of 4 dentists recommend Trident for their patients who chew gum tells us nothing about why those dentists recommend Trident or even how that statistic was calculated. Try not to reduce a complex argument to simple math.

Identifying Perspectives: People draw different conclusions based on the same information. This is because we each have different perspectives on that information. When speaking, try to identify your perspective as one of many possible perspectives. Speak only from your perspective but welcome the perspectives of others.

When we are interpreting information, we use our perspectives, including our experience and empathy, to determine a philosophical stance. This process takes place whether or not we are consciously aware of it. Try to be aware of your own philosophical stance and to state it clearly along with the information offered in support of that stance. Do you have a strong belief about what prompts dentists to recommend Trident? Express it as a proposition rather than as a fact and invite others to do the same.

Sometimes, we surprise even ourselves when we attempt to articulate a philosophy. It can be enlightening to examine what you really believe and why. This website offers tools, such as the political bias test that compares political knowledge with political bias, to help you examine your beliefs. Our willingness to examine our own beliefs encourages others to examine theirs.

Every week in live discussions and every day in our online communities, Grey Havens Group members demonstrate their ability to think critically and conduct civil discussions. The process is never perfect but, because we are committed to creating an inclusive community, it is vital that we never stop trying. Thank you for sticking with us on this adventure.