Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Socratic Method

I’ve learned that the Socratic method for seeking wisdom is the most effective route to discovering unique insights that transcend standard reflection, introspection or contemplation. The Socratic method is simply the discipline of obtaining “answers” through continual questioning that can last for days, months or even years. The resulting insights are not a rationalization of a preconceived theory or opinion. Instead, the “wisdom” results from having the discipline and courage to keep asking questions, even when the subject matter seems too difficult or fearful to ponder.


To reach a conclusion, the same question may have to be contemplated over and over again until an answer, theory or revelation appears. After months of asking a question, a perplexing issue that at first seemed to linger without conclusion is suddenly illuminated in a single moment and the “answer” instantly appears as a concise, clear and simple thought. The seeker is left only with confusion about why the answer to the question seemed so difficult in the first place. Every person has the potential to open the “door” that leads to an answer that seems to be revolutionary.


The information is available to anyone who chooses to seek it. Our psychological barriers may make it difficult for the information to become clear but if we refuse to give power to our defense mechanisms, we may be able to access knowledge or wisdom that seems to appear magically. Spiritual thinkers and writers have experienced this process since the beginning of time. The thoughts appear to be coming from a source that is separate from themselves and when these revelations are discovered and written down, it feels like they are taking “dictation” rather than writing down their own thoughts.


These magical insights become realized if we can simply let go of the fear of the unknown and if we are able to subordinate our own egos, desires and many of the preconceived notions that have been ingrained in our belief systems through education, religion, society, conformity, parental influences and peer pressure. This process is similar to meditation – from nothing comes everything. When the mind is silent, unique insights and revelations appear.


The Socratic method also teaches us that a revolutionary answer may not be the ultimate discovery. Instead, it may just be a transitional answer that leads to another question that draws us closer to the “truth.” In other words, the Socratic method leads to insight as each piece of the puzzle starts to fit. One “answer” may appear when we think we know what the image will look like. However, finding the ultimate “truth” is similar to the act of placing the last piece into the puzzle. The resulting image can finally be seen with every detail, nuance and variation in place. The image that was scattered in thousands of pieces comes together as a complete picture that unites all the disparate thoughts into one clear and precise conclusion. Placing the last piece into the puzzle may be easy. Yet it is very difficult to place the other 999 pieces together so that this concise conclusion materializes. In other words, this “instant” revelation is not an answer that immediately becomes clear. Instead, it is merely the ending of a very long process of discovery.

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The Socratic method is a negative method of hypothesis elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by steadily identifying and eliminating those that lead to contradictions. The Socratic method searches for general, commonly held truths that shape opinion, and scrutinizes them to determine their consistency with other beliefs.

Socratic method

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