A Time for Questioning What We Know


I’ve been doing an exercise lately that has really been valuable to me, though the results are hard to measure.

Once a day, I’ve been questioning something that I know to be true or have good reason to believe to be true.

I usually give myself about 20 minutes (not to be confused with 20 Minutes of Awesome), so that I know I have at least that long to pursue the thought, but I let myself go longer if the need arises. And then I just think, ‘What if?’

What if humans are the only life in the whole universe?

What if terrorists were not responsible for the attacks on 9/11?

What if everything we’ve been taught in science class is wrong?

What if some other economic strategy is better than meritocracy in the market?

What if I’m not doing what I should be doing with my life? What if the path I’m walking is the wrong one?

What if the life I experience is just a dream? Or a simulation? Or game someone else is playing?

What if what if what if?

Answering these questions won’t necessarily change your mind about anything, and that’s not really the point, either.

The point is to put yourself outside of yourself temporarily. What we know is the summation of our personal experiences (including our educational background) and it’s a rare thing that we find ourselves thinking from outside of that.

Remember, there’s no goal except to exercise your ‘what if?’ brain muscles.

Try it for a week and let me know what you think.

Or rather, let me know what you would think if it wasn’t you thinking.


  1. I big question that I like to ask myself (rather, a question I wish I asked myself more) is:
    What what I do if I know I could not fail?

    Think about it for a bit.
    It’s pretty insane! :]

  2. Interesting post. Ultimately, all final agreements as to the truth of a matter rests within each of us. If we are attuned to our true self, we will know, through a notion of agreement, the truth of a matter. Certainly, it’s a good exercise to gather information from varied sources on any given subject, but we’ll find that 5 inputs will yield 5 info-products. To put our thinking “outside” of ourselves, yet to only return to the inner, seems the norm.

  3. I’ll write back in a week, but here are some awesome “what ifs” to consider:

    What if life were actually really easy?

    What if doubt didn’t exist?

    What if the thoughts in my head aren’t real?

    I’ll take this up as a habit and see how it does.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Oh – and how’s Iceland?

  4. What if our economic, capitalist, democratic system is just another form of slavery? How will people look at it in 2000 years?

  5. I like your set of questions – they hint at a set of principles and a philosophy with which I find myself very much aligned right now.

    I realise, of course, that that is not the point of the exercise, but nevertheless… ;-)

  6. I like how your photo appears to have ‘God’ written in it. I would say it’s one of the most important areas to be open-minded. Many people are indifferent towards God; mostly because those who represent him have left a terrible impression. So many of us will never ask that ‘what if’ question and really seek out the God of the Bible. Just saying that… it has such a negative stigma. That’s how I always felt… but when I asked ‘what if..’ and actually read through the gospels… it changed everything. It was the catalyst that gave the rest of my life purpose and meaning.

    Jesus said… “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me.”

    What if what he said was true..?

    Just saying.. ;)

  7. I like your questions. I fairly recently asked myself “what if I’m not doing what I should be with my life? What if the path I’m taking is the wrong one?”

    That was in November, and reiterated in December and January of this year. I was doing the wrong thing, around the wrong people, and maybe even in the wrong place. And now things are different. Actually, everything is really different. In a really great way.

    Loved the TEDx talk vid!

  8. This is a great exercise because, if you do it correctly, you can even wind up strengthening your own beliefs. Questioning your beliefs causes you to look both inside of yourself and look around and research whatever it is you are thinking of. You come out the other end with a stronger belief system, which is incredibly beneficial!

  9. Asking yourself ‘what if’ is a mark of a true believer in something. I don’t think you should ever believe in something just because you always have or just because the people you know do. It’s healthy to question and it’s healthy to think critically about things.

    Personally I feel making this exercise something on your to-do list every day is a bit much. I’d prefer to do it more naturally.

    Interesting nonetheless and I look forward to hearing about your results, Colin. ^_^

  10. haha! Nice exercise in simulation and simulacrum. Very postmodern. ;) And there’s all the psuedo-intellectual bullshit I have for the day. This is why I value traveling so much. Because you can learn a lot about other perspectives by integrating in different cultures. And then you REALLY realize how you’re just a product of your own culture. And it’s really humbling. And amazing to meet more people with different cultural backgrounds… I tend to like the Europeans.

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