February 20, 2023
min read

6 Thought Experiments To Trip Yourself Out

Or just “think outside the box”…

Most of us have grown pretty accustomed to the world we live in, our houses, our cities, the bed we sleep in, and the food we eat. We go through most of our life on semi-automatic. That’s a good thing. Imagine being scared shitless every morning when you saw a furry four-legged creature in your room. We wake up each morning expecting the world to be the way it was yesterday and the day before that and is usually is.

It’s only when we travel or something out of the ordinary happens that we take a closer look at our world. I was born and raised in a suburb near Toronto all my life (literally never even moved houses). Most of the people I grew up were the same. My boyfriend grew up in Hong Kong and while he’s completely immersed in Canadian culture, every once in a while he asks me something that makes me rethink the world I’ve grown up in. He’ll ask what some slang means or why I do something the way I do. We’ll compare our childhoods or cultural norms we rarely think much about, like how we tip or take public transportation. Every time he asks one of these questions, it changes the way I look at the world I’ve grown up in. The same thing happens when we travel. When we see how other cultures and societies work we, paradoxically, start seeing our own world differently.

These experiences let us see our world and our own lives with fresh eyes and an open mind. It lets us think outside the box because it removes the box completely. We start seeing holes we can fill in our own societies or things we could do differently. At the very least, these experiences are entertaining. They help us live deeper and fuller lives when we’re more conscious of the world around us.

That’s why it’s gotten me thinking about how we can create these experiences instead of simply stumbling upon them (or leaving the country). The six thought experiments were a product of my search for the answer.

The “If-Then”

In computer programming, “if-then” statements are called conditional statements. They allow the programmer to tell the computer what to do in every situation. If the user types in their username and password correctly, then let them into Facebook. Essentially, “if-then” statements give the computer (and the programmer), a predictable path of events. “If-Then” statements hold our world together. We assume that if we do a certain thing, something else will happen. If we go grab a coffee at Starbucks, then the cashier will ask us to pay. If we flick the switch, then we’ll be able to see. It’s only when we’re given our coffee on the house, or there’s a power outage that we snap out of our the chain of “if-then” statements. It’s interesting to examine these “if-then” statements that hold our life together.

Interesting Thought Experiment Challenge:

Write down all the “if-then” statements, big and small, that make up your day. What things do you take as a given? Do these “if-then” statements make sense or are they just out of habit?

The “What if?”

In the little box we live in, we’re constrained by certain forces, whether it’s social and cultural, or physical. Sometimes these constraints are real, but often they just exist in our mind. Especially now, when we see new technology and discoveries coming out daily that seemingly shatter the constraints we thought were real. It’s why amateurs can sometimes make the biggest impact in a field… because they have no idea what the “constraints” are supposed to be. At every point in history, people thought they had achieved all that was achievable… until someone came along and broke those barriers. So what if all those constraints didn’t exist?

Interesting Thought Experiment Challenge:

Become a child again, back when you didn’t understand basic physics or cultural norms. What if we didn’t have to go to school? What would society look like? Or what if gravity turned on and off throughout the day? How would our society be designed instead?

The “Foreigner”

If you’re anything like me, you’re completely accustomed to the culture you’ve grown up or lived in your whole life. That’s why so many people see the benefits of travelling. When you go out and see how others live and how other cultures work, you see your own world differently. But you don’t have to travel to try it for yourself, it just takes a bit of imagination. One of my friends said he always found it weird that we wiped our butts with toilet paper after we took a poop. He thought it was kind of gross because, where he’s grown up with toilets that had a water spray attached so they could make sure their butts were truly clean. It made me realize just how many parts of our lives, even the mundane like butt wiping, were cultural practices.

Interesting Thought Experiment Challenge:

Imagine you’ve just landed in this country for the first time today. Imagine this country or city is as different as possible from where you were living before. If you’re in a city, pretend you grew up in the countryside. Take it all in. All the sounds and lights. How do people greet each other? Why are people seated at restaurants the way they are? How do people buy food or get a ride? Which parts of your culture would be truly surprising or confusing to a foreigner and why?

The “Alien”

This is taking the question before to the next level. What if you weren’t even human? What if you had no concept of roads, cars, phones, or even traffic lights? Channel your inner 8-year-old girl and think about Ariel from Little Mermaid. Remember when she found the fork and was trying to figure out what it was for? Because she didn’t know what it was for, she turned it into something else: a comb to brush her hair with. This thought experiment helps us separate the objects from their use… so we can find new ones!

Interesting Thought Experiment Challenge:

Look around at the objects around you and think about how an alien might interpret it. What might an alien think a chair was for if they’ve never seen the concept of “sitting”? Or what might they think a lightbulb is for if they could see perfectly whether it was night or day? Or take it one step further and look at our cultural practices. What might aliens think about us giving each other handshakes?

The “Scenario”

I love scenario questions as an introspection thought experiment. It helps me understand myself better when I think about what I would do improbably situations. It can also be applied on a larger scale. How would your life change in different scenarios or how would society change? Scenario questions help us see the different paths our world could have taken and how different our lives might have turned out.

Interesting Thought Experiment Challenge:

Start off with the items you use on a regular basis. Ask yourself what you would do if you couldn’t use those items anymore. Or, what if you had to start from scratch in a foreign country and the only thing you could use was your smartphone? What apps would you need to survive? Or what would happen if certain technology hadn’t been developed? What would society look like now?

The “5 Years Test”

Technology is changing at a faster pace than ever before. 2000 years ago, not much changed in 5 years. But now, even if we look back on 2012, the Windows 8 phone just came out, Snapchat just barely existed, Instacart and iMessage had just arrived. Similarly, there’s a bunch of technology or cultural references that we important 5 years ago, that we can barely remember now. Remember #Kony2012 and Call Me Maybe? Point is, whatever our lives are like today, it won’t be in 5 years.

Interesting Thought Experiment Challenge:

Look at different areas of our life and ask yourself if it will still be relevant in 5 years. Will supermarkets still exist when we have grocery delivery services? Will houses still need garages if everyone uses Uber or self-driving cars? What in your life right now, might become completely irrelevant in 5 years? It can be an object (like your phone), an action (like paying with cash), or a tradition (like New Years celebrations).

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. I think about these questions because it helps me appreciate the life I’m living right now. It makes me marvel at all the technology we have and laugh at all the stupid little parts of our culture. I hope you find them as thoroughly entertaining and insightful as I have!


Share this blog

Subscribe to my newsletter

Get the best blogs delivered straight to your inbox. No Spam. Only Quality Content

∙ Marketing ∙ Business ∙ Entrepreneurship ∙ Personal Growth ∙ Philosophy ∙ Poetry ∙ Marketing ∙ Business ∙ Entrepreneurship ∙ Personal Growth ∙ Philosophy
  ∙ Marketing ∙ Business ∙ Entrepreneurship ∙ Personal Growth ∙ Philosophy ∙ Poetry ∙ Marketing ∙ Business ∙ Entrepreneurship ∙ Personal Growth ∙ Philosophy