A Letter to Aspiring Philosphers Everywhere

I’m sorry that you feel misunderstood. I’m sorry that you’re afraid the world may never recognize your “genius.” But let me ask you:

If a philosopher has brilliant thoughts but can’t coherently express them, is he really brilliant?

There is the image of a philosopher foaming at the mouth, choking on his own brilliance, only to spit up fragments of unfinished genius. This is wrong. If you leave enough ambiguity and incoherence in your work, bad things can happen. You risk leaving the job of interpreting and mass-communicating your ideas to profit-hungry self-help gurus, lazy critics, ignorant scholars or — worst of all — opportunistic dictators.

It is your responsibility to clearly communicate your ideas to the world. If you don’t, the message of your work will fall into a game of telephone, passing through one interpretation to another. Before long, your “truth” may mutate into justification for something ugly.

If you’ve found some fragment of the truth, dust it off and polish it before presenting it to the world. Your ideas may be brilliant, but are they intelligible? Are they user-friendly? This makes the difference between a discarded lunatic and a lauded genius.

Once you uncover the rules you believe the world operates by, bend them! Da Vinci was familiar with the rules of perspective, but he broke them to create The Last Supper so the painting could fit within the constraints of its setting. Life is not a perfect, theoretical box. The world will not always bend to your ideas, however true they may be! So keep bending the light of your truth until it illuminates the world.

The religious prophets knew this — they perceived all the complexities of human nature. Instead of complaining about them — instead of whining that no one understood their genius — they started movements. Religion is technology. All the struggles that powered the deep thoughts behind your work is a sunk cost. You don’t need to present your philosophy as an overly complex, abstract, tangled mess just to prove yourself. Clarity says more.

Let me give you an example: The Buddhists possessed some deep, philosophical ideas about life. But they didn’t express all of these ideas in the form of obscure, incomprehensible texts. Instead, they invented a religion — a technology — to help fit their insights within the context of an imperfect world. And the Buddhists went even further. They refined a practical tool — meditation — to help us use their technology. Buddhist texts are filled with instructions on how to use this one tool.

The Buddhists were also scientists, experimenters. Their ideas didn’t exist inside a hypothetical vacuum. They tested their insights on themselves, practiced them against the backdrop of personal experience. How many philosophers live according to the ideas they teach?

Be responsible for the technology that you create. The men who invented god were not as responsible as they could have been. The authors of the bible did a sloppy job; they left too much ambiguity; they didn’t consider all the potential interpretations of their work. Millions of people suffered as a result.

To an aspiring philosopher, I would advise….become a philosopher, and a scientist, and a technologist. Develop your philosophy — your ideas on people, nature, art, language, life, death, everything. Keep developing them. Redesign them, iterate. Then, experiment with your ideas. Ensure that they can stand up to scientific rigor. Once you have the raw material of your genius — those intuitions which you’ve tested and redesigned — invent your technology. In other words, find a way to make your ideas accessible, clear, and livable. Find a way to embed them into the world. Don’t be selfish. Don’t hold your ideas hostage inside a purely conceptual reality. Do what it takes to embed them into the world. Stop complaining that you’re misunderstood. Instead, learn a new language — even if it’s just so you can contribute a new word.

Student @ Brown U. Author of NYTimes Bestseller ‘This is Me: Clickbait in My Bio.’