12. The Tools You Use Change the Way You Think

This essay is part of my 42 Deep Thoughts project.

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

This applies to much more than you may think.

The greatest minds throughout history have tried to understand how the world works. All the creation stories try to explain, and give an understanding about, the world.

The Presocratic philosophers had ideas about this too, from Thales declaring that the first cause was water, to Anaximander who held that air was the basic principle of the world.

It wasn’t until the scientific revolution, during the 16th and 17th centuries, that we were able to gain the mastery of the world around us that we take for granted today.

We’ve seen back to the first galaxies almost to the beginning of time. We’ve broken down atoms to understand their smallest pieces. We’ve built flying machines. We’ve sent people to the moon, and robots to other planets, and beyond our solar system.

Before the use of the scientific method, ideas about how the world worked were thought about, but not verified. It was through observing, asking questions, and seeking answers through tests and experiments that we transformed our understanding, and mastery, of the world.

Because of these values we developed more and more precise tools, without which we could not create the technology of today.

When al-Khwarizmi, then Fibonacci, wrote about the Indo-numeric and decimal system, bringing it to Europe, a doorway opened up to the development of advanced mathematics, starting with algebra then calculus, and beyond.

Imagine trying to solve calculus equations with roman numerals. The innovation of structuring numbers in that way opened up a new way to see how numbers can work.

The language we speak, the ideas we ingest, the tools we learn to use, all change the way we think.

I have worked with several programming languages, most of which make different tasks easier. These improvements mean that I can focus on larger problems.

I have studied several spoken languages. Each one is structured differently. Each one gives me a window into the world a little, and sometimes a lot, differently.

There are other thought frameworks, like the scientific method, that structure how we see the world. Some with more success than others. Some have interesting ideas, most also have giant holes.

Both Capitalism and Marxism have powerful ideas, both have flaws. They are not equal, nor should either be taken wholeheartedly, hook line and sinker.

Many religions teach beautiful ideas. Sometimes those same religions were responsible for wars and carnage, in the name of those very ideas.

Social ideas, like identity, race, and nationalism all explain truths about the world, and have a lot of power to them. There is a reason why people adhere to them, as they do to religion. These ideas also force us to see the world through a very specific lens; they form and inform the way we think.

No one framework can give us a complete picture of the world. Each one can be a facet of this incredible jewel we share.

What all this means is that we should be critical of, and reassess from time to time, the frameworks, and tools we use.

We should think about how we think, and not take the assumptions our tools make for granted.

I’ve had to rebuild an entire project because the assumptions the development framework I was using were intended for drastically different uses. It was a painful lesson to learn.

When people disagree with us we should take into consideration this understanding of how tools and frameworks shape us. They likely have a very different set of tools through which they see the world. They don’t have all the tools you do, nor do you have all the tools that they do.

When we disagree with people we may agree with more than we think — most people have a basic understanding of fairness. However, the frameworks through which we see the problem, and thus the solution, could be very different.

Tools are wonderful. Learning to use the right tool for the right job is a shortcut. Without tools we wouldn’t have civilization at all.

Frameworks through which we see the world have brought up empires, and revolutions. They’ve also destroyed entire civilizations.