Something I like about Richard Dawkins

May 6, 2015

Julia describes a feature of Richard Dawkins that she likes and wishes were more common.

So I met Richard Dawkins for the first time a couple months ago, in Antwerp, Belgium. I was moderating a discussion between Richard and Lawrence Krauss, about lot of things — science and religion, basically.

I got to chat a fair amount with Richard both during the event and also the night before, and I really enjoyed talking to him. Which might not sound surprising. But I meet a lot of very smart, very well-educated, very eloquent people. And there was something relatively unique about conversation with Richard that I really appreciated.

I was was trying to put my finger on what it was, and I think I’ve pinned it down. Basically, Richard would bring up topics of conversation not because he had a a well-articulated, definitive opinion that he wanted to share about that topic, but because he thought it was interesting. And he didn’t yet know what he thought about it.

So just for example, we ended up on the topic of communication styles. And he noted, with a hint of curiosity in his voice, that it actually comes across as kind of aggressive, or confrontational when someone speaks very clearly and to the point, without adding a lot of qualifying phrases and statements around their point.

And he mused aloud, “I wonder why that is? Why would that be?” And we thought about it together.

And I think that’s very rare. Most people — even intellectually curious people — in conversation, will make points that they’ve basically already thought about, already decided how they feel about. And it’s actually quite rare for someone to introduce topics of conversation and want to just figure it out together, on the spot.

I do this sometimes. I think I I don’t do it as much as I should. And I’ve seen sometimes other people do it. But it’s rarer than I’d like it to be.

So I just wanted to highlight this really nice feature of conversation, and of thought — thinking on-the-spot, being curious in conversation, instead of trying to share your cached thoughts.

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