|by Flemming Funch|
A simple concept that can be useful in trying to understand people is what we could call "capaciousness".
Capaciousness is simply how much "room" somebody has for new or different ideas in their mind. Or, more precisely, it is how able one is to contain multiple, possibly conflicting, views in one's mind.
A person with a lot of capaciousness is able to listen to and consider several very different ideas at the same time, without feeling compelled to accept or reject any of them.
A person with low capaciousness is not able to do that.
A lot of people are only able to contain one idea at a time. Thus, if they already have one idea about something in their mind, and somebody comes along and gives them a completely different idea, they have to either:
1. Reject the idea, without really examining it, because they already have a view on that matter.
2. Accept the new idea and reject their old idea, again without really comparing the two, but the new idea sounds good.
In other words, such a person is incapable of putting two ideas, two views, two concepts, next to each other and comparing what the pros and cons or the truth or the usefulness of them are. The only choices are to reject it, or to accept it and reject your previous idea.
That's more common than you might think. It might sound like somebody is evaluating your proposed idea, but they're really just restating their existing idea in a few different ways. Or they're just accepting your idea because it sounds nice, and instantly forgetting what they believed previously.
If you believe that the earth is round and I come along and tell you that it is flat, and I give you some good arguments for it - are you able to contain that idea at the same time as your current belief, or do you feel compelled to reject it right away?
One of my history teachers in school did exactly such an experiment. He came into class and insisted for a whole hour that the earth was flat, and he was full of explanations and reasons for it, and drew diagrams on the blackboard, and refuted just about any argument we came up with for why it was round. That taught up a few things about how we think we know things, and about the difficulties involved in introducing new ideas in the world.
To ever be able to question or revise your own assumptions, you need more than a minimal capaciousness. You would have to be able to juggle around several assumptions and their logical corollaries at the same time, and then choose the ones that correspond best to your experience or your intentions. A person who has room for only one idea at a time can not do that.
A person who has a lot of capaciousness can live with uncertainty. He doesn't have to instantly decide one way or another. He can be quite comfortable with not knowing, while he's working on finding out.
A good scientist should have a lot of capaciousness. A fundamentalist has none.
The world is full of possibilities, and full of different approaches, different beliefs, different concepts. People who are able to contain these possibilities are invaluable in guiding us to new and better places.
People with low capaciousness might very well be skilled and effective in some specialized discipline, particularly some kind of manual labor. But electing low capaciousness people as leaders in any field is a catastrophe.
One's capaciousness can grow simply by paying attention to it. Notice what happens when people present foreign ideas to you. Notice what you do. Notice what assumptions you're operating on. Consider alternatives.