Common Sense

I only wish it were not so common. That probably disappoints a lot of you, maybe even makes you wonder if I am being satirical.

Most assuredly, I am not. Plus, this is my second rodeo on common sense. I am not as certain that people will take it any more seriously, but I do hope that they'll.  It may be written rather flippantly, but I am completely serious.



Common sense usually serves as a proxy for obvious solutions to easy problems. Which then prompts people to recommend commonsense solutions to all problems. Consider some that you might have heard:

  • "If only we had some common-sense gun laws, we would not have these mass shootings."
  • "Our healthcare system is far too complicated. What we need is to replace it with some common-sense solutions."
  • "People losing their retirement savings in the financial crisis was sad. If only these investors had exercised some common sense and not bought houses they could not afford!"
  • "You do not need a Ph. D. to fix the country's problems. Good old common sense would be far cheaper, and will actually work"

Have you ever wondered what any of the solutions entailed? To me, when I hear the words "common sense" in lieu of details, it is an indication that the speaker has no solution, but figures that it is easy to find one if we simply chose things we easily understand, instead of wasting time entertaining any complexity. After all, it is common sense that we do not do things that we do not understand, right?

We prefer simplicity. Because we understand simple things. Therefore, we do not need to understand anything more complex. After all, we may be making a simple thing too complex. So, keeping things simple is just good old-fashioned common sense.

With that insight firmly ensconced in our frontal lobe, allow me to dispense some really cool common sense. And unlike most other offers, this one will make you money in the stock market. Guaranteed.

"Buy low, sell high."


Hard to argue with that gem, is it not? After all, if you do exactly what I told you, you'll make money. But hang on, am I trivializing what common sense really means? Let's go to the source, the old reliable dictionary:
com·mon sense
ˌkämən ˈsens/Submit
noun
good sense and sound judgment in practical matters.
Does that help? It basically defines common sense as good sense and sound judgment. Maybe we need a different dictionary. Surely, Webster's is better. It cites the following:
sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts
Even has a couple of examples:

She's very smart but doesn't have a lot of common sense. Rely on common sense for personal safety

So, any idea on what common sense is, and how to use common sense to solve an intractable problem or two? Are there any problems that actually get solved by common sense? How common is common sense, really?

Before I swear you in and waterboard you to get the answers, think about these things:
Most people would agree that common sense is not used as often as it should be. If that is so, why call it common?

If common sense is so useful, why not solve all problems using it? How would you solve the six-sided Rubik's cube? Would the common-sense solution not be "Solve one side. Then, without disturbing what you have, solve another, and another, and so on." But wait, that cannot be done, so we need to use more common sense. "Solve one side. Then, solve another, and you are allowed to disturb the first, just as long as both sides are solved at the end. Repeat until you get all six."

It is hot (even on The Coast), and your air conditioner is broken. Common sense tells you that the refrigerator is cold, and if you just sealed up the room, and opened its door, the room will start to cool down. Or will it? Certainly, common sense does not tell you that it'll heat up the room, does it?[1]

So, is common sense anything more than knowledge humanity has acquired over the ages and that which can be expressed trivially? At one point, it was common sense that the sun orbited around the earth. Then Copernicus happened. Galileo disagreed with the man in the funny hat. A couple of centuries later, BOOM, it was common sense that the earth orbits around the sun.

[Common sense should tell you that such only proved that science is always wrong.]

But can any of us show this to be the case by just using common sense? Go ahead, try that thought experiment, how will you demonstrate that the earth revolves around the sun, and not the other way around. One catch: you are not to use anything but common sense.

And it better be common.

It is rare that I recommend books to people because people are the worst because then I get asked annoying questions. But—here comes a rare exception—I would wholeheartedly recommend: Everything Is Obvious: How Common Sense Fails Us by Duncan J. Watts

It may make you think of why the Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world. Or how marketing folks sell to you. And how you can persuade other people to buy what you are selling.

Common sense dictates that at least one person will mention another book, by Thomas Paine perhaps, in the comments. Or maybe, reading the preceding sentence, they'll refrain from doing so while cursing me out. Calling me a hoople [2], even.


Okay, enough about the bold and the beautiful, what do you think of common sense?
_
[1] The room will heat up. It may or may not be common sense, but it is an established fact of thermodynamics. Sealing a room means that you are not allowing heat to enter in or escape from the room. But the refrigerator is drawing electrical energy, and cooling the inside of the refrigerator while expelling the heat into the room. And since energy is being added to the room, it will heat up.

[2] No fucking clue what that means, but I was called that in a cerebral battle of wits one day on an old Disqus channel. I took it as a personal affront and sulked all day.

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