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TitsMcGhee's avatar

What are some ways to ease into intellectually stimulating conversation?

Asked by TitsMcGhee (8252points) April 7th, 2009

I’m finding that the people I am around on a day to day basis have the same, banal conversations over and over again. What are some ways that I could bring up topics that are intellectually stimulating, but not too much to swallow at once? Moreso, how do I get people engaged in a conversation like that, rather than discussing how terrible the food is or how much we all dislike a certain professor for the umpteenth time?

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20 Answers

aviona's avatar

Smoking weed seems to help…

No but honestly, I know what you mean. It’s difficult to bring up subjects like that and get people to voice their opinion and participate. I don’t really know if there’s a formula for it, it sort has to happen. The only thing I can suggest is just bringing up something that you maybe read in the newspaper, like “Hey, did you hear about _____” if that isn’t too awkward.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I hear you, I’s a problem for a lot of us…I have found websites like this sometimes allow for such conversation more easily than other ways…but in daily life, I am lucky that my partner and I can converse in a way that is satisfying to me…

YARNLADY's avatar

At work, you could try “but what kind of attitude causes that?”, or somehow turn what they say into a philosophical discussion of the underlying causes. Best idea: rather than expecting it in your daily contacts, seek out discussions groups in the libraries, colleges, and book stores.

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t know. Intellectually stimulating and interesting conversations happen to me constantly and automatically, and I guess I haven’t thought much about how or why. I take them for granted. Even routine little elevator conversations or an exchange of hellos in the breakroom often get both lively and deep very fast.

Hmm. Perhaps I do something like this: offer a comment or perspective that is maybe not an obvious one, followed by a query intended to elicit some thought. I’ll have to try to notice.

Anyway, I think I can tell you that how you conduct your end of it can have a lot to do with it and might even control it. Most people who have the intellectual wherewithal will jump at bait on a line that pulls them up out of the ordinary.

larsalan's avatar

People like to talk about themselves and what interests them. Ergo, they will be more likely to be vivacious about topics that interest them. As for finding people that are interested in the intellectual conflicts you face; I have no idea ;)

aviona's avatar

Going off of what @larsalan said, knowing what the other people you are with are interested in helps, because they will obviously be more eager and willing to speak on those subjects.

phoenyx's avatar

I find that I have better conversations in the evening when people are less distracted by the day-to-day stuff they need to think about.

augustlan's avatar

Great question, Tits! I like Yarnlady’s ‘follow up question’ idea. Even a mundane conversation has a chance if you tease out a little more depth from it. That said, we all know someone who is about as deep as a teaspoon. Those people will just shrug and move on to the next subject. If you find yourself surrounded by this type, it may be time to expand your circle of friends.

Lupin's avatar

I know this sounds like a commercial but I’ve found that if the sentences starts with “I recently heard on NPR…” the discussions seem to rise above the Maury show level.
Here are a couple of questions for you that can only be answered in a mirror. Do you become argumentative if their opinions do not agree with yours? Can you keep your mouth closed while the other person is discussing something they consider important? Do you always have to be right? There are some people I avoid talking to because it is just too much work or they consider every setting intimate enough for a deep discussion. Sometimes I just have to get my job completed and don’t have time.
You know, just the other day heard on NPR that…

Jeruba's avatar

Excellent point, @Lupin. You have to do a periodic brain refresh or your gray cells get stale. The fresher you keep them, the better able you are to stimulate something in someone else’s mind (they may be feeling stale too).

NPR is an uncommonly good source of refreshing input. So are intelligent (not entertainment-based) newsmagazines, brainy and thoughtful publications such as Harper’s and The Atlantic, scope-stretchers like National Geographic and Smithsonian, etc. If you can’t come up with a pertinent fuse-lighting remark or observation of your own, borrow one from sources like those.

I would think an educational environment would offer far more openings for real conversations than your typical workplace or neighborhood. But somebody still has to initiate.

Sakata's avatar

I’ve found that starting off with the phrase, “Hey motherfucker!” really doesn’t help accomplish the intellectual conversation goal.

Oh, and “Dude” isn’t much of an opener either.

mattbrowne's avatar

Maybe you’d like to try to be a little thought provoking, without hurting anyone’s feelings or creating too much irritation. Some topics that are intellectually stimulating can be packaged in a way so that it piques people’s curiosity. My approach is a sort of mixed left and right brain strategy. The left brain part is the rational approach using logic and facts. The right brain part involves pictures, metaphors, symbols, associations, creativity, usual examples and so forth.

Here’s an example related to a discussion about racism: we 6.7 billion people on this earth are basically genetic clones. I’ve read somewhere that a group of 55 chimps has more genetic diversity than all of us humans together. Not being racist is a no-brainer.

I had a highly interesting real-life discussion at a party somewhere about the subject. People were curious about the 55 chimps. I also created a question which went something like that:

The cradle of mankind in Africa and skin color: All of us 6.7+ billion people have black ancestors. May this convince some racists?

It also triggered a great discussion and we looked at the issues from various angles.

Mr_M's avatar

Why do you have to “ease” into it?

gailcalled's avatar

@Tits: Why not find another group for intellectual conversation? I no longer choose to have any trivial friends. Since you are at university, there must be some students who talk about issues other than themselves.

Mention a book, a movie, a concert, an opera, a current event, a PBS show…

wundayatta's avatar

@Mr_M: Because you can’t make it happen. I’m with Jeruba on this one. I am constantly having intellectually stimulating conversations. You could say it’s because I work at an academic institution, except this was happening before I started working here.

Jeruba writes: Hmm. Perhaps I do something like this: offer a comment or perspective that is maybe not an obvious one, followed by a query intended to elicit some thought.

I think it’s the question part that is key. But here’s the thing about questions. You actually have to be genuinely interested in what you are asking about, or it won’t work. I think stimulating questions are generated out of two things: curiousity and experience. If you ask a person about their experience, eventually you will find something that you know something about, that may or may not conflict with their idea.

Like Jeruba, I read. Science Fiction, the New Yorker, The Sun. You learn so much about a wide variety of things, and it’s almost always possible to ask intelligent questions about something someone is an expert in, and they you’re off to the races.

Still, you have to want it. You have to ask. It’s easier with people who have a strong interest of their own. It helps if you hang around with students who have serious interests. More likely to find them at artist parties in third floor walkups, or at a gallery, or at a library, than in the dining hall. Although, once you’ve found a few, the dining hall can become the place to meet them. And you always have your studies to talk about. Your courses should give you a ton of things to be interested in, so long as you don’t fall prey to the idea that school is only for school, and the rest of your time is for fun.

Oh, and if you do hang out at a gallery, and you catch that short, bearded schlumpy looking guy with glasses looking at you. Be sure to go over and ask him a question. You’ll be surprised at the answer he gives. Enjoy!

Jeruba's avatar

Bravo, @daloon! I love your answer. Beautiful.

I agree that the question is important, but I’m not so sure that the key isn’t in offering that first remark. I mean, if I just walked up to you in a gallery and said “What do you think of the interplay of light and shadow in that background?” or, leaning against the wall waiting for class to begin, I asked, “Did you notice the internal contradictions in the essential arguments in today’s reading selections?” I would expect you to give me a quizzical or suspicious glance and probably move away.

But if I offer a remark first, I am exposing myself a little, giving you time to get oriented to the idea of a conversation with me about something substantial, allowing you to ponder the topic, and sparing you from being put on the spot. You also then have two conversational hooks: my remark (which you can admire, scoff at, agree or disagree with, or probe with a question) and my question, which may or may not expend on the remark. Now you have two anchor points and hence some perspective.

A reference to NPR, your reading, or your deep, deep thought (“As I was writing chapter 64 of my latest philosophical treatise the other night, I happened to come to a realization about the nature of reality”) is a good basis for the remark. The query is then a cordial invitation and not an interrogation.

wundayatta's avatar

I think you make an excellent point about making an observation first, @Jeruba. I think I was presuming the few seconds of small talk before the next step. However, I wasn’t really thinking about pick-up situations, where you are complete strangers. I’m thinking about situations where you already know of the person, or you are at the same event for the same reason, and you introduce yourself, and then start finding out about each other.

You start with easy, nonthreatening questions, but once you get to their work, you get more serious. That’s where the meat usually lies. Of course, if they hate their jobs, then it lies elsewhere, but you still can go with that, because finding out why someone hates their job yet stays there is very interesting (at least, to me). I look for things that seem out of kilter, and then try to find out what’s going on there. Part of me wants to help them, if I can, because if I can help them, they will likely feel grateful, and be nicer to me. I don’t always follow up on that bit of brownie points I earned, but even then, I feel like that niceness could cascade to others, if this person feels like being nice to someone else, and being truly interested.

Jeruba's avatar

!! I wasn’t thinking of pick-up situations either. But obviously we’re not talking about close friends here. Classmates, co-workers, fellow attendees at the same party or gathering, guests at a gallery opening, etc., all have some sort of common ground but may not actually know each other. These are potential fellow conversationalists. You have to let them know you’re hoping to go behond small talk and the customary banalities, and the comment you volunteer tells them that.

I’ve known some people for years and years on these terms and never once talked about their work. I have no idea what they do. To me that’s not the direction of interesting conversations. As you say, if you’re widely read, you may know just enough about the other person’s passionate interests to ask an intelligent question, and then you’re off and running. (And what you learn from one person can fuel the conversation with another.)

Blondesjon's avatar

Perhaps you could grease it up first with some Conversanal Eaze

amandala's avatar

Be the one to bring up intellectually stimulating topics…?

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