How Common is Common Sense?

It’s a chilly evening. The only sound on the street comes from the flurries of snow pelting against the ground. You’ve just finished studying at the library and are making the arduous trek home when you spot a Starbucks. You fish out your wallet because surely some sugary goodness could lift your spirits, but you hesitate because you realize that you can’t afford to randomly splurge if you want to meet your monthly budget.

Do you keep walking or do you buy yourself the drink? Is there a right way to weigh risk and reward? Is it fair to say that one choice makes sense and the other one doesn’t?

Common sense is defined as “good sense and sound judgment in practical matters.” I googled it so that makes me the expert.

But as I dug deeper, I started to realize that nothing in that statement came close to actually saying something of value. And that’s when it hit me: the definition of common sense is nonsense.

There’s nothing “common” about sense.  Let’s just all admit that we’re headless chickens aimlessly navigating the vast landscape of the unknown. Okay? Okay.

The way I see it, sense is a feeling. It’s an intuition you develop for yourself, based on your own experiences. It’s not a good way to generalize logic and it’s definitely not something that should be weaponized as a threshold for intelligence.

So why is the phrase “common sense” thrown around so much? It’s simple. Common sense is our way of trying to develop patterns from experiences and derive an optimal solution to avoid a crisis. Common sense is how we understand nonsense, but our lives are so different that this “logic” becomes undecipherable.

Consider this: a baby wants food, so they cry. They get fed after crying, and so they recognize tears as a legitimate way to fulfil their goal. This is common sense to them. Another baby tries the same technique and doesn’t get fed. What happens then? They develop a completely different understanding of what to do in the same situation.

Maybe you could argue that there’s some unspoken code of conduct that tells us not to walk into moving cars or prance around naked in the dead of winter, but it all really comes down to your personal goals and motivations. Every decision is made to get a desired result. Just because two people choose to do the same thing doesn’t mean they have a shared understanding of why it makes sense.

Common sense is not just uncommon, it doesn’t exist.