Welcome to the ultimate guide on engaging in intellectual conversations! Throughout this article, you’ll find tips and tools to help you navigate thought-provoking discussions and improve your conversation skills.
Intellectual conversations are discussions focused on stimulating ideas, exploring diverse perspectives, and critically examining various subjects to gain a deeper understanding of the world around us.
In the following chapters, we’ll dive into conversation starters, tactics to make intellectual conversations successful, and examples of how to maintain a rich and meaningful dialogue.
Table of Contents
- Intellectual conversation starters
- Intellectual conversation topics
- How to make intellectual conversation
- Examples of intellectual conversations
Intellectual conversation starters
Here’s a set of intellectual conversation starters designed to spark deep and meaningful discussions. These questions delve into personal, social, and moral topics that encourage thoughtful reflection and self-discovery. Use them to enrich your interactions with others, challenge your own perspectives, and foster genuine connections.
You can bring them up at parties or when talking with a friend. Just pick a question, ask with an open mind, and let the conversation flow.
- If you could experience life through the eyes of any historical figure for one day, who would you choose and what would you hope to learn?
- If you could give one person except yourself the superpower to read minds, who would you give it to and why?
- What is one societal norm or expectation that you would like to challenge, and why do you believe it should be reevaluated?
- If you could teleport to any place in the world for just one hour, where would you go and what would you do?
- If you were to create a piece of art that represented your innermost thoughts and emotions, what form would it take and what message would you hope to convey?
- What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence?
- If you could design an ideal society, what would it look like and how would it function?
- How do you think human beings can best achieve happiness?
- What is your perspective on the concept of free will?
- What is the meaning of life to you?
- Do you believe that humans are inherently good or evil? Why?
- What role do you think technology should play in shaping our future?
- How can we ensure that future generations will have a sustainable planet?
- Imagine you are given the opportunity to become an expert in any field instantly. Which field would you choose, and how would you use your newfound expertise?
- What are your thoughts on the concept of universal basic income?
- What do you think is the greatest challenge facing humanity today?
- If you had the ability to fully understand and communicate with any species, which would you choose and why?
- Is there such a thing as absolute truth, or is truth always subjective?
- How do you feel about the concept of privacy in the digital age?
- Imagine you had the chance to create your own utopia. What unique elements would you include to foster a harmonious and fulfilling society?
- What is your opinion on the existence of extraterrestrial life in the universe?
- How do you think society should approach the topic of mental health?
- What do you think of genetic engineering and designer babies?
- What are your thoughts on the idea of a post-work society?
- Do you think it is possible for humans to achieve world peace? If so, how?
- What role should governments play in addressing income inequality?
- How can we balance the need for economic growth with environmental sustainability?
- What are your thoughts on the future of education?
- What impact do you think social media have had on our society and culture?
- Do you believe that there is a universal moral code, or are morals relative to culture and context?
Intellectual conversation topics
Use these topics as starting points for enriching conversations with friends or in group discussions. As you explore these topics, remember that engaging in intellectual discussions is not only about sharing your opinions but also about listening and learning from others. Be open to new ideas, ask thoughtful questions, and challenge your own beliefs in pursuit of personal growth and greater empathy.
- Philosophical takes on everyday events
- Discussions about historic events
- Political analysis
- Mental health and the role of social media
- Power dynamics in relationships and society
- Cultural differences and their influence on identity
- Psychological analysis of others
- Astronomy and the origins of the universe
- Existentialism, such as why we are here
- The deeper meaning of everyday things
- Analyzing the news
- Predictions about the future
- What drives us brings us purpose
- Artificial Intelligence and its impact on society
- Climate change and individual responsibilities
- Privacy in the digital age
- Universal Basic Income and its potential effects
- Education and its role in personal development
How to make intellectual conversation
In this chapter, we’ll explore ways to engage in meaningful intellectual conversations that foster learning and understanding. The key is to create a comfortable environment, choose thought-provoking topics, and approach discussions with an open mind and genuine curiosity.
To make your conversations successful, ask questions, listen attentively, and seek common ground. Be respectful when challenging ideas and maintain your empathy and patience. Ultimately, the goal is to explore different perspectives, adapt your opinions, and learn from each other in a safe and judgment-free space.
1. Know that you can’t have intellectual conversations with everyone
Some people just aren’t interested in intellectual conversations. Only some of those you come across in life will be.
This guide is about how to figure out who is, and get past the shallow small talk with them so you can transition into more intellectual topics.
I’ll also talk about where to find these people in the first place.
Let’s get to it!
2. Read books and watch documentaries about intellectual topics
To be able to engage in intellectual topics, it helps to have some food for thought. Search Netflix for “critically acclaimed documentaries” or see what books resonate with you.
3. Join a philosophy group
There are plenty of philosophy groups on Meetup.com. Look the prerequisites: Often it’s just reading a chapter in a book, and at other times, there are no prerequisites and there will only be discussions about timeless subjects. Philosophy groups are great for having intellectual conversations but also for practicing your ability to have those conversations in other areas of life.
4. Mention things that interest you and see what resonates with people
How do you take a conversation from small talk to something more meaningful? During small talk, you learn what someone might be interested in. Let’s say that you talk to someone who…
- Studied history
- Works as a book editor
- Likes to read on their free-time
…you can match that with your interests. Read any author you think they might like? Any history events you are interested in?
Bring up things that you assume the person might be interested in based on their answers.
Some things stick (the person becomes engaged and talkative) or it doesn’t stick (the person doesn’t react)
In the case of the book editor, I would do the following to move toward interesting conversation:
- I would mention the book Sapiens I read a summary of the other day, and see if they’ve read it
- I would ask what books they’re reading, to see if I’ve read any of them
- I’d ask what kind of history they’re the most interested in, and see if we have an overlap of interests there
- I’d ask more about their job as a book editor to figure out what genre they’re in.
Another example. Let’s say that someone…
- Studied computer science
- Works as a programmer
- Likes to game on their free time
I don’t know how to code and I don’t game. But I can make assumptions about other things someone who’s interested in code might also be into.
Then this is what I’d do:
- I’m fascinated by predictions about the future, so I’d ask how they think technology will change the world the coming years
- I’d talk about self-driving cars and autonomous robots
- I’d see if they’re interested in the concept of the singularity.
See how you can make assumptions about what someone might be interested in, even if you DON’T have the same interests at first glance?
5. Ask the right questions to figure out what someone is interested in
Intellectual conversations start with asking the right questions.
You want to ask questions that help you figure out what someone might be interested in. When you do, you can find mutual interests to make deeper, more substantial and intellectual conversation.
It’s hard to have meaningful conversations before you’ve found your mutual interests.
Here are three universal questions to figure out mutual interests:
- What do/did you study?
- What do you do?
- How do you spend your free time?*
These questions can help you figure out what someone might be interested in. (Don’t fire these questions off in a row, but ask them when it feels natural.)
*The most powerful question here is number 3: What they do in their spare time. It represents people’s interests better than their jobs and studies, but all 3 help paint a picture.
6. Know where to find people who share your interests
Go to Meetup.com and look for groups that you are interested in. You’re more likely to meet people who like intellectual conversations at certain meetups: Philosophy groups, chess clubs, history clubs, politics clubs.
Find people that share your interests. They’re also likely to share your personality.
7. Don’t write off people too soon
Go into conversations with an open mind.
I don’t know how many friendships I’ve missed out on because I wrote the person off too soon.
Not everyone wants to make intelligent conversation. But you need to scout for similarities thoroughly before you can ever know.
I’ve been surprised many times by the amazing conversations I’ve had with people who I’d first written off. After I asked some probing questions, it turned out that we had a lot of interesting topics to talk about.
8. Dare to open up about yourself to make others do the same
Dare to share small bits and pieces about your own life and interests. Mention a movie you liked, a book you read or some event you went to. That helps people get to know you and they become more likely to start sharing about themselves.
For others to feel comfortable opening up to you about what they’re interested in, you want to share a little bit about yourself between your questions.
Many who may be viewed as being boring aren’t actually boring. They just don’t know how to open up during conversations.
9. Don’t stick to an agenda
At the beginning of this article, I talked about how to move the conversation toward more intellectual topics.
Some tricks can be needed to get past the small talk, read more here about the details of starting a conversation. At the same time, you need to be adaptable and move with the conversation.
There is no need to research an extensive topic prior to talking about it and try to stick to it. This isn’t school, and you aren’t giving a dissertation on the subject.
A conversation is something that takes place between two or more people and no single person is solely responsible for the direction it takes. If someone tries to steer it, it can feel less engaging to others.
10. Be OK with being a student
If the conversation goes somewhere that feels uncomfortable to you, ask yourself why. Often, we get uncomfortable when we end up on a topic we don’t know much about and try to steer the conversation back into what we master.
Dare to keep going. Be open with what you don’t know, and ask sincere questions to learn about it. Be OK with letting someone explain to you a topic you don’t know anything about. It’s fine to mention that you don’t know much about the topic.
Later in the conversation, you might end up talking about something you’re knowledgeable about.
11. Be on the lookout for the deeper layers of a conversation
If your conversation revolves around the take-out food you ordered after your boyfriend broke up with you, ask yourself this, why are you talking about the food?
Use critical thinking to navigate towards the heart of the matter. In this example, the heart is clearly the breakup.
From there you can share your more personal thoughts like:
- What happens to a person (you) after a breakup?
- When does it become a growing experience?
- What does it mean to be single now?
The deeper layers are often the more interesting ones.
12. Ask “go deeper”- questions
By being an active listener, you can pick up on when people say something that clearly has a deeper meaning within it, and gravitate your questions towards that topic.
Some questions that often take conversations to the next level are:
- Why do you think that is?
- How does that make you feel?
- How do you mean when you say [what they said]?
Don’t be afraid to pinpoint exactly what it was you heard in the conversation that struck you and asks the person to elaborate on it. Most of us appreciate being able to sometimes talk about ourselves. If you try to circle back to something more personal, it will often be met with a positive reaction. Gauge the reaction. If the person it switching topic, it could be that they aren’t in the mood to talk about themselves.
Read more: How to have deep and meaningful conversations.
13. Switch up facts and opinions with thoughts and feelings
The most interesting conversations tend to take place when we discuss a topic we’re interested in and share our own feelings about it. Feelings aren’t opinions. Opinions are easy to share. Feelings stem from our personal stories. That touch of personality adds layers to the facts and opinions.
For example, if you are fascinated by American politics, rather than only talking about the latest news update you could intertwine the fact, your opinion on the fact, and explain why you feel that way.
This gives your conversation partner more information to pull from and move with as your time together unfolds.
14. Explain rather than insisting
When we insist on an experience we had or the feelings we felt because of it, we are limiting the way a conversation can unfold. While it’s certainly fine to say, “The traffic today was awful. I was mad!” It is a better conversation if you explain why you were mad. For example, “I’ve had so much on my mind lately, sitting in traffic was an angering experience. I felt like I was stewing with my thoughts.”
This sentence allows the person your speaking with to ask to follow up questions. They are also going to be interested because there is a bit of you in there. We don’t want to hear about traffic any more than we have to. But when the traffic story entails emotions that are explained, it opens up for intellectual analysis.
15. Don’t only try to make intellectual conversation
Rewarding friendships aren’t about only intellectual conversations or only shallow small talk. They contain a mix. Practice both. It’s fine to make meaningless small talk at times. A few minutes later, you may have a deep conversation, and a few minutes later again, you may be joking. This ability to move between the two can make the relationship more dynamic and fulfill more of our social needs.
Examples of intellectual conversations
The following examples demonstrate how intellectual conversations can unfold using the conversation starters shown earlier. These examples aim to illustrate how differing opinions can lead to insightful discussions and new perspectives. Engaging in such conversations can help to develop critical thinking skills, enhance empathy, and deepen connections with others. Keep in mind that these are just examples, and real conversations may take various directions based on participants’ backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs.
Example 1: Discussing the Ethics of Genetic Modification
In this conversation, the two participants explore the ethical implications of genetic modification in humans, considering both the potential benefits and risks.
A: “Hey, what do you think about the ethics of genetic modification in humans?”
B: “Hmm, that’s a tough question. I think there are definitely some benefits, like preventing genetic diseases, but I also see potential issues, like the risk of creating an even bigger gap between the rich and the poor. What do you think?”
A: “I can see your concerns, but I believe that the potential benefits of genetic modification far outweigh the risks. Eliminating genetic diseases could save countless lives and reduce suffering.”
B: “That’s true, but what about the possibility of creating a new social divide? If only the wealthy can afford these genetic enhancements, it could lead to even greater inequality.”
A: “You have a point. It’s essential that we create regulations to ensure fair access to such technologies. The conversation about ethics and social implications is vital in guiding us toward responsible progress.”
Example 2: Technology’s Impact on Relationships
This conversation delves into the effects of technology on human relationships, with the two participants discussing whether technology is bringing people closer together or driving them apart, and sharing ideas for finding a balance.
A: “Do you think technology is bringing people closer together or driving them apart?”
B: “Interesting question. I think it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, technology allows us to communicate with people all around the world and stay connected with loved ones. On the other hand, I feel like people are becoming more isolated and addicted to their devices. What’s your opinion?”
A: “I see it differently. I think technology has made our lives more convenient and efficient, and it’s up to individuals to use it responsibly. If people feel isolated, it’s not necessarily because of technology, but rather their choices in using it.”
B: “That’s an interesting perspective. I do agree that personal responsibility plays a role. But I also think that technology companies have a responsibility to design products that encourage healthy use and don’t prey on our vulnerabilities. How do you think we can find a balance between technology and real-life interactions?”
A: “It’s definitely a challenge. I think a combination of personal boundaries, responsible design, and public awareness is needed to find that balance. We can all contribute by making mindful choices and supporting products that promote well-being and connection.”