How to Think

How to Think, by Alan Jacobs

 I'm going to make a judgement here, and that is that every college student and adult ought to read this book.  It's short and painless, so entirely doable!  I heard about this, by the way, from a favorite podcast I didn't mention before (because it's not literary), No Dumb Questions with Destin and Matt.  Destin does the Smarter Every Day channel on Youtube, and all of us are big fans.  Matt is a smart dude too, and they just talk and it's hugely entertaining.  They have kind of a book club, and they discussed this one a while ago.  I'm not current on their podcast, so I have yet to read a book along with them.  Anyway...

Alan Jacobs teaches at a college, and he wants us all to learn to think a bit better -- especially on Twitter.  Really thinking is not easy; it's uncomfortable, and kind of hard work, so our brains don't like to do it.  So in short chapters, Jacobs tackles various aspects of thinking well.

One of his first points was kind of unusual; he observes that it's not really possible to 'think for yourself.'  Usually, what we mean by 'thinking for ourselves' actually means thinking with different people, changing our thoughts to be more in line with some other group.  Thinking is a social activity and does not occur in a vacuum -- you have to interact with other thoughts.

Jacobs' big thesis, though, is the paramount importance of ingroups, outgroups, and the Inner Ring -- and of learning to deal with our instincts for othering.  We all have what he calls 'repugnant cultural others' -- people whose beliefs are so different that it's very easy to think of them as Other, and pretty soon as not human.  Learning to think involves exercising patience and understanding of that other, because unless you can truly understand those you disagree with, you won't be able to communicate, persuade, or be persuaded.

It's a great little book, full of interesting stories and examples.  I highly recommend it as a quick education in thinking, plus it will make you feel pretty uncomfortable every so often, which is all to the good. 


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