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lit the ancient past

Learning how not to think

If you haven't read David Fos­ter Wallace's 2005 com­mence­ment address at Keny­on, you should. It's hum­ble and real and warm, and tru­ly great. It's also very dif­fi­cult to read. After his sui­cide, it's impos­si­ble not to hear the echoes of Wallace's inter­nal con­ver­sa­tion, the dark­ness and doubt and obses­sive thoughts that he clear­ly strug­gled to get a han­dle on.

As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to stay alert and atten­tive, instead of get­ting hyp­no­tized by the con­stant mono­logue inside your own head (may be hap­pen­ing right now). Twen­ty years after my own grad­u­a­tion, I have come grad­u­al­ly to under­stand that the lib­er­al arts cliché about teach­ing you how to think is actu­al­ly short­hand for a much deep­er, more seri­ous idea: Learn­ing how to think real­ly means learn­ing how to exer­cise some con­trol over how and what you think. It means being con­scious and aware enough to choose what you pay atten­tion to and to choose how you con­struct mean­ing from expe­ri­ence. Because if you can­not exer­cise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be total­ly hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excel­lent ser­vant but a ter­ri­ble mas­ter.

It's not tech­ni­cal­ly avail­able online, but you might be able to stum­ble across it in the depths of the Inter­net archives. Thanks, Dave.

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