Friday, April 5, 2013

The Art of Thinking

Posted by Tara Della Rocca

Dimnet, E. (1929). The art of thinking. London: Jonathan Cape.

This is a book on thinking and reasoning. The author provides commentary on people - those who think and (what he feels is the majority) those who merely think about thinking. He gives tips for improving our thinking and advice for creating the space for thinking and using our time wisely to do so. Although this seems a self-help book (not research-based, but rather philosophical in its presentation), there are interesting quotes I chose to highlight that spoke to me in the reading of this book and may help to drive teaching of thinking (or at least my own practice of such) in the future.

On what characterises a thinker...
"First of all, and obviously, vision... the thinker is pre-eminently a man who sees where others do not...He seems to be head and shoulders above the crowd, or to be walking on the ridge-way while others trudge at the bottom. Independence is the word that describes the moral aspect of this capacity for vision. Nothing is more striking than the absence of intellectual independence in most humans: they conform in opinion, as they do in manners, and are perfectly content with repeating formulas. While they do so, the thinker calmly looks round giving full play to his mental freedom. He may agree with the consensus known as public opinion, but it will not be because it is universal opinion. Even the sacrosanct thing called plain common-sense is not enough to intimidate him into conformity."

"Indeed, the world lives on words which it goes on repeating till some thinker...makes a breach in the solid and stolid wall of conformity."

On education...
"Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves...conformity is too strongly established and it takes genius to escape from it."

On reading...
"Reading is supposed to help thinking; a man who reads simply borrows another man's thoughts, and this means a craving for thinking. A scarcity of books is understood to amount to intellectual fasting."

The author describes a 12-year-old girl he saw on the train reading a "classic" book including the fall of Julius Caesar and he describes the girl: "It seemed as if the old-fashioned but pretty and dainty little figure were trying to lose itself into that book."

"So, if you want to be vitalised into the power of thinking real thoughts, and if you want never to know one dull instant while reading, do what has been done by the best specimens of mankind since there have been books, resolutely leave out whatever is not of the best. If something in you rebels against this, you are not in the mood for reading this book, you care for no Art of Thinking, or you only want mental lozenges which I cannot produce, and so farewell. But let it not be till you have drawn up a list of the great books that possess some attractions for you, and till a few months' experience has shown you which of these give you unmixed pleasure. Those twenty or thirty volumes will be your library, that is to say, your fountain of thought, your delight,,,"

On wasting time...
Is there no time you can reclaim, not from your work, not from your exercise, not from your family or friends, but from pleasure that really does not give you much pleasure, from empty talk at the Club, from inferior plays, from doubtfully enjoyable week ends or not very profitable trips?


Do you know how to gather up fragments of time lest they perish? Do you realize the value of minutes? One of the Lamoignons had a wife who always kept him waiting a few minutes before dinner which in those days was in broad daylight, at three o'clock. After a time it occurred to him that eight or ten lines could be written during this interval, and he had paper and ink laid in a convenient place for that purpose. In time—for years are short but minutes are long—several volumes of spiritual meditations were the result. Mankind might be divided between the multitude who hate to be kept waiting because they get bored and the happy few who rather like it because it gives them time for thought. The latter lead the rest, of course.

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