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Helping Young and Old Fish Learn How To Think

- “There are these two young fish swim­ming along, and they hap­pen to meet an old­er fish swim­ming the oth­er way, who nods at them and says, “Morn­ing, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then even­tu­al­ly one of them looks over at the oth­er and goes, “What the hell is water?”

- “If at this moment, you’re wor­ried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explain­ing what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The imme­di­ate point of the fish sto­ry is that…”

Keep read­ing the mas­ter­ful com­mence­ment speech giv­en by David Fos­ter Wal­lace to the 2005 grad­u­at­ing  class at Keny­on Col­lege, pub­lished in the Wall Street Jour­nal today:

David Fos­ter Wal­lace on Life and Work (WSJ).

The whole piece makes for the most beau­ti­ful med­i­ta­tion, to savor word by word. The whole arti­cle is real­ly a quote worth read­ing, but let me fea­ture this one

- “Learn­ing how to think” real­ly means 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.”

What a poet­ic intro­duc­tion to brain and cog­ni­tive fit­ness: learn­ing, think, exer­cise, con­trol, con­scious, aware, choose, pay atten­tion, con­struct mean­ing, expe­ri­ence.

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3 Responses

  1. Alvaro,

    I agree — Wallace’s essay speaks to his bril­liance and insight into the chal­lenge of learn­ing how to be human (along with the chal­lenge of know­ing how and what to say to a gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents that holds the future in its hands.)

    I think it’s worth men­tion­ing that Wal­lace starts with a cri­tique of self-cen­tered­ness as a way of enter­tain­ing how we can rig­or­ous­ly and hon­est­ly ques­tion the real­i­ty we pre­sume to be “real.” Here, Wal­lace infers the path tak­en by ancient philosophs through­out the world, which in our mod­ern times, is a path revealed by means of com­par­a­tive cul­ture stud­ies and neu­ro­science.

    Sad­ly, Wallace’s cri­tique of self-cen­tered­ness proved dead­ly in the end. One can only won­der how van­guard brain fit­ness might have afford­ed the gift­ed author more time on Plan­et Earth.

    Thanks for bring­ing his essay to the fore for dis­cus­sion.

    M. A. a.k.a. Dr. G.
    The George Green­stein Insti­tute for the Advance­ment of Somat­ic Arts and Sci­ence

  2. Hel­lo M.A.

    Thank you for your thought­ful com­ment. The aspect that impressed me the most was not the cri­tique of self-cen­tered­ness itself, but the call for aware­ness and empow­ered choice. The “ene­my”: auto­mat­ic, mind­less, thoughts, atti­tudes, habits. (True, often self-cen­tered.)

    It is cer­tain­ly sad that he didn’t find oth­er means to add val­ue to the plan­et we all inhab­it.

    When a few days ago I wrote about ways to make cog­ni­tive ther­a­py acces­si­ble to many more peo­ple who may ben­e­fit from it -who doesn’t some­times have feel­ings of anx­i­ety or depression/ sad­ness-, what I was in fact think­ing is how to help pre­vent these feel­ings from snow­balling into depres­sion, chron­ic stress, sui­cide. The research is there; the aware­ness and the prac­tice are not.

    The best trib­ute I can think of: to read, enjoy, reflect on, his incred­i­ble speech.

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