What Does It Mean to Think Well?

Why we must stop obsessing about perfection and embrace being wrong

Tom Chatfield

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What does it mean to change your mind? If we’re talking about something that truly matters to you, being wrong is a kind of moral shock, a realignment of personality and purpose. It’s a kind of life experience akin to other great shocks. Some of us are one kind of person before we have children and another kind of person afterward — not all at once, not overnight, but as our experience of parenthood seeps into old assumptions and alters them. Similarly, a realignment of reasoning is never brought about by reason alone. It requires us to admit not only that someone else’s stance is reasonable, but also that those reasons have a claim upon us — that we are willing to be changed by them.

Another way of looking at this is to consider the truism that if you were me, you would believe what I believe. If it’s true of us and others, it must also be true of our own past and present. Whoever you were when you believed something that you now disagree with — or when you felt something that you no longer feel — the old you is now lost to time. And it’s in our relationship with these past selves that I think we can find a model for thinking more usefully about thinking.

How do you feel toward your past? If you’re like me, I imagine you feel a mixture of sympathy, pride, anger, and bewilderment. You may now have a greater understanding of why you did many things than you had at the time, or at least you may believe that you do. But because you remember how it felt to be you and why you felt the need to do the things you did, you probably also know the futility of most of the advice you might wish to send backwards in time.

The lesson I take from this is that empathy is a more useful starting point than judgement.

This doesn’t mean dissolving all discussion into relativism. Rather, it means seeking common ground in lived experience — and tracing the limitations of our self-perceptions.

Transforming the World into Questions

Human beings don’t deal in neutral information. We exist inside our own minds and theories, glimpsing our shared…

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Tom Chatfield

Author, tech philosopher. Critical thinking textbooks, tech thrillers, explorations of what it means to use tech well http://tomchatfield.net