Thinking is overrated

Perhaps you can figure it all out on your own, from the basics – if you live for several centuries.

Thinking for yourself is a lot more effective if you first have absorbed the foundation for higher thinking from the great lights of history.

I seem to know an unusually large number of people who say: “Don’t follow traditions, especially not religion. Think for yourself.” I don’t agree with this, even though I have a “gift” to make others think. And I myself have thought a lot too, over the course of the decades. But what I have found is that thinking (much) is not for everyone. Even when it works, it is rarely the best course of action. There are faster, easier and more fruitful ways to accomplish one’s life goals.

Confucius thought that there were three ways to wisdom: Reflection, which was the noblest. Imitation, which was the easiest. And experience, which was the bitterest.

Obviously we would be in a pinch if no one ever took the path of reflection. We would not have all these great quotes, for instance. ^_^ But in this age where we have gathered the wisdom of the ages and of the various civilizations, there is already quite a supply of this. So the path of imitation is wide open. By reading good books, for instance, we can easily receive what others have struggled hard to bring forth. There may not be a lot of wise people around in your family, workplace or neighborhood who you can imitate, although it would be nice if you could find one. But we have the memory of others through the ages, who set a high standard indeed.

If you are single and have more time than you know how to use, and have a brilliant mind, and your passions are limited and known to you, then by all means add to the pool of those who arrive at wisdom by reflection. After all, each perspective is a bit different, and none can see it and tell it just the way you do.

But if you are not such a person, it may be better to learn from others, and think only when necessary, or when you particularly enjoy it.


There are of course situations when we need to think for a bit. We may be working in a problem-solving job, for instance. Or we may find ourselves in a new situation with no recourse to handbooks. So it is not a bad thing to be able to think. But it is a waste of our life to invent the wheel over and over again.

If you hire someone, you don’t just take a random person from the street, give them tools, and say: “Think for yourself.” ¬†You hire someone who has studied the experience of others and trained under the supervision of others and can by now do a wide range of tasks without having to think about them.

The game of Go has only 5 simple rules, and you can make your work from there with pure logic. But the great Go players – and there are actually professionals doing this for a living in Asia – they have all studied the games of those who were already masters, and absorbed for themselves what others have found by hard thinking or good luck. It has taken thousands of years from the game was invented till it reached its current level of mastery. Even if you learn it as a child and live for a hundred years, you have little chance to catch up to that with just your own thinking.

Why then do you think that in the matters of your soul, of your lasting happiness and the progress of society, you will succeed by throwing away in your youth the experience of thousands of years, and the wisdom of the greatest lights of human history?

It is true that we see many religious people who are stupid and malicious. But from who have they learned? Have they learned from the wisdom of Solomon or Jesus Christ? No, they have they failed to do so, and simply imitated the equally backwards relatives and neighbors around them. Repeated studies show that benevolent atheists are more familiar with Christian scriptures than the petty-minded religious person. When religion degrades to a form of ethnicity, as it has done in much of the western world, it becomes a label rather than a vehicle for transmitting a higher form of thinking.

By all means, think. But first thing about when it is useful to think, and when it is useful to first gather the necessary basis or foundation for higher thinking. To be born into a civilization is a privilege. Throw it not away lightly, thinking that you are the greatest thinker who has ever lived. Chances are billions to one that you are wrong.


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