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What I’m Reading – The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet

I don’t read as much as I used to, but I still usually have about a dozen books going at a time – they just don’t turn as frequently as they used to. It occurred to me that not only might it be useful to my readers to share what I am reading and any insights gained from particular books or authors – but it will probably be useful to me as well. Now that I don’t have Facebook to remind me “We care about you and what you share, this is what you shared on this day..blah blah blah” it makes sense to share more of the things I learn and think about here – which is what I’ve been doing more of lately.

Last week I picked up The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet – I really enjoyed this book! It is a small volume packed with insights that pretty clearly define the problems of our world – and it was written in 1928 – when the problems were far less severe than they are today. Take this quote from Chapter 6 which is titled ‘Thought Weakened by Life’

Over against the calmness, security and concentration of the life of a Spinoza, set the existence of the people we know. They speak of themselves, rich or poor, as driven slaves, drudges, who “cannot call their souls their own.”

Dimnet, an educator and priest goes on in this section to describe how the life has been sucked out of us, both rich and poor – and to his credit he smashes the ridiculous myth that rich people have more cares than the poor by pointing out that golden cross large enough to be crucified upon can be melted and sold to solve the woes of many.

This little book provides a wealth of information about how to use your brain more effectively for what it was made for – thinking – and how to escape the many irrelevant detours that ‘modern’ human existence have blocked our path to thinking with.

Dimnet defines genius as ‘primarily power resulting in ease’ especially in regards to thinking. He advocates not spending time on the objects which require the greatest amount of study, but instead to focus on those that we handle with a combination of the greatest ease and the greatest enjoyment. Genius lies in doing what one loves to do and would not be willing to forego – and as an example, he points to Newton, who for seventeen years worked ceaselessly to develop what we call Newtonian Physics – not work, but a labor of love and obsession. An enjoyment.

Granted, there is a near-hatred and disdain for those who read pulp novels – and today, no doubt he would enlarge that to include trash-tv, tabloid news, Facebook, most of the internet and more. In the first part of the book, he tackles the obstacles to thought and this passage struck me “…our mind is peopled with more incipient obsessions than ideas, and their presence is largely the cause of our impotence.”

Here are a few more notable insights from the book – in Greek the words ‘to see’ and ‘to know’ are one and the same. The word ponder actually means ‘to weigh’, logic and speech are the same word as are idea and image! Which allows Dimnet to bring the reader to the realization that thinking is actually a process of watching an inward cinema – or every cinema in a multi-plex at the same time. Our brains do not ‘think’ in sentences, the sentences are similar to the five minutes it takes to explain a 30 second scene that someone else missed and all that you miss while you do so (which, along with the multi-plex, is my analogy, not Dimnet’s).

It would be a better world if everyone in it could take a week off to read this book and learn to think. On a personal note, Dimnet clarified something which I have long wondered about – he provided me with the reason why I arrive to appointments far too early, get to the airport early, enjoy long train rides, and generally don’t mind being made to wait – this is time that belongs completely and totally to myself. I am expected to be where I am (the waiting room, the airport lounge, the train) and there is no expectation that I should be somewhere else or doing something else. This is thought time. It is the time that my brain is allowed to fully engage with books, thoughts, images, ideas, or just to exist. Just to clarify, I hate waiting in lines, but once I am through the lines and seated somewhere, a stranger, alone and waiting, that is my paradise time. It turns out that I love purgatory.

I should note that at times Dimnet (who was American but had immigrated from France) places French culture upon a pedestal – often for what I would call the wrong reasons – and on a more disturbing note, he seems to have a great admiration for Benito Mussolini – but since the book was written in 1928 before the onset of WWII, I think that history will forgive him for misunderstanding a fascist monster.

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