And this is why learning to think with the best people, and not to think with the worst, is so important. To dwell habitually with people is inevitably to adopt their way of approaching the world, which is a matter not just of ideas but also of practices.
— Alan Jacobs, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds
In high school gym class, our teacher encouraged us to run races against someone faster than ourselves in order to improve our time. It certainly worked, though I don’t know what the poor kid who was already the fastest was supposed to do to challenge himself.
The title of the book might give you the impression that Jacobs is offering tips on how to control and optimize what goes on inside your head, but really, he spends most of it talking about the structural aspects of thinking, or the environment in which thinking is done. He stresses that thinking for yourself is obviously impossible, and therefore your concern should be to make sure that those you choose to “think with” aren’t dragging you down. The entire reason for starting this particular blog, in fact, was to practice a different type of thinking, to avoid “dwelling habitually” among the bad influences of social media, to spend more time “thinking with” the greater perspective and understanding provided by books — who, thankfully, don’t complain about being paired up with a laggard like me.