Conclusion: A Theory of Other Minds

Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 7:52 min

Malcolm delivers his parting words about the true intent of nonfiction writing.

Malcolm Gladwell
Teaches Writing
In 24 lessons, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point teaches you how to find, research, and write stories that capture big ideas.
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There's a principle in psychology called the other minds problem. And the other minds problem is the problem that a child faces when he or she first comes into the world. In the very beginning, a child assumes that the contents of their own mind is the same as the contents of everyone else's mind. If a child wants a cracker, the child assumes that his mom wants a cracker. He doesn't-- he can't make a distinction. But there's a certain point-- a crucial point in the development of a child-- when it suddenly occurs to him or her that if he wants a cracker it doesn't necessarily follow that his mom wants a cracker. That is when a child develops a theory of other minds, right, that people have minds different from his own. And it's a crucial point in development. And a lot of what a two-year-old does, when a two-year-old is being terrible, is a two-year-old is simply experimenting with this new insight. The reason the 2-year-old does something outrageous and then looks at his mother or father is that he's so delighted by the notion that his father and mother think differently than he does. It's never occurred to him, to that point. And I think that it's not just two-year-olds who are fascinated with the discovery of other minds, this marvelous, incredible insight that every single human being on the planet has something different going on inside their head. I think that we all are, and that a lot of what-- a lot of what makes us brings us pleasure. In reading or in writing or in the active engagement with all sorts of art, is a version of the other minds discovery. It is the pleasure we get in investigating the contents of someone else's mind, and being reminded, once again, how amazing it is that you don't think like me, right? So I wanted to read something that I wrote on this, as it-- as it pertains to writing, and then talk a little bit about that. Because that goes to the heart of why I do what I do, because I think very explicitly about the other minds question when I'm writing. And I'm reading this selection from the introduction to my book, "What the Dog Saw," which you should all buy in triplicate. And I start by talking about this two-year-old thing. "Why is a two-year-old terrible? Because she is systematically testing the fascinating and, to her, utterly novel notion that something that gives her pleasure might not actually give someone else pleasure. And the truth is that as adults we never lose that fascination. What is the first thing that we want to know when we meet someone who is a doctor at a social occasion? It isn't 'What do you do?' We know, sort of, what a doctor does. "Instead, we want to know what it means to be with sick people all day long. We want to know what it feels like to be a doctor, because we're quite sure that it doesn't feel at all like what it means to sit at a computer all day long, or teach school, or sell cars. Such questions are not dumb or obvious. Curiosity about the interior li...

Transform the ordinary

Ketchup. Crime. Quarterbacks. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers grasp complex ideas like behavioral economics and performance prediction. Now, the renowned storyteller and best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point is teaching his first online writing class. Craft stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

To be a better writing I must read. Practice what I do. Constructive criticism works.

Great class. I enjoy Malcolm Gladwell as he encourages us to look out the window and see the blue skies.

I have gotten so much from this class! I love this Masterclass! I've really enjoyed his examples, stories and his thoughts behind his choices. He's so enjoyable to watch and spend time with Malcolm.. a real treat that I will savour! Thank you!

Intruiging, Inspiring, and unsettling. Challenge accepted.


Omar N.

malcolm. for no other reason than being a human being who is fascinated by life. the idea, or the greatest idea, is to have a mind that asks the questions it wants to know the answer to. you seem to have gone for that pursuit. and the world has rewarded you for it; deservingly so in my humble opinion.

Suzie G.

Amazing. I loved every minute of this class. I'm sad it's over. Thank you Malcolm.

Rafa T.

Thank you very much, Malcolm, for sharing your energy and experience, I enjoyed every moment and thanks to your class today I feel closer to the writer within me.

Jennie C.

I'm sorry this is the final class.. Heartbroken in fact that the class is over. Looking at these sessions was one of the highlights of my day, and I look forward to pitching my article to a magazine. Thank you, Malcolm, for being so forthcoming and generous with your knowledge, experience, and joy! Masterclass, this is a great idea. I am still a work in progress, but I feel much more confident now that I have taken this Master of a class!

Adriaan S.

This has been a great chapter of my life. Malcolm has this way of getting excited and roped into this story he tells, that you can't help but join in his laughter and excitement! He's taught me a lot of characters and that it takes time and patience to portray them, that it's important to get it right. It has inspired me to writing beyond words, and I want to thank Malcolm for taking the time to teach me and share his own experience and amazing journalistic stories that roped me in from the beginning, from condiments to airplanes to Basketball entrepreneurs. And thank you Masterclass, for making it all possible.


I love Malcolm's attitude toward writing. "Writing is an act of service...it is also an empathetic act."

Mary H.

I loved Malcolm’s class! His teaching spoke to me on a level that’s hard to put into words right now. I want a career like his, but my own version. Malcolm’s passion and energy shines. 👏🎉

A fellow student

Gladwell is awesome! I had read all of his books before, so I know what a fantastic writer he is -- one of the few people I know who can write brilliantly, lucidly, and compellingly about anything. But he is also an engaging speaker and teacher. Thank you for this masterclass. I will probably watch it again and share it with friends.

Barb R.

This was time well spent and the exercises are a work in progress for me for many days ahead. The material is valuable, considerable and worthy of time. Thank you.

Naphtali S.

This entire class was more than I expected it to be. Thanks Malcolm. FWIW I just downloaded David and Goliath.