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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.

Brought a new awareness to the pleasure and challenges of reading/writing non-fiction. There are some very insightful topics discussed that have helped me personally put into words what I have been feeling and given me room to act on it.

I just love how he tells a story. It's very interesting. He is was very helpful in how to look at your writing and how to judge an author's work.

I am not a writer but I am a reader!!! and love to know the process of how a master writer puts his thoughts and research on paper

Most of all I loved how engaging , and how much positive energy Gladwell has. While some instructors teach in a fairly structured, or linear way, I found this to be a true master class if you will, in that Gladwell doesn't attempt to cover many basics, instead focusing on the nitty-gritty details that likely escape most student's grasp.


Birgit U.

Thank you for your insights, which are extremely helpful as very 360 degrees. Particularly liked the very last lesson, which I watched twice, like a few others, to not miss a beat. Learned a lot. Best wishes from Munich, Germany.

Kinya P.

Malcolm Gladwell offered me the opportunity to think outside myself. Barbara Pollard


Malcolm! Thank you for taking the time to compose these thoughts and share them with us. It was immensely helpful to ponder the insights you shared, and even helped me in the review of my brother's med school personal statement. And I think it made us all love you more, by seeing what delights and interests you. Thank you again :)

Berhane N.

I'm a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell and it was awesome to be his student. I learned a lot.

Jeff G.

In addition to writing as an outsider, not the hero of your story, Gladwell has taught me the importance of being interesting. Since beginning this Masterclass, I construct the day around whether learning is interesting. I just read a story in The New Yorker about a deep-sea expedition led by a group of ragtag geniuses. Super interesting!


Malcolm's thorough combing through of his writing process, and others, was very educational. Framing his work through the guise of his work, but also others, made for a well rounded consideration of how he gets to where he is going and where he hopes to go in the future. Not only was his class helpful to those of us considering non fiction writing but also fiction. Malcolm's inclusive approach constituted this class as an act of service, rather than self glorification. So, five stars for this class. I will rewatch this as I continue my education as a writer.

A fellow student

A great writer and very nice introduction to his craft! Thanks for a great class by a true master!

Steve H.

What Malcolm had to say was not what I expected, but that is why I listened to him. If I already knew. I would not listen, or I'd get bored and go elsewhere. In typical Malcolm fashion he carried me along and molded me. Fantastic. What impacted me most was his complete lack of pretension. His genuineness makes me want to take him out for dinner and pick his mind even more. I researched his personal views and found yet more reason to like him as a person. As for writing, yes - he taught me a lot. I will certainly review mu notes several times.

Andreas S.

I gave five stars, but the system does not take it. It was amazing and extremly helpful for my own work as a writer. I took 7 pages of notes and a lot more of inspiration and motivation. Malcolm is also a brilliant teacher and communicator. Thank you very much. Andreas

Jean-Philippe S.

I first had a difficult time seating through some of the earlier lessons. I’m writing my second memoir, and this lesson didn’t start the way I had expected it. A big part of it seemed to be focused on journalism, and although it was interesting, it wasn’t what I was looking for. Yet, I continued watching, I realized that many of the teaching from Malcom could be applied to authors writing their own memoir. It was filled with excellent information, I just had to filter out some sections. Overall it was an excellent class. I would highly recommend it to anybody interested in journalism, or writing profiles of other people. I would also recommend to any writer. Jean-Philippe Soulé Author of “Dancing With Death: An Epic and Inspiring Travel Adventure”