Chapter 24 of 24 from Malcolm Gladwell

Conclusion: A Theory of Other Minds

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

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Malcolm Gladwell

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, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers devour 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 craft online for the first time. Write stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.

Learn Malcolm’s writing practices—including how he finds stories in unexpected places—through on-demand video lessons.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Malcolm will also answer select student questions.

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Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing