Monday, December 1, 2008

The overrated virtue of not thinking

From Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground,
I emphatically repeat: ingenuous people and active figures are all active simply because they are dull and narrow-minded... As a consequence of their narrow-mindedness, they take the most immediate and secondary causes for primary ones, and thus become convinced more quickly and easily than others that they have found an indisputable basis for their doings, and so they feel at ease...
It is a common conceit that over-thinking a task can ruin your chances of succeeding in it. Examples of this common "wisdom" are found in advice about shooting free throws, undergoing high-pressure interviews, and taking multiple choice tests.

I believe this is largely unfounded. In the majority of cases, thinking about a problem helps, not hinders, your ability to solve it. It follows that thinking about your behavior at the meta level will in most cases help, not hinder, your chances of success. Perhaps I am reading too much into the passage, but Dostoevsky's narrator is probably just jealous of those in a higher position than him.