Let the enlargement of knowledge be one constant view and design in life
October 6, 2013 3:31 PM   Subscribe

The Improvement of the Mind by hymnwriter Issac Watts provides surprisingly relevant and modern advice on how to learn, listen, read, debate, and converse. It proved to be inspirational to the great experimentalist and scientist Michael Faraday. Full version on Google Books.
posted by mikepaco (5 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Great timing; I just finished listening to and reading a couple of lectures by Charlie Munger.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:12 PM on October 6, 2013

This was written in 1814 (or at least published then), how relevant today... From the Rules Relating To Observation:

#4. Keep our minds as free as possible from passions and prejudices.
#5. Beware of indulging that busy curiosity which is ever inquiring into private and domestic affairs.

Now let us away to the micro and tele-scopes!!
posted by Jake DeNiro at 4:32 PM on October 6, 2013

I just came across this resonant passage from Melville (who knew and used Watts' work) in "Moby-Dick":
Is it not curious, that so vast a being as the whale should see the world through so small an eye, and hear the thunder through an ear which is smaller than a hare’s? But if his eyes were broad as the lens of Herschel’s great telescope; and his ears capacious as the porches of cathedrals; would that make him any longer of sight, or sharper of hearing? Not at all.— Why then do you try to “enlarge” your mind? Subtilize it.
Ah, yes, 1:8: "Do not hover always on the surface of things."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:46 PM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Probably one of the most influential books in my intellectual development was Isaac Watts' "Logic". I was expecting some kind of explanation of the rules of logic, but I got instead a deep philosophical work about thinking. I read it cover to cover with my pen and pencil in hand, studying each sentence and turning the words over and over. I read it in 1999 and it's still one of the most delightful intellectual experiences id ever had. I just never had any idea before reading it how learning how to think for my own self could happen. It was incredibly empowering.
posted by scunning at 8:02 PM on October 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Interesting - thank you, mikepaco. I was reading recently about Faraday’s on-going efforts at self-improvement, specifically the essay-writing circle he co-founded in 1818 with a group of his friends ‘with the aim of teaching themselves how to write like gentlemen.’ Watts’ Chapter 7 contains several points which could easily slot in to an on-line discussion forum’s dos and don’ts, for example:

- Lead persons into a discourse of the matters of their own peculiar province or profession.
- Confine not yourself always to one sort of company lest you should be confirmed and established in the same mistake by conversing with persons of the same sentiments.
- In mixed company among acquaintance and strangers, endeavour to learn something from all.
- Be not frighted nor provoked at opinions different from your own.
- If you have not a clear idea of what is spoken, endeavour to obtain a clearer conception of it by a decent manner of inquiry.
- When you are forced to differ, represent how far you agree.
- Never remain in ignorance for want of asking.
- Be not fond of disputing every thing pro and con.
- Take heed of affecting always to shine in company above the rest.
- Be not so ready to charge ignorance, prejudice, and mistake upon others as you are to suspect yourself of it.
posted by misteraitch at 2:40 AM on October 7, 2013

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