Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking

This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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The late Steve Allen was an author, songwriter, and comedian, and among the most prolific talent in broadcasting history. He wrote more than 9,000 songs, including “This Could Be the Start of Something Big,” which is still aired at New Year’s Eve galas. Not bad for someone who played by ear.

He wrote TV scripts, gags, and jokes. Like many others in TV, Allen’s career began in radio where, as a young DJ, he once announced a Harvard vs. William & Mary football score as “Harvard 14, William 10, Mary 7.”

His interests extended beyond show business as well. A tireless advocate, Allen was instrumental in the airlines’ smoking ban.

Capturing Good Ideas

I met Allen in the 1990s at the American Bookseller’s Convention in Los Angeles. It was rumored that he never traveled without a pocket tape recorder and when I asked him if this was true, he took out his pocket tape recorder and showed me.

Allen once explained that although he was thought of as extraordinarily productive, he figured he owed his high output to “Not letting good ideas get away.”

He recalled that even back in the 1950s, when tape recorders were bulky and expensive, he had one in each room of his house, even the bathroom.

Steve Allen also managed to write 50 books: he started with mysteries, then he moved on to show business, then self-help topics such as presenting, speaking, and humor; and then he focused on social issues, before his death early this century.

Near his passing, he was concerned that our entire society seemed to be “dumbing down.”

The Lost Art of Thinking

Here are my notes and excerpts from Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking, With 101 Ways to Reason Better & Improve Your Mind, by Steve Allen, originally published by Prometheus Books, in 1998:

* Decide that you will reason more effectively in the future.
* Beware of rushing to judgment or falling in love with your first answer
* Beware of erroneous assumptions or making predictions on scanty evidence.
* Recognize your superstitions and personal prejudices.

* Beware of arguments by slogans or epigrams,“ If the glove fits…”
* Beware of thinking that because you are bright and quick minded you therefore reason well.
* Beware of reacting to labels rather than to specific individuals.
* Concede ignorance when you are ignorant. Be more humble.

* Feel a twinge of shame when you employ a ad hominem argument.
* Be realistically skeptical, even of leaders.
* Beware of rationalization.
* Beware of the distinction between consistent evidence and conclusive evidence.

* Avoid falling for the one “right answer.”
* Become your own fact checker.
* Do not attempt to read minds.
* Recognize that all reality is complex – even describing a man sitting in a chair. This involves 100s of observations about lighting, the room, the man’s appearance, his clothing, expression, the chair, what happens over time

* Practice lifelong learning.
* Watch less commercial TV.
* Make notes, use your dictionary, and/or keep a journal.
* Rethink your religion, even if it is scary for you.

* Spend time with people brighter than yourself.
* Use maps.
* Beware of political rhetoric.
* Don’t be afraid to change your mind.

* Recognize that no one thing remains the same for very long.
* Find evidence first before making up your mind, not the other way around.
* Don’t equate your ideas with yourself.
* Study creativity itself.

* Play thinking games.
* Recognize that everything is subject to criticism.
* Become more familiar with history.
* Beware of mass movements and the herd-behavior that they encourage.

Author Profile

Jeff Davidson
Jeff Davidson
Jeff Davidson is a guest author for NRN and the Work Life Balance Expert®. He can move an audience like few others. Davidson offers dynamic learning keynotes and seminar presentations, on-site or via zoom. He combines outstanding content with humor, flair, and inspiration to help listeners manage information and communication overload.