In a world increasingly dominated by digital media it’s often hard to find the space to think. Our time is overtaken with emails, texts, and surfing and shopping on the internet. So much so, that according to author P.M. Forni, we are in a “crisis” when it comes to thinking. His latest book, “The Thinking Life” provides a remedy to this age of distraction and lessons in how to rediscover the art of serious thinking. He draws on the wisdom of classical philosophers as well as everyday situations to explains how we can successfully think our way through an increasingly complex world and live a better life.


  • Pier Forni

Program Highlights

Americans spend hours each day using digital media, but many of us complain we can’t find a few minutes to think. That comes as no surprise to author P.M. Forni, who says thinking has become a casualty of the digital revolution. His new book “The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in an Age of Distraction,” aims to help people become more “serious” and careful thinkers.

Are We Really Thinking Less Than We Used To?

Though he says there isn’t much scientific data available to prove that we are actually thinking less than we used to, Forni cites survey data and anecdotal evidence that support this conclusion. For instance, college students today report spending about 15 hours per week studying; back in 1961 they reported studying for 25 hours per week. Executives and superviors report spending about 3 to 4 percent of their time at work thinking about long-term procedures and activities for employees and for their companies. Many of these executives, Forni said, say they’re frustrated that they don’t have more time to think more deeply and thoroughly.

Online Distractions

Part of the problem, according to Forni, is the distractions we must either learn to tune out or control in the digital age. “A large amount of time in which we are engaged online is dedicated to things that are not really crucial, that are trivial in many cases,” he said. “We become what we think…if we spend many hours in things that are essentially irrelevant or trivial, well, that changes who we are, and it changes our cognitive abilities.”

“We Shy Away From Important Issues”

Aside from being constantly distracted by trivial matters, Forni believes we latch on frivolous thoughts or daydreams, too. We spend more time thinking about how we’re going to spend our annual vacation days than about planning the rest of our lives. Some of this is human nature. Forni also laments what he sees as a lack of critical thinking skills currently being taught in American schools. Especially among youth, Forni thinks that “connecting” – mainly on social media – can be mistaken for “thinking,” but it isn’t. He thinks children don’t read enough today, and for him, weak readers are weak thinkers.

Conflict Between Retrival and Retention

Forni thinks that the way stuents think about knowledge itself has changed. “Our students today think of the acquiring of knowledge as retrival. And we, the older generation, still think about the acquiring of knowledge as retention,” he said. Forni looks at the culture of the Internet as perpetuating the culture of retrival. He fears that we believe we don’t have the time to absorb and solidify any knowledge properly, and that we quickly forget what we have learned from what we’ve read online. Forni suggests meditation and better training of young students in critical thinking as ways to move us toward becoming a nation of more serious thinkers.

You can read the full transcript here.


  • 11:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Americans spend over two-and-a-half hours a day using digital media, but many of us complain we can't even find a few minutes to think. That comes as no surprise to our guest today, author P.M. Forni says thinking has become a casualty of the digital revolution. He joins me to talk about his new book. It's titled "The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in an Age of Distraction." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you. It's good to see you again.

  • 11:07:57

    MR. PIER FORNIGood morning. I'm delighted to be here.

  • 11:08:00

    REHMThank you. And for our audience, just so you're aware, I asked what that P.M. stands for, and it is for Pier Maximo. So I may call you Pier Maximo.

  • 11:08:16

    FORNISure. If that's what you prefer, that's fine.

  • 11:08:18

    REHMAll right. Are we really thinking less these days, and if so, where is the evidence coming from?

  • 11:08:28

    FORNIThat is one of the most difficult things to determine because there is anecdotal evidence leading us to believe that that is the case. But the actual scientific evidence, it's difficult to come by. We do know, however, some data. Our college students study seriously -- spend serious studying time about 15 hours a week. Their fellow students in 1961 spent about 25 hours in studying. So there is a decline of 42 percent. And if we admit that doing homework, reading your books, is a form of serious thinking, we have to say that this piece of data tells us that perhaps our college students do not think as much as they used to.

  • 11:09:30

    FORNIBosses, executives in companies and organizations, spend only three to four percent of their time at work thinking about long-time procedures and activities for their companies. It's a very small amount, too small, and very many people in the industry, in the most diverse field of the economy, say that they are frustrated because they don't have enough time to think at work.

  • 11:10:08

    REHMYou know, it's interesting because I was thinking about your book, of course, yesterday as I was doing a very menial and simple chore. I was putting scotch tape on Christmas card envelopes.

  • 11:10:33


  • 11:10:33

    REHMAnd as I was doing so, I realized that I was thinking.

  • 11:10:42


  • 11:10:42

    REHMI was thinking about my husband, I was thinking about my children, I was thinking about thinking. Is part of what's required to think, the lack of distraction?

  • 11:11:01

    FORNIYes. That is very important. There is a sort of (word?) industry in academy on the effect of distraction today because we know that when we get distracted at work, then it takes a long time to get into the flow of things, and I'm using the word flow with reference to (word?) theory that we are happy when we are in flow at work, and we are employing our capacities in something that is meaningful.

  • 11:11:36

    FORNISo yes. It is very difficult to overvalue the fact that there is -- we are in a situation that requires an intervention. We have to take seriously this problem, and we have not done that so far, and it is impelling that we take it seriously.

  • 11:12:17

    REHMSome people might argue that with the introduction of the so-called digital age that we are simply thinking differently, and that does not necessarily mean that we are not thinking.

  • 11:12:36

    FORNIYes. And Norman Cousins said once that we in America have everything that we need, except the most important things of all, time to think and the habit of thought. Now, that must have been -- could have a hyperbolical statement, but this statement was made a long time before the Internet...

  • 11:12:58

    REHMI remember.

  • 11:12:58

    FORNI...and from the distractions of the Internet. And so that is much more valid today. We are under the spell of the inconsequential because very often the things that we do online are done because we have the technical capacity to do them. It's not that we need to communicate. We communicate because we can. And so there is, in many cases, a long amount -- a large amount of time in which we are engaged online that is dedicated to things that are not really crucial, that are trivial in many cases.

  • 11:13:52

    FORNIAnd inevitably, we become part of what we think. We become what we think. And so if we spend many times, many hours in things that are essentially irrelevant or trivial, well, that changes who we are, and it changes also our cognitive abilities.

  • 11:14:13

    REHMAs I walk my dog each day, I used to pass people who were simply walking themselves.

  • 11:14:26


  • 11:14:27

    REHMBut now they're all on the telephone.

  • 11:14:32

    FORNIYes. In my campus at the university in Baltimore, all of the students that are crisscrossing the campus have their gear -- headgears. And I came by train this morning, and most of the passengers in the train had both the headgear and the computer on their knees.

  • 11:14:55

    REHMSo it's almost something we have become not only used to, familiar with, we're hungry for, perhaps, that distraction to take us away from thinking.

  • 11:15:15

    FORNIIt is a form of addiction, and it is one way of escaping thinking. We do not -- we would go to the utmost extremes rather than thinking. We would do almost anything, and we don't want to think for a number of reasons. One reason is that it takes energy. It consumes more energy to think than not to think. There is narcissism. When we think that we know it all, we don't think that we need to listen to others and think. There is anti-intellectualism that in America has always been a factor.

  • 11:15:58

    FORNIWe perceive of work as doing, not of thinking, and then there is, of course, lack of time. We always say I don't have the time to think, but thinking is what makes us who we are. It is what makes us human. And so if we say that we don't have time to think, we say, in essence, that we don't have time to be human.

  • 11:16:19

    REHMWhat are we not thinking about?

  • 11:16:26

    FORNIWell, we think about -- more about the 20 days vacation that we want to plan for the summer than the rest of our lives. We shy away as much as we can from important issues, to think about important issues, and that is a problem, because that means that we do not arrive prepared at the crossroads of life in which we need to make important decisions. There is only one thing that is more important than thinking, and that is having thought.

  • 11:17:02

    REHMHaving thought.

  • 11:17:03

    FORNIBecause if you have thought, and you get at one of those crossroads of life when you have to make an important decision, you have thought about the issue and then -- and therefore, you are in the position of making a better decision. And this is one of the reasons that what we are talking about today is not irrelevant, or is not trivial, and that's because good thinking leads us to good decisions. Good decisions lead us to a good life, and a good life leads us to happiness.

  • 11:17:39

    REHMAnd what you're talking about is not just on an individual basis. I mean, you lead me to think about the housing bubble. You lead me to think about the mortgage crisis, the whole financial meltdown, the decisions that have been made perhaps without sufficient thought...

  • 11:18:05


  • 11:18:05

    REHM...that got us to where we are today.

  • 11:18:08

    FORNIOh, it's very likely, absolutely.

  • 11:18:11

    REHMP.M. Forni, otherwise Pier Maximo Forni. He teaches civility and Italian literature at Johns Hopkins University. He's the author of previous books, "Choosing Civility," "The Thinking Life," which is the book we're talking about today. I look forward to hearing your questions and comments after a short break.

  • 11:20:04

    REHMAnd Philip on Facebook writes, "Why don't we spend time thinking? That seems self evident. A thinking person is more critical, less acceptable to marketing efforts and subsequently less likely to engage in conspicuous consumption. If I were a marketer in a for-profit venture, politics and politicians included, I would not want a thinking population either." That's a comment posted by Philip for P.M. Forni whose new book "The Thinking Life" is what we're discussing this morning. I hope you'll join us with your own comments, questions. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 11:21:00

    REHMPier Maximo, is that perhaps something that you worry about, that politicians, marketers may not any longer want a thinking public?

  • 11:21:16

    FORNIWell, there is that -- that is a thought that has to be taken into consideration. But connected to that is a very simple observation. Our lives are made of options and we come up to all sorts of options during the length of our lives, thousands of them. And in every human endeavor, thinking widens the range of options that we have. Very often, we choose a way because we have no alternative. We don't think that -- we cannot think of anything else. We do something because we don't think -- cannot think of anything else.

  • 11:21:54

    FORNIAnd in every endeavor, thinking widens the range of our options and by doing so, it increases our chance to success then.

  • 11:22:03

    REHMWhat is it that is required, in your view, to truly take time to think?

  • 11:22:12

    FORNIWell, first, we need to be sold on the idea that thinking is important. I don't think that people can be trained in anything, in any kind of behavior unless they are sold on the idea. And so I would -- I am a staunch advocate of teaching critical thinking in the schools and explaining to the parents what the advantage is for their children to become thoughtful. And this word is -- and the caller, what you're saying, thoughtfulness.

  • 11:22:49

    FORNIThoughtfulness is a wonderful word. It's a word I love and as a non-native speaker of the English language, it's one of the many things that I like and I love in the language. But you are thoughtful either when you are thinking a lot -- you are thinking a lot. And you're thoughtful also when you are aware of the needs of others and you're willing to care about them.

  • 11:23:21

    FORNISo it is -- this lynchpin of thoughtfulness, I think it's important and it's what brought me from civility to thinking, as a matter of fact. Because it is -- it gives a very vivid -- in a very vivid way what we are talking about. And we are talking about something that has an ethical component. Attention, like civility, is connected to ethics because when we pay attention, we transcend our own immediate needs and desires to tend to the needs and desires of others. And we make them -- their life important to us (unintelligible) irrelevant to us.

  • 11:24:05

    REHMIf we are dealing with an issue, for example, that we're facing, be it whether to buy a certain product or be it the health of a loved one or a relationship with a friend, does thinking require first that we be alone, that we be unto ourselves?

  • 11:24:40

    FORNII think that we need to be alone to do the preparatory thinking. I think that we need to do that without our eyes going to the closest screen. I think that we need to be alone with the dance of neurons in our brain and observe their floating there. And then, we have to say, how can I be of help? How can I with -- through my thinking, how can I better the life of somebody else?

  • 11:25:18

    FORNIAnd this shows clearly the connection between ethics and thinking. Because when we think, we always -- we are enlarging our own ethical horizons. We take -- we are not blocked and in our solipsistic concern and we open up to others. Thinking is always an expanding of horizons.

  • 11:25:51

    REHMDo you think that our society has moved away from thinking because there are so many available distractions so it's simply easier to act rather than to think?

  • 11:26:12

    FORNIYes. We have the multibillion dollar industry, the industry of entertainment that caters to that need, to the need of not thinking. It is exactly one of the things that we do. We entertain ourselves to death as it has been said. And especially our youngsters are very much prone to spending inordinate amount of times in ways that are different from thinking. They connect.

  • 11:26:48

    FORNIA lot of connecting is going on in our society, but the mistakes that especially children make -- the youngsters make is that they take that connecting for thinking, and it is not. And we -- also the kind of communication, the kind of messages that in very short forms are problematic in the long run because our youngsters -- we know that our youngsters have difficulty then processing more complicated text. And the task of reading "War and Peace" is absolutely daunting because of the complexity of the plot, because of the size of the book.

  • 11:27:36

    FORNIBut that is the problem. When we are weak readers, we are also weak thinkers and vice-a-versa.

  • 11:27:45

    REHMDidn't some of the same concerns get raised when the printing press came into being?

  • 11:27:52

    FORNIYes, absolutely. Actually the same concern is back as Plato. Plato, through the mouthpiece of Socrates, said that all this business of writing was going to bring down civilization because people would not memorize anymore. And they would have -- they would need the crutch of the written text all the time. So it starts with Plato and Socrates. It is true people were very weary and leery about the invention of the printed press of the mobile characters press.

  • 11:28:30

    FORNIAnd now we are concerned about the internet. Now, I don't want to sound like a luddite. Well, you may say, well, too late, Pier. But I have -- I use the technology all the time. It helps me write in my books. Although I don't have a SmartPhone, I have a cellular phone. But the real thinking -- the real substantial thinking in which you are absorbed in your cell phone in an introspective way needs to be done alone in silence sheltered from distraction so that you don't have to start every time after a distraction.

  • 11:29:19

    FORNINow, this condition is very difficult to find. And one of the things that I address in the book, and I advise my readers to do, is to schedule dates with their brain, because if they don't schedule dates with their brain, they will never communicate with their brain.

  • 11:29:34

    REHMNow, are you talking about the same kind of date with one's brain that comes about during meditation?

  • 11:29:44

    FORNIWell, that is another important tool that we have. Meditation -- we know that the meditation in the Buddhist tradition allows us to slow down our heart rate. It is good because it purifies from stress and -- but meditation is more the absence of thinking than a lot of thinking.

  • 11:30:15

    REHMThin the wrestling that you're talking about that needs to take place when an issue confronts us. But it's not just dealing with difficult issues that you're talking about. You're talking about the day-to-day...

  • 11:30:33


  • 11:30:34

    REHM...feeling sensibilities, the choices that we're making as human beings.

  • 11:30:41

    FORNIThat's right. And the choices -- the act of choosing -- the act of making a choice, it's always an ethical act because very rarely do our choices involve only us. Very often the decision that we make involves somebody else, somebody whom you don't even know that he or she's going to be involved. And so that's why I -- it's very important for me to de-trivialize the issue of everyday thinking by connecting it with ethical concerns.

  • 11:31:15

    REHMAll right. We have a great many callers who'd like to join this conversation. I'm going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First, let's go to Salt Lake City, Utah. Good morning, John. You're on the air.

  • 11:31:34

    JOHNHi, how are you doing?

  • 11:31:35

    REHMGood, thanks.

  • 11:31:36

    JOHNWe started practicing internet Sabbath on Sundays. I heard someone on NPR talking about it and it sounded like a good idea. So I wanted to share an experience I had with you the first time we did it. We were trying to find out the name of the mascot for BYU and we couldn't think of it. And it's like, oh, just go on the internet and it's like, we can't do that today. And it's like, okay, we're gonna sit here and think about it. And it just felt like an old car that you were starting for the first time in a long time. It's like my brain was so rusty.

  • 11:32:07

    JOHNAnd it took a little while, but we finally, you know, figured it out. And I just thought that was so -- such a strange experience.

  • 11:32:16

    REHMStrange, but probably typical these days.

  • 11:32:20

    FORNIYes, I would think so. I didn't know that there was the Sabbath...

  • 11:32:23

    REHMYeah, that's very interesting.

  • 11:32:24

    FORNI...internet Sabbath initiative. But yes, if we don't have the tool ready, we have to press into service our brain. And yet we have to make the effort to find -- to retrieve the issue or the entry in their own mind and by doing that, we exercise our brain. So it's one more benefit.

  • 11:32:55

    REHMJohn, I'm awfully glad to hear about this internet Sabbath.

  • 11:33:04

    JOHNWe only do it on Sunday, but the author suggested to do it the whole weekend. And he just had fantastic results with it. And I was really glad to do it because I just find that we rely on these things so we don't have to think. And my mind is becoming flabby. You know, I'm mentally out of shape because I rely on the internet.

  • 11:33:24

    REHMWhat a good way to put it. Thanks for calling, John. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Naples, Fla. Good morning, Kathleen.

  • 11:33:39

    KATHLEENHi, I'm great, Diane. How are you?

  • 11:33:40

    REHMGood, thanks.

  • 11:33:41

    KATHLEENThank you for having me.

  • 11:33:43


  • 11:33:44

    KATHLEENI am a self-employed baker of a small dog and cat treat business. And I, as far as distractions, am often plagued by the fact that I have to go to Facebook, then I have to do this, then I have to make that posting, then I have to do research for my company, then I have to go to the internet, then I have to make my phone calls. Distractions, distractions, distractions to me, even though I love the business.

  • 11:34:17

    KATHLEENThe other thing is that the thinking part of it comes more so for my ideas for my business and my recipes when I'm baking because I'm the happiest then it seems. I'm involved in my work and I know the end reward is for my customers and making their pets happy with wholesome holistic treats.

  • 11:34:44

    FORNIYes. Many workers report that they feel the best and that they are happiest when engaged in a task at work that challenges their faculties and their abilities in a way that makes them want to be absorbed in what they're doing. And it's that state of flow in which time stands still and you don't think -- you don't realize that two hours have gone by and you think they have gone by -- ten minutes have gone by. But you were so focused.

  • 11:35:24

    FORNIAnd with the help of the endorphins and the other neurotransmitters that -- the good hormones and your transmitters that are released by your body in these situations that you were completely lost to the world and deeply in thought.

  • 11:35:40

    REHMWell, you know, but there I was in a very menial task of just putting scotch tape on these Christmas cards and the same thing happened. I think it was because I knew what I was doing. I did not have to think so much about what I was doing.

  • 11:36:02

    FORNIRight, right.

  • 11:36:03

    REHMAnd therefore the thoughts in my head could come to the surface.

  • 11:36:10

    FORNIThat's right.

  • 11:36:11

    REHMAll right. We'll take a call from Gainesville, Va. Good morning, Joseph. Joseph, are you there? All right. Let's go instead to Indianapolis and Homer. Good morning.

  • 11:36:29

    HOMERGood morning. How are you, Diane?

  • 11:36:30

    REHMFine, thank you.

  • 11:36:33

    HOMERThank you for taking my call. I was wondering if the guest could explain his notion of thinking and how it might relate to Aristotle's notion of phronesis as the best means by which we might obtain happiness. I'll take my question off the air. Thank you.

  • 11:36:48

    REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling.

  • 11:36:50

    FORNIYes. That is a word that means essentially -- phronesis is the word that means essentially knowledge and wisdom. It is a mixture of the Greek words, notions for knowledge and wisdom. And certainly it is connected also with moderation. So it is sort of a nucleus, an aggregate of notions of positive nature that is certainly connected to what we are saying to our interest today. And we may be able to talk about this in the next segment because if you want to go ahead with this talking, there is a lot to say.

  • 11:37:40

    REHMPier Maximo Forni and we're talking about his new book titled "The Thinking Life."

  • REHMAnd here's an email from Amy who says "I waste extravagant amounts of time in class because my students will not pay attention. I found a drastic decrease in their ability to comprehend concepts. Much of this is due to their reliance on technology. I had a student actually say it out loud recently 'Why do we need to know this when we can look it up?' But they don't evaluate the information they see. We've traded information for understanding and content for skill."

  • 11:40:51

    FORNIYes. You don't want your doctor to become -- to medicine from the schools where they used only Wikipedia to train the physicians because you don't want your doctors say, during the operation, "I'm going to look this up." So one -- that is certainly a problem. Our students today think of the acquiring of knowledge as retrieval. And we, the older generation, still think about the acquiring of knowledge as retention.

  • 11:41:33

    FORNIAnd this -- there is a conflict. It's one of the conflict that is going on in our society, the conflict between retrieval and retention. The culture of the internet is essentially a culture of retrieval. We trade the ability of accessing a lot of information for the activity of making that part of who we are. And our ethos with respect to knowledge is "I'm going to look it up, use it and then forget about it." And we do that because we do not have the time to solidify what we have caught in the net of the net. And so -- and we don't have time to subject what we have found to thoughts having to do with the ethics -- evaluate ethically...

  • 11:42:36


  • 11:42:37

    FORNI...what we have found. And so -- and also it doesn't stick to our minds the way that a quiet time with a book and a page and the going over the sentences and the periods would. So it is a new world. And although it's too easy -- it's too early evaluate what it's going to take, I think there is warrant to be concerned about it.

  • 11:43:10

    REHMAll right. Let's take a call from Barbara in Detroit, Mich. Hi there, you're on the air.

  • 11:43:17

    BARBARAHi, Diane.

  • 11:43:18


  • 11:43:18

    BARBARAI'm excited to get through because your topics are of such interest, at least, I can never get a line. But I do want to present a couple ideas for thought. First, I was raised in rural Ohio where we were not entertained very much. We had a lot of time to ourselves. And I find that I was a very critical thinker. I went to a local art college and did a lot of philosophy. I'm a scientist. I do a lot of thinking every day. But my husband and I just had this conversation recently. We want our kids to be the same way so we try to shield them from too much TV, too much distraction, no Gameboys, that kind of thing.

  • 11:43:56

    BARBARABut what we find is that, I in particular, come home at night and I don’t want to think anymore. And part of the problem is that, from the media, we're inundated with a lot of information that we don't necessarily need, but that worries us. And it gets incorporated into our daily life and we're -- as a federal -- I'm a federal employee actually.

  • 11:44:19

    BARBARASo I'm constantly worried about the politics that are going on and I find that I actually have to stop listening to the news, reading the news. I have to detach myself from an overwhelming amount of information that gets fed in or my mind spirals into a lot of negativity and it starts to affect my life. And so I use these distractions to move away from that.

  • 11:44:43

    REHMI do think that Barbara has a point. That affects all of us.

  • 11:44:50

    FORNIYes. Time for important things can only come from one source and that is time for less important things. So we have to be able to exercise good judgment and say "This is not important. This is an encumber-ment of my time, but it is essentially trivial. It's essentially consequential. I'm going to do -- I'm going to leave this aside and spend time and the residual energy that I have when I come home from work and I'm tired, that I can dedicate it to a more important task." We have to rediscover the importance of importance.

  • 11:45:34

    FORNIWe are not as picky as we should be when it comes to how we spend the time and with whom we spend the time.

  • 11:45:40

    REHMJoan writes us in an email "Is prayer considered a form of thinking, time set aside for reading, meditation and recitation of prayer?"

  • 11:45:57

    FORNII would think so, yes. I do think that prayer is a time for thinking, a form of thinking. It is a particular form of thinking. It's not perhaps -- but it's very common, certainly. A lot of people make that a good amount of their thinking that they do and so, yes, absolutely.

  • 11:46:16

    REHMAll right. And to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Jeremiah, good morning.

  • 11:46:25

    JEREMIAHThank you. My comment is, I think that a good thing to be mentioned, is that -- and I don't think it's often enough, people discount themselves. Personal responsibility is kind of what I wanted to say. I think that each one of us needs to take responsibility for ourselves and for, you know -- it kind of takes responsibility for what we do to help create the world that we live in.

  • 11:47:04

    JEREMIAHAnd it -- I think it can be empowering, but it also puts a big responsibility in each of our laps. And so that would also relate to the kind of thinking that we do and how we can, you know, tailor our ways of thinking to help impact the world in our personal lives and our community in the best way that each of us is able to.

  • 11:47:42

    FORNIYes, absolutely. Thinking is always with us. It's part of who we are. We could not be alive if we did not think. Thinking is what makes us human and what defines us as individuals. And it's the foundation of our decision making. It is arguably the most important thing that we do. And when we are good thinkers, as I was mentioning before, we build a good life by product of which is happiness. And so, yes, accountability is an important thing that we have to arrive to, to consider important through the proper amount of thinking.

  • 11:48:29

    REHMTo Raleigh, N.C., hi there, Craig, you're on the air.

  • 11:48:34

    CRAIGHi, thank you very much.

  • 11:48:36


  • 11:48:36

    CRAIGI guess, kind of an observation and challenge to this fascinating conversation in that, a statement that your guest made that really resonated with me is that we take time to think to make the world a better place. And then I related that to what we're seeing this year in terms of the desire of ideological purity. So to me, that's a highly charged ideological and almost political statement, in that, in a lot of our politicians and one party in particular, we expect lockstep. And to me, authoritarian lockstep thinking is counter to the fact that when you think deeply, you may change your mind.

  • 11:49:12

    CRAIGSo, I guess, the two impacts of this is the fact that changing your mind because of deep thought should not be looked at as a weakness and the second is debate such as the health care debate is impacted by this because it's a lot we need to keep our money. We've got to make sure that people that have less than us that don't deserve it, don't get something. The second observation would be then, this is a challenge.

  • 11:49:35

    CRAIGThis is all great stuff. How do we start moving the world more toward where deep thought, evolving thought and a greater awareness of each other becomes something we can do rather than just something that ends up on a wonderful "Diane Rehm" episode, but then we go and get bludgeoned by the political talk for the rest of the day and the week and the month? Thank you very much. I'll now go off the phone and listen.

  • 11:49:59

    REHMThanks, Craig.

  • 11:50:00

    FORNIWell, we are -- we must be the change that we want society to experience. I think that this is a challenge that the listener has given us. And we have to do it, to go out in our everyday lives and do our little part.

  • 11:50:25

    REHMBut you know...

  • 11:50:26

    FORNINo matter what...

  • 11:50:26

    REHM...I think one point he is raising that truly resonates with me is that too many of us are allowing others to think for us instead of doing the kind of wrestling with each and every issue that we, as individuals, need to do. They're doing it for us. They're bringing it to us through microphones...

  • 11:50:58


  • 11:50:59

    REHM...through television, through all kinds of media, persuading us with their thinking. Politicians, talk show hosts, people who are telling you what...

  • 11:51:16

    FORNIWhat you think.

  • 11:51:16 think.

  • 11:51:17

    FORNIAnd what the norm is supposed to be. Now, we have to train the new generation in critical thinking. Critical thinking is the kind of thinking that doubts itself. And that when receive -- there is -- we are the receiving end of a thought of someone else who wants to change our mind, we are able, if we are trained in critical thinking, to evaluate the argument...

  • 11:51:46

    REHMAnd it's worth...

  • 11:51:48

    FORNI...and --but this -- our schools do not have the curricula yet there to do this on a regular basis. And...

  • 11:51:57

    REHMAll right. And let's go now to Annapolis, Md. Lauren, you're on the air.

  • 11:52:05

    LAURENWell, hello friends. How are you guys today?

  • 11:52:06


  • 11:52:07

    REHMFine, thank you.

  • 11:52:09

    LAURENGood. First of all, I want to note that, yes, technology is a big catalyst in this whole thing in that it fosters people to be able to not think, just like you were talking about earlier. But at the same time, we wouldn't be able to talk as we are right now without it. So, in a sense, it's really good that we do have this. But here's what I'm getting to, this is the reason why called is I'm a senior in high school and I'm going into college next year.

  • 11:52:37

    LAURENAnd I've taken a philosophy class over the summer, in my free time, (unintelligible) and it's inspired me to go into philosophy as a career because I love to think. It's the love of knowledge. And -- but the problem is that jobs in philosophy are essentially dead. It's to teach and re-teach philosophy and it doesn't go beyond that. And that's what I want to talk about. What do you think has to change? What kind of jobs can we create to the point where they would be efficient in today's society?

  • 11:53:09

    REHMBefore Pier comments on that, let me just say a word. Our son, David, is a professor of philosophy. He got his PhD at the University of Chicago after eight years. His focus was ancient philosophy. He began as a teacher and is now provost at Mount St. Mary's, a small Roman Catholic college not far from here. There are jobs, but it's tough, isn't it?

  • 11:53:50

    FORNIYes, there are jobs but they are not very frequent. But I think that what's very important is to train the -- also the young people who are not going to become philosophers full-time. I think that they have to become philosophers for their own purpose, for their lives and for the well being of the people whom they will encounter in their lives.

  • 11:54:13

    REHMAnd to train oneself in philosophical thinking is a useful tool in any endeavor.

  • 11:54:22

    FORNIIn any walk of life, absolutely. You will be better at what you do no matter whether you cut hair or replace stones, cobble stones, or if you teach philosophy.

  • 11:54:34

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Lauren, I do hope you'll pursue that. Let's go to Jack in Boynton Beach, Fla. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:54:49

    JACKGood morning, thank you. I'm a retired teacher and I was always impressed with how frequently teachers would say "Well, the kids don't think critically anymore. They don't think." Yet, at the same time, these very same teachers, when inquiring over this issue or that, would say "How do you feel about this? How do you feel about that?" And I think we're all in that kind of mode. We hear that much more often than "What do you think about that?" And I think feeling is kind of a lower level of irritability in a medical sense. I mean, an ameba can feel, but we can think. And I think we have to ask our students what they think, rather than how they feel.

  • 11:55:33

    FORNIWe should ask our students what they think and also ask to provide the evidence for what they think. I -- this is something that I do with my under graduates and my graduates, very often. Whenever they make an assertion in their presentations or we make an assertion on their papers, I want them to back it up with evidence, textual evidence or extra textual evidence, some kind of evidence. And I think that by subjecting the -- any kind of information that comes their way to the scrutiny of our brain and our critical thinking, that's -- it's a beginning of a good life.

  • 11:56:22

    REHMDo you know what I think you are, Professor Forni?

  • 11:56:26


  • 11:56:27

    REHMI think you are a true provocateur and I think that's a good thing.

  • 11:56:33

    FORNIThank you, very much.

  • 11:56:35

    REHMP.M. Forni, his newest book is titled "The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction," something we could all learn to do more critically and not only for our good, but for the good of the society. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

Related Links

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Revisiting The Decision To Drop The Bomb

Thursday, May 18 2023As President Biden's visit to Hiroshima dredges up memories of World War II, Diane talks to historian Evan Thomas about his new book, "Road to Surrender," the story of America's decision to drop the atomic bomb.