A picture of a man reading books in the mountains

How to Think For Yourself

I like the word Ruminate. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) used this word in his opening remarks of On the Geneology of Morality. He points out that his ideas are difficult, and that the reader must spend time with them – mentally chewing on the concepts. That got me thinking — we’re all screwed.

We consume information at impossible rates. There’s no downtime to process what we’ve learned. I’m guilty of always having a podcast in my ear while driving, and when I’m not behind the wheel, I’m watching a YouTube video. If I have more than 10 minutes, I sit down with my books, and when I go to the bathroom, I have to take my phone with me to finish the stupid YouTube video. It’s an educational marathon with no end in sight unless I construct one.

Nietzsche spent most of his intellectual life in Sils-Maria, a small village tucked away in the Swiss Alps. He wrote to his mother saying, “This high alpine valley…is just what I want. There are pure strong gusts of air, hills and boulders of all shapes, and surrounding everything, mighty snow-capped mountains. But what pleases me the most are the splendid highroads over which I walk for hours.”

He took time to think in between learning. He would read and write for hours on end, and then he would walk those trails, using his time to process information.

We don’t encourage this sort of behavior today. Instead, we encourage faster learning, more succinct education, and then on to the next before you can use what you’ve learned! Once you’ve finished one YouTube video, it feeds you the next one immediately. Instead of journaling your thoughts, you’re busy working through Facebook, X, Instagram, and TikTok accounts to stay current on the latest drivel (and yes, most of it is drivel). There’s always more to consume and America is the greatest of all consumer cultures. We’re obscenely fat on useless information.

To make things worse, there’s an app for every aspect of your life. You can track your calories, distract your children, and skip reading books altogether in favor of using apps like SparkNotes or Blinkist to feed you quick summaries. Hell, you don’t even need to do that. Now, you can have ChatGPT give you the main points of a book, no thinking on your part is required.

Nietzsche wanted you to break away from the herd. He had a term for this. He called it the Übermensch, or The Overman. Instead of playing popularity games, buying fancy boats to impress your neighbor, and then turning to God on Sunday for meaning, he would tell you to put your phone down, read thoughtfully for a few hours, and then go for a walk to ruminate.

There’s no app for rumination. You must sit down with a book and think. You must read slowly, take notes, and apply the ideas. Until you do that, you’re little more than the brainwashed puppet who wakes up, puts on your headphones, and plugs into the Matrix. It feels productive to be learning all the time, but it’s not; it’s harmful. We’re coming off the rails, and we’re too plugged in to realize it.

I’m happy to report that there will never be an app that can replace Nietzschean rumination. Give it a shot. Turn off the podcast, close YouTube, and sit with your thoughts. At first, it will feel like a waste of time because you’re programmed to feel that way. But if you sit long enough, you will have a breakthrough – and that is called freedom.

Read Slowly – Take Notes – Apply the Ideas.


Published by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *