Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Your Most Valuable Possession

In the Ben Folds Five song whose title I have taken as the title of this posting, is the line, "I was wondering if you were looking after your most valuable possession, your mind."

I got a comment requesting resources. At various times in this blog I have referenced books I have looked at, and I have considered maybe writing my own review of books related to dissertation writing or writing in general.

There are other resources out there. I have a few listed on my website. But, and I don't think I've ever framed my philosophy in this way, the resource I'm most interested is one that people don't rely on enough: their most valuable possession.

I suppose my suggestion that people don't rely on their own mind enough could be taken as insulting. It is not meant as one; it is not a comment on the intelligence of others so much as it is a comment on our habits and our insecurity. Many people don't trust their own reasoning and consequently are constantly looking for some sort of verification outside themselves.

A dissertation, and indeed any writing, should be about expressing your own voice and your own ideas. At its root, all writing is about what the author wants to say, which is driven by the author's ideas and beliefs.

All writing starts in our minds. Our mind is our most valuable resource in our writing project. But we don't trust ourselves. We're uncertain. Often I suggest writing as an exercise to help clarify a project and to help clarify aims. Often I am told "I can't start writing yet. I haven't done enough research." I think that's a mistake usually driven by a habit of not looking for answers from one's own mind, but rather seeking them outside.

But that's not how it works. No matter what we read, until we sit down to try to work out our own ideas, we are going to have some confusion. The growth of a focused and coherent voice is a project that can only be accomplished by examining your own beliefs and knowledge, by learning to reason concerning evidence, and by recognizing the elements that make up our own personal philosophy. Forming a coherent, comprehensible voice is a project for an individual working out his or her thoughts. That's a project that can be greatly facilitated by writing.

It is the central importance placed on working out ideas that motivates my choice of domain and blog name: thought clearing.

Resources are important, but unless you have your ideas clear, the resources are little help. My experience is that people I work with are, more often than not, good at finding resources. One doesn't come to be writing a dissertation, usually, unless one has a pretty good handle on research techniques. I rarely work with anyone having trouble finding resources; I often work with those who haven't worked out crucial aspects of their reasoning or their voice.

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