The “Think for Yourself” Script

See track 5

Here’s a perfectly simple sentence: “You should think for yourself”.

Here’s another fairly straightforward sentence (put aside whether you agree with it or not): Thinking that you should think for yourself is just thinking what the people who think that you should think for yourself think you should think.

How do we get from the first sentence to the second? Well, the second sentence applies a general principle to a specific instance. The general principle is that for any belief x you might hold, holding it amounts to thinking what those who think x think you ought to think.

The second sentence is cute because it sets as the x a sentence that seems to contradict the spirit of the general principle.

An aside: this principle is true if you take out the word “just”. But, then, if you take out the word “just”, it becomes trivial. Keeping the “just”, the principle is obviously false. We sometimes think things for other reasons than agreeing with those who also think them.

What happens if we take the second sentence and take is as the x for a new application of the principle? You get this:

Thinking that thinking that you should think for yourself is just thinking what the people who think that you should think for yourself think you should think, is just thinking what the people who think that thinking that you should think for yourself is just thinking what the people who think that you should think for yourself think you should think, think you should think.

I find trying to literally follow that third iteration really fun. I dunno – call it my version of a brain teaser. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure it’s grammatically correct.

What I’ve created, incidentally, is (just) a rather silly function. Call it the function THINK, defined as:

THINK(1): You should think for yourself.

THINK(n): Thinking that [THINK (n-1)], is just thinking what the people who think you should think that [THINK (n-1)], think you should think. (where n is a natural number greater than 1).

Here’s THINK(4) (which I don’t recommend you try to follow):

Thinking that thinking that thinking that you should think for yourself is just thinking what the people who think that you should think that you should think for yourself think you should think, is just thinking what the people who think that thinking that you should think for yourself is just thinking what the people who think that you should think that you should think for yourself think you should think, think you should think, is just thinking what the people who think that you should think that thinking that thinking that you should think for yourself is just thinking what the people who think that you should think that you should think for yourself think you should think, is just thinking what the people who think that thinking that you should think for yourself is just thinking what the people who think that you should think that you should think for yourself think you should think, think you should think, think you should think.

Happy thinking!

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