Great minds think together
On the need to think not just alike but along with our friends
The old phrase says that "Great minds think alike", which is often a convenient consolation. After all, great minds quite often think differently, not only from one another, but from most other minds around them. But there is an undeniable sense of pleasure that comes from finding oneself in agreement with someone else, especially where there is mutual trust and respect.
■ A phrase that deserves to come into currency alongside the well-known one is "Great minds think together". One of the well-recognized aspects of couplehood (and of family life in general) is that sharing life experience with other people permits us to "remember" in a social context, rather than just our own. Spouses know each other's stories, and can not only bring them up, but embellish or enhance them upon repetition. The same often goes for siblings, for parents and their children, and even for cousins, grandparents, and aunts and uncles.
■ But we don't just remember things with the help of collective memory. We think socially, too. Nothing could have ever made this quite so evident on so large a scale as the isolation so abruptly imposed on practically everyone with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Informal social thinking -- scuttlebutt, water-cooler talk, "bouncing ideas off you", and the like -- has suffered tremendously over the last two years. It's been noticeable both in personal and occupational contexts; lots of employers still haven't resumed regular in-office work, church attendance remains dramatically down, and there are parts of the world where private gatherings are still strictly limited.
■ Thinking together serves many purposes at the same time, both regulatory and generative. Sharing an idea with friends is often a way to test whether it's worth further pursuit or ought to be left alone -- we help to regulate one another by pointing towards or away from ideas, based on our own knowledge, values, and experience. But we also generate new ideas through collaboration, even when it's informal; you pick up on a new recipe from a friend, they suggest a new author you should read, and soon enough, you're teaching one another whole new cooking techniques and reviewing movies together.
■ Psychologists will have to find ways of studying this massive natural experiment in which we have all been involuntarily enrolled for two years. There is only so much a chat feature in a Zoom meeting or an always-open Slack channel can do to facilitate the natural and organic exchanges that lead us to think together.
■ In some workplaces, productivity has risen as people have worked from home. But alert students of institutional memory know that much of workplace education still takes place informally, and it's undoubtedly the same for a lot of the leisure thinking we can only do when actively engaged with others -- social thinking. It's not always clear that great minds think alike, but nearly all minds must frequently spend time thinking together.