This is Water

David Foster Wallace was a brilliant novelist who lost a battle to depression a few years back. I don’t know much more about him, and will unlikely find the time to read his seminal novel, Infinite Jest.

It’s graduation season, so some noteworthy commencement speeches of years past are making the rounds on the internet. Wallace gave a classic at Kenyon College in 2005. Below is my favorite excerpt.

Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.  I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realist, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it’s so socially repulsive.  But it’s pretty much the same for all of us.  It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.  Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of.  The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor.  And so on.  Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so  immediate, urgent, real.

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