Inside Out

Talk - This is water

Notes on commencement speech by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College in 2005. The subject touches upon on what it means to be educated, our worlds and the role of mind in it.

What is water?

David starts with a nice little parable. An old fish meets two young fish and asks them, “How’s the water?“. Confused, they retort back, “What is the water?“. Entire speech tries to substantiate this - this is water.

Being educated

It’s not about learning how to think. Rather it is more about what to think about. The choice.

We exercise the wrong choice because of close mindedness. This is the part where a fundamentalist, however correct they may be, lives in his cocoon and stops learning. Beware of blind certainty.

…a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.

Education helps us to be…

just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.

Example of delusion

A misleading deep belief about self1 is hardwired into our beings.

I am the absolute center of the universe; the realist, most vivid and important person in existence.

it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head

The solution

Being conscious and aware.

…learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.

Our obstacle is the daily life is filled with frustrating moments where we’re constantly reminded of how much unfair the environment, the people and everybody is. Everybody is coming against me.

Give yourself the choice to look differently.

Interpret these moments of frustration with compassion. Learning to be well-adjusted is the freedom of real education.

You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.


The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

Real education doesn’t have anything to do with knowledge, rather is about awareness.

This is water.


  1. This is beautifully expressed in Chapter 16.13-16 of the Bhagvad Geeta. इदमद्यमया लब्धमिमं प्राप्स्ये मनोरथम् । इदमस्तीदमपि मे भविष्यति पुनर्धनम् ॥ १६-१३॥ This to-day by me hath been won, that purpose I shall gain; this wealth is mine already, and also this shall be mine in future. I have slain this enemy, and others also I shall slay. I am the Lord, I am the enjoyer, I am perfect, powerful, happy; I am wealthy, well-born; what other is there that is like unto me? I will sacrifice, I will give alms, I will rejoice.” Thus deluded by unwisdom, Bewildered by numerous thoughts, enmeshed in the web of delusion, addicted to the gratification of desire, they fall downwards into a foul hell. (source: wikisource)