Tom Magliozzi, the popular co-host of the public radio show Car Talk, passed away today at the age of 77. In 1999, Tom and his brother Ray gave a commencement address at MIT. Tom talked to the graduating class of engineers about a Latin mantra, non impediti ratione cogitatonis, which means “unencumbered by the thought process.”
TOM: I was once trapped by the scientific, logic, left brain life. I graduated from here and I went to work as an engineer. And I will tell you about my defining moment. I was driving — I lived in Cambridge at the time — I was driving from Cambridge to my job in Foxboro, Massachusetts, and I was driving in a little MG. It weighed about 50 pounds and on Route 128 I was cut off by a semi and I almost, as they say, bought the farm. And as I continued my drive, I said to myself, if I had in fact bought the farm out there on Route 128, how ticked off would I be that I spent all my life — that I can remember at least — going to this job, living a life of quiet desperation. So, I pulled into the parking lot, walked into my boss’s office and I quit, on the spot.
RAY: See, now most people would have just bought a bigger car.
TOM: [LAUGHTER] See, those people would have been using their left brains. I had been saying my mantra in the car. That’s why the guy cut me off. I think I cut him off. In any event, I quit my job. I became a bum. I spent two years sitting in Harvard Square drinking coffee. I invented the concept of the do-it-yourself auto repair shop and I met my lovely wife. None of which would have happened if I had been using my left brain.
My second great defining moment came also showing the power of the mantra, unencumbered by the thought process. I was having an argument with my lovely wife one day. I mean how can you argue with such a wonderful person. Well, left brain people do that because all they can think of is: this is an argument. This person is over here and I am over here and I am going to use every ounce of logic and skill that I have so that I can win this argument, and my wife says to me, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Holy shit, says I! [LAUGHTER] I wanted to be happy. So now I have reached nirvana and my brother and I can help you to reach it. If you want to repeat after me, unencumbered by the thought process. Say it.