All of humanity’s accrued knowledge

As I elaborated in last week’s episode of my podcast, Neil Postman argues that it was the introduction of mass-produced longform writing that really unleashed human potential — ushering in the modes of critical, analytical understanding that birthed both the enlightenment and the scientific revolution, the foundations of modernity. It allowed us to efficiently capture complex thought in all its nuance, then build on it, layer after layer, nudging forward human intellectual endeavor.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2020/06/27/on-the-exceptionalism-of-books-in-an-age-of-tweets/

I’ve often ranted against lack of attention-span, and wasted time. But Newport, and in particular some things he’s quoting and talking about from another article, make the point that all of human history is encoded in written form. Why is that so? Because it works, and it works really well.

There is a place for visual and auditory information, of course. Those tools of communication are power tools compared to writing—well, almost all writing. As I’ve said many times here though: One can have the power tools after demonstrating mastery with the manual hand-tools.

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The web is like water

There is no question that apps are here to stay, and are a superior interaction model for some uses. But the web is like water: it fills in all the gaps between things like gaming and social with exactly what any one particular user wants. And while we all might have a use for Facebook – simply because everyone is there – we all have different things that interest us when it comes to reading.

~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2014/web-still-matters-writing/

That’s from 2014, and holds up pretty well I think. That the web, “fills in all the gaps,” is insightful. Sure, the technology that defines “the Web” drives an enormous amount of stuff other than written content. But even just the smaller portion that is the written word is a huge swath of time and attention. That speaks well for us in the aggregate.

I still believe that the problem, currently, is simply that people rarely bother to figure out how things actually work. People don’t tinker and change things. Once someone gets the bug of curiosity, it’s a slippery slope from poking and prodding, to tinkering and experimenting, to building and creating; It’s a slippery slope lined entirely with reading.

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Frog or bird?

He described himself as a frog not a bird, as he enjoyed jumping from pool to pool, studying their details deeply in the mud. The bird’s-eye perspective was not for him, and he had a lifelong suspicion of grand unified theories.

~ Robbert Dijkgraaf from, https://www.quantamagazine.org/remembering-the-unstoppable-freeman-dyson-20200413/

Freeman Dyson’s, Frogs and Birds is also worth a read.

There is such an insanely huge amount of things I want to read. Web pages, PDF files, ePub documents in Kindle and Nook, and of course stacks of physical books. I read a lot, but of course I’ll barely scratch the surface of just the things I’ve actively decided I want to read. Fortunately, I’m no longer reading to reach a goal, or to finish.

My mind is but a tiny eddy of order, maintained every so briefly within the grand arc of time.

…and what fun it is to go frolicking through the works of mankind, sharing the occasional bit here with you!

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Just a chair

It’s all about the context. I find that having certain spaces where I do certain things works wonders. For example, if I want to do certain kinds of work, I sit here and all my tools are arrayed. In general, the act of showing up at the designated area and having the environment pre-set to be conducive to the activity is often enough to get my brain to shift into the mode I need.

Have you ever tried to find a chair for reading?

For about a decade I’ve had a typical Pöang chair from Ikea that I sit in to read. It’s absolutely horrible for reading. But it’s better than any chair I have in my house. So buy a chair Craig! …if only I could find one.

High enough at the back so I can rest my head. The whole chair tipped back far enough that I can completely relax and have all of my body settle into the chair. Feet flat on the floor. Padded arm rests. Arm rests high enough that when I hold the thing I’m reading it’s up at eye level.

Sorry. This quest is driving me bonkers.

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On reading

https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/07/30/henry-miller-the-books-in-my-life/

In this age, which believes that there is a short cut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest. All that is set forth in books, all that seems so terribly vital and significant, is but an iota of that from which it stems and which it is within everyone’s power to tap. Our whole theory of education is based on the absurd notion that we must learn to swim on land before tackling the water. It applies to the pursuit of the arts as well as to the pursuit of knowledge. Men are still being taught to create by studying other men’s works or by making plans and sketches never intended to materialize. The art of writing is taught in the classroom instead of in the thick of life. Students are still being handed models which are supposed to fit all temperaments, all kinds of intelligence. No wonder we produce better engineers than writers, better industrial experts than painters.

~ Henry Miller

This reminds me of how moving seems to be the only way to sort myself out. Studying movement won’t do.

I often remind myself to always “deploy forward.” Assess. Make a choice. Move. (That would be a move “forward” by definition, since “assess” and “choose” are how I figure out which way “forward” is.) Except in the most extreme cases—so rare as to be almost not worth mentioning—never try to undo (what programs would call “roll-back”) a step. Simply assess, choose and move from the new position.

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