“Every sentence is a wispy net, capturing a few flecks of meaning. The sun shines without vocabulary. The salmon has no name for the urge that drives it upstream. The newborn groping for the nipple knows hunger long before it knows a single word. Even with an entire dictionary in one's head, one eventually comes to the end of words. Then what? Then drink deep like the baby, swim like the salmon, burn like any brief star.”Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World
If you want to instantly feel better, step into a hospital. The placebo works every time.
Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Hospitals can make the healthy feel a bit ill.
Does anyone like hanging out in hospitals?
Placebo is a mere expectation. It helps only because we think it helps. But that psychological boon could be the difference in making things better or worse. Brain modulation is pain modulation.
It turns that out managing your own internal wiring whether through expectation, habits, or lucky charms may just be the oldest medicine in the world.
Ziming Liu from San Jose State University has conducted a series of studies which indicate that the “new norm” in reading is skimming, with word-spotting and browsing through the text. Many readers now use an F or Z pattern when reading in which they sample the first line and then word-spot through the rest of the text. When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.
We are cultivating impatience, begetting callousness and ignorance. We need to go deeper. Huxley forewarned us.
“In coming to New Mexico, I had unexpectedly felt myself an alien—an immigrant—in my own country, and this lithic scatter reinforced this feeling. I was reminded that we Americans are interlopers on this continent; that we have built our great and towering civilization on the wreckage of a past that we know almost nothing about and can scarcely comprehend.”
— Douglas Preston, Cities of Gold
The glut of information means that we need to review things more than ever.
And one of the most useful tools I've come across is Readwise.
Each day or weekly (up to you), it emails you a dose of your Kindle and Instapaper highlights.
Rereading through them not only reminds you of the interesting passages you once discovered, but also how that “old” information connects to your existing thinking.
According to professor Kenneth Goldsmith at the University of Pennsylvania, “an educated person in the future will be a curious person who collects better artifacts. The ability to call up and use facts is the new education. How to tap them, how to use them.”
The pennies of Instapaper or Pocket articles you collect add up over time but their meaning is in their extraction. The simple act of reviewing allows one to remix and convert previously found artifacts into forward-thinking idea-generating value.
Technology isn’t bad. If you know what you want in life, technology can help you get it. But if you don’t know what you want in life, it will be all too easy for technology to shape your aims for you and take control of your life. Especially as technology gets better at understanding humans, you might increasingly find yourself serving it, instead of it serving you.
— Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
Beware that one of technology's biggest threat is that it undermines your will so you will no longer want what you want. But you can reverse the stakes and like a hammer, use it as a tool for building the life you want.
How often do you print something out just so you can take the time to read it with more focus?
In an interview with The Verge, UCLA neuroscientist and author of the forthcoming book Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World, Maryanne Wolf explains what tech does to the reading brain.
This is a question that requires a very careful attempt at explanation. It’s not zero-sum, but we have grown used to skimming. People like you and me who spend six to 12 hours a day on a screen are led to use the skimming mode even when we know we should use a more concentrated, focused mode of reading.
It’s an idea I call “cognitive patience.” I believe we are all becoming unable to take the time to be patient because skimming has bled over into most of our reading.
The consequences of skimming:
Skimming has led, I believe, to a tendency to go to the sources that seem the simplest, most reduced, most familiar, and least cognitively challenging. I think that leads people to accept truly false news without examining it, without being analytical. One of my major worries is that when you lose the novel, you lose the ability to go into another person’s perspective. My biggest worry now is that a lot of what we’re seeing in society today — this vulnerability to demagoguery in all its forms — of one unanticipated and never intended consequence of a mode of reading that doesn’t allow critical analysis and empathy.
There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia.
— Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens Of Titan
In today’s age, you get picked (and judged) by algorithms and your number of social media fans.
No matter your unique talent, it is the statistics that predetermine your success.
But the element of surprise is not over.
Meanwhile, the Goldman Sachs algorithmic machine incorrectly picked Germany to make the World Cup final.
Data or gut, predicting future success is impossible because everything thrives on chance.
Truth happens to an outcome.
Anxiety and desire are two, often conflicting, orientations to the unknown. Both are tilted toward the future. Desire implies a willingness, or a need, to engage this unknown, while anxiety suggests a fear of it. Desire takes one out of oneself, into the possibility or relationship, but it also takes one deeper into oneself. Anxiety turns one back on oneself, but only onto the self that is already known.
— Mark Epstein M.D., Open to Desire: The Truth About What the Buddha Taught
The tranquil flood of information died after CNN introduced the 24-hour news cycle. But the internet brushed on a new type of disorder onto the information canvass that prevents us from thinking straight.
We consumed mindlessly, eating more than we could chew. Our brains got overloaded, dulled out, memories stymied by Google and images that told us everything we needed to know.
The good news is that while no one reads anymore, those who do are choosing quality over crap. Premium content is back because it's trustworthy, well-written, detailed, and shareable.
Of course, the non-traditional sources are there like me. I blog to step back from the chaos and to absorb its connections. I refuse to let the Kardashians and other buffoonery colonize my brain. Blogging is like self-medication, but you can easily do it with a private journal or spending five still minutes reflecting on the day behind or ahead.
The Pilgrims didn't have to deal with attention seeking missiles, misinformation, and click-baiting darts. Otherwise, they might have stayed home assuming the worst. Now offers the chance to dance with the intrusions by putting novelty aside and embracing the imagination for periods at a time.
“We think we understand the rules when we become adults but what we really experience is a narrowing of the imagination.” — David Lynch
Less news equals more news, squashing stimuli along the way.
Obsessed with productivity or the pursuit of distraction, we're never not doing something. Even when we're bored, we're making lists or planning them out in images on a Pinterest board.
As Umberto Eco once said, “We like lists because we don’t want to die.”
But Patricia Hampl's new book [easyazon_link identifier=”0525429646″ locale=”US” tag=”wells01-20″]The Art of the Wasted Day[/easyazon_link] wants us to reconsider time management by removing the burden of the to-do list and daydream instead. She encourages us, especially in our old age — what she calls the third stage after youth and middle age — to let go of the over-scheduled life.
The to-do list that runs most lives through middle age turns out, in this latter stage of existence, to have only one task: to waste life in order to find it. Who said that? Or something like that. Jesus? Buddha? Bob Dylan? Somebody who knew what’s what
Wonder, rather than pursue
Why keep adding to the list tasks like meditation and yoga? The urge to scratch the itch or check the boxes means more doing rather enjoying the freedom of idleness.
Patricia Hampl encourages us to be ok with making unscheduled time and doing nothing at all. She wants to remind us that it's ok to pause and dance with pure nothingness. We can always get going again.
Loafing is not a prudent business plan, not even a life plan, not a recognizably American project. But it begins to look a little like happiness, the kind that claims you, unbidden. Stay put and let the world show up? Or get out there and be a flâneur? Which is it? Well, it’s both.
“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. The more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That's why we feel so much resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there'd be no resistance.”
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
We need to relearn how to read books in the digital age. Online reading is a different experience than physical print.
For one, the digital experience is stickier because of its dopamine-hitting bells and whistles. We are constantly shifting between articles, apps, and text messages, hijacked by the latest gaze of entertainment. It's the equivalent of flipping TV channels.
Writes Canadian author and journalist Michael Harris:
“Online life makes me into a different kind of reader – a cynical one. I scrounge, now, for the useful fact; I zero in on the shareable link. My attention – and thus my experience – fractures. Online reading is about clicks, and comments, and points. When I take that mindset and try to apply it to a beaten-up paperback, my mind bucks.”
Since physical books lack the immediate stimuli, reading requires an entirely different mindset. It enforces focus and patience. Said Harris: “I do think old, book-oriented styles of reading opened the world to me – by closing it. And new, screen-oriented styles of reading seem to have the opposite effect: They close the world to me, by opening it.”
Screens are for short-term readers; book heads play the long-game. The latter know that great moments in novels are as scarce a goal in a soccer game, but they can also be more exciting.
Books test our attentiveness while creating anticipation. Perhaps they are the only escape we have left from our distracted world. Constricted to one tangible novel of a screen, a paperback can help recalibrate the imagination and slow down time.