‘Even with an entire dictionary in one’s head, one eventually comes to the end of words’

“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

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Medicating off the placebo

Medicating off the placebo

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.

Read The Placebo Effect’s Role in Healing, Explained



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Skim reading is the new normal

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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.

Read Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound

We are cultivating impatience, begetting callousness and ignorance. We need to go deeper. Huxley forewarned us.


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‘We have built our great and towering civilization on the wreckage of a past’

“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


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Information resurfaced with Readwise

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.


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‘Technology isn’t bad. If you know what you want in life, technology can help you get it’

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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 Harari21 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.


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The reading brain in a digital world

Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf book cover

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.

A fascinating read throughout. But books are not the only medium with an attention problem.


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