> Often, people mourn that they are bad at retaining information.
I read that paragraph aloud to my kid and asked him what he thought. He said he wasn’t paying attention because none of it was interesting to him. Never discount tuning out as a first line of memetic defense.
Ah yes, this is an excellent rebuttal to Bankman-Fried's blurt. Not every book is an instruction manual for life and you can't really absorb the best bits in a good book without doing the work. Thank you!
"You mostly get the impression of knowing something, which is not the same as knowing something."
A sentence worth quoting, 100%. To me this portion of SBF's chatter about books is such a non-contributing jumble of words because he purported to be this person who wanted to earn the millions to give them all away to help people in the spirit of "effective altruism". To me, saying something like he did, to essentially dismiss over 500 years of people's printed art, millions of hours of research/hard work, memories, artistic endeavors, book binding skills, and scientific inquiry - not including the books that had to be hand painted, printed, bound, and copied prior to oh, about 1455 - is such an arrogant and narrow minded view of the world and education. Honestly, if he was halfway inclined to being someone who wanted to help people "effectively" with a sense of "altruism" then I'd imagine he would have been pouring millions into people who help boys and girls learn to read in parts of the world where reading is still, sadly, unreachable, unattainable, or in need of something of the most basic kind, like electricity. Or running water. Or to not have people in power who believe you don't deserve to know how to read because of what gender you born.
But honestly what do I know, I'm just a person who loves reading and believes books have changed people's lives over and over and over again and will continue to do so, no matter how many people say "it should have been a six-paragraph blog post.”
Great post though. Really! :).
I can't make the connection myself because I haven't done it but how do you think this connects with people who've had transformative experiences on LSD? Especially ones where the epiphany is less due to a novel revelation and more due to a newly powerfully felt truth about, like, love being the most important thing. It seems like it rhymes with how you describe the ideas from the book on smoking, with the important part being the transmission and internalization, and not the raw information itself.
Thanks for this. I think a lot about what people say can and can't be transmitted by books, mostly because I'm a compulsive reader who feels a lot of things can come through pretty effectively, and I'm trying to learn to take the idea that there are important things that can't come through a book more seriously. I do think a lot of what people think is missing is the context, but you're right, books have a context – a how as well as a what – even though a lot of people don't seem to notice that. I'm noticing that I probably need to spend some time thinking about the differences between book context and in-person context.
Brilliant piece, and also a good rebuttal to this one I think: https://arnoldkling.substack.com/p/books-are-not-information-dense.
I think most of this is about non-fiction, especially how-to and lifestyle books. Your paragraph on fiction is very good, but for me it still understates the wonders of fiction, which has enriched my life and my horizons ever since I learned to read. And what about, for example, favourite cookbooks? I can still quote sentences from Katharine Whitehorn's Cooking in a Bedsitter by heart (bought it when I moved to England in 1972, and still sometimes cook from it).
I suspect that books that can be effectively summed up in Blinkist are books that are not worth reading. Which reminds me of Nicholas Nassim Taleb saying that he never reads a book whose content can easily be guessed just by reading its table of contents.
Totally agree. Reading is a psychotechnology that lets one mind live in another for a spell. People like SBF that never intellectually emphasize with another mind may be more immune to persuasion but they are also shutting down humanity’s most lindy form of cognitive evolution. Life without reading is climbing without ropes.
Another way if saying it is that we might relate more to the story and the person writing the book, than the essential rationalisation of it... :) For me it's because it surfaces archetypal information which rings true. Rather than pure knowledge which for some reason doesn't resonate at all.
This is excelent! My only complaint is that it took me far too long to get ot this post! Thanks for merging with my subjectivity!
I would summarize Carr's point differently, as: do you like smoking? No, really, do you? Smoke. Are you enjoying yourself? What do you actually feel? If you like it, keep smoking. If you don't like it, then why are you doing it? I'm not going to tell you not to like it, but at least don't lie to yourself and pretend you enjoy it if you totally don't.