Timeless Ideas | October 24, 2020

Here’s your weekly dose of timeless ideas to sharpen your mind, make smarter decisions, and live better.

Quotes

I.


It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met.

― Yoshida Kenko


II.


If you want to be successful, find out what the price is and then pay it.

― Scott Adams


III.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
― George Bernard Shaw

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Ideas

I.

Understand: the greatest generals, the most creative strategists, stand out not because they have more knowledge but because they are able, when necessary, to drop their preconceived notions and focus intensely on the present moment. That is how creativity is sparked and opportunities are seized. Knowledge, experience, and theory have limitations: no amount of thinking in advance can prepare you for the chaos of life, for the infinite possibilities of the moment. The great philosopher of war Carl von Clausewitz called this “friction”: the difference between our plans and what actually happens. Since friction is inevitable, our minds have to be capable of keeping up with change and adapting to the unexpected. The better we can adapt our thoughts to changing circumstances, the more realistic our responses to them will be. The more we lose ourselves in predigested theories and past experiences, the more inappropriate and delusional our response.

Robert Greene in The 33 Strategies of War


II.

Nature likes to overinsure itself. Layers of redundancy are the central risk management property of natural systems. We humans have two kidneys (this may even include accountants), extra spare parts, and extra capacity in many, many things (say, lungs, neural system, arterial apparatus), while human design tends to be spare and inversely redundant, so to speak—we have a historical track record of engaging in debt, which is the opposite of redundancy (fifty thousand in extra cash in the bank or, better, under the mattress, is redundancy; owing the bank an equivalent amount, that is, debt, is the opposite of redundancy). Redundancy is ambiguous because it seems like a waste if nothing unusual happens. Except that something unusual happens—usually.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder


III.

Become at ease with the state of “not knowing.” This takes you beyond mind because the mind is always trying to conclude and interpret. It is afraid of not knowing. So, when you can be at ease with not knowing, you have already gone beyond the mind. A deeper knowing that is non-conceptual then arises out of that state.

Eckhart Tolle in Stillness Speaks

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Articles Worth Reading

I.

Death by PowerPoint: the slide that killed seven people

James Thomas | McDreeamieMusings

Since being released in 1987 PowerPoint has grown exponentially to the point where it is now estimated than thirty million PowerPoint presentations are made every day. Yet, PowerPoint is blamed by academics for killing critical thought. Typing text on a screen and reading it out loud does not count as teaching. An audience reading text off the screen does not count as learning. Imagine if the engineers had put up a slide with just: “foam strike more than 600 times bigger than test data.” Maybe NASA would have listened. Maybe they wouldn’t have attempted re-entry. Next time you’re asked to give a talk remember Columbia. Don’t just jump to your laptop and write out slides of text. Think about your message. Don’t let that message be lost amongst text. Death by PowerPoint is a real thing. Sometimes literally.


II.

The Surprising Value of a Wandering Mind

Lily Meyer | The Atlantic

In a time of Zoom lectures and distracted students, the polymorphic nonfiction writer and English professor Mary Cappello champions an underappreciated state of being. Cappello argues that lectures should play to the fact that real learning comes primarily from within: not from a teacher’s neatly presented ideas, but from the connections your own brain forms between them. For a lecture not to leave room for mental wandering and idiosyncratic interpretation is to reject that truth. Rather than attempt to present one unified argument that students must absorb, teachers should strive to awaken their various curiosities, then guide them into the sort of quietude where thought occurs. What matters—in a lecture, and an education—is, after all, thinking itself.


III.

You can’t unlearn, and that’s a challenge for teachers

Alexander Jeukis, Valentina Petrolini | Psyche

What teachers have found is that attempting to take their students’ perspective is not only remarkably effortful, but it’s often futile too. Whenever teachers try to go back to a novice mental state, they discover that their current knowledge state has become so ingrained that they’re unable to shake it off. In fact, becoming an expert can radically change your perspective, to the point that it’s virtually impossible to go back to previous knowledge states. American philosopher Hubert Dreyfus was the first to hint at a characteristic that is central to skill acquisition – it is non-cumulative. If this is correct, there may not be a way to decompose your skills into discrete building blocks, so that you can look at them individually, take them away and put them back together.

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