Some Thoughts on Knowledge Acquisition

 

One of my resolutions that I have in the year of 2017 is being a good reader. It may sound a simple aspiration yet I can not stop pondering these two questions: what makes a good reader? what are the qualities of a good reader? I used to think that speed reading is the quality that everyone needs to acquire if they aspire to be better readers. The cultural motto that most people live by is “The faster the better”. But, does that apply if we want to acquire a set of knowledge, especially through books? Does reading forty pages in an hour can make us smarter or even wiser?

I had been in that position where I would tell myself to rush through the process of digesting a book. I did not understand why I rushed but I thought it was a common style of reading. Whenever a word or a sentence caught my eyes, I paused but then I kept pedaling trying to make it to the last page. A part of my brain wanted to savor words that baffled me yet time selfishly pushed me forward. Letters, words, sentences, and ideas were neglected. The result was a complete confusion. I barely remembered what I had just read. I understood only a small portion of the book but I missed how the topic gradually unfolded into bigger ideas.

Gathered here are some of my favorite reminders on how to be more patient with the process of attaining knowledge:

 

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Ryan Holiday

 

Ryan Holiday, one of the smartest guys I know, a former director of marketing at American Apparel, a writer, a dedicated common place book keeper, shared his thoughts on why reading is not a race and speed reading is eliminating the fruit of reading.

“What are you going to do with this time you “save” speed reading? Work more? Watch more TV? Respond to email? Ugh. By doing this you miss out on all the ancillary benefits of reading: peace, quiet and concentration. Don’t toss that out.”

Then he offers another question that we need to ask ourselves critically.

“If you find yourself wanting to speed up the reading process on a particular book, you may want to ask yourself, “Is this book any good?” Life is too short to read books you do not enjoy reading.”

He believes that the resources that we invest determine the quality of the results.

“I think I know why people focus on speed reading. They want the results without the work. There is and never will be a substitute. Put the time in, you’ll get the results.”

Another genius mind firmly agrees on what Holiday believes. Maria Popova of brainpickings.org–an astute recorder and observer of interestingness, said in a conversation with Krista Tippett on her show On Being .

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Maria Popova. Photo by Amber Gregory. ( Via )

She speaks:

“We seem somehow bored with thinking. We want to instantly know. And there is this epidemic of listicle. Why think about what constitutes the great work of art if we can skim “the 20 most expensive paintings in history”?

Then she continues talking about the root of our tendency to compress complex ideas into small bite-sized pieces and time as the most valuable resource that we can use to attain knowledge.

“. . . and I remember there’s a really beautiful commencement address that Adrienne Rich gave in 1977 in which she said that an education is not something that you get but something that you claim. And I think that’s very much true of knowledge itself. The reason we’re so increasingly intolerant of long articles and why we skim them, why we skip forward even in a short video that reduces a 300-page book into a three-minute animation — even in that we skip forward — is that we’ve been infected with this kind of pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge but not do the work of claiming it. I mean, the true material of knowledge is meaning. And the meaningful is the opposite of the trivial. And the only thing that we should have gleaned by skimming and skipping forward is really trivia. And the only way to glean knowledge is contemplation. And the road to that is time. There’s nothing else. It’s just time. There is no shortcut for the conquest of meaning. And ultimately, it is meaning that we seek to give to our lives. “

 

 

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. (via)

 

Long before Popova and Holiday share the same argument on our chronic impatience of gleaning knowledge, a German philosopher named Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel addressed the same issue in his book titled The Phenomenology of the Mind  (Public library).

He poignantly writes:

“The goal to be reached is the mind’s insight into what knowing is. Impatience asks for the impossible, wants to reach the goal without the means of getting there. The length of the journey has to be borne with, for every moment is necessary; and again we must halt at every stage, for each is itself a complete individual form, and is fully and finally considered only so far as its determine character is taken and dealt with as a rounded and concrete whole, or only so far as the whole is looked at in the light of the special and peculiar character which this determination gives it. Because the substance of individual mind, nay, more, because the universal mind at work in the world, has had the patience to go through these forms in the long stretch of time’s extent, and to take upon itself the prodigious labor of the world’s history, where it bodied forth in each form the entire content of itself, as each is capable of presenting it; and because by nothing less could that all-pervading mind ever manage to become conscious of what itself is-for that reason, the individual mind . . . cannot expect by less toil to grasp what its own substance contains.”

More about Hegel’s wisdom on knowledge via (Brainpickings)

 

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