Raghu's

Notes and Thoughts

Exploring the fabric of knowledge

Notes on how to read better

  • July-03-2020
  • Reading
  • General

This is going to be a prescriptive post about reading, as most of these are either from my own experiences or from having benefited from reading interesting books that directly/indirectly hint at cultivating good practices that help with bettering one's approach to reading.

Read with a fractalized mental pattern

Fractalize your mental patterns instead of reading as a whole (i.e., one single pattern, where the mood of the act is associated with the ego), that way you will be able to selectively associate yourself with a book instead of the act of reading. Most people stop reading when they are bored of reading, but by fractalizing your mental patterns you will be able to dissociate yourself from that particular book and move on to another book instead of stopping reading altogether.

"Be bored with a book, not with the act of reading"
—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile

Read more to read quickly

In the last 5 years that I've started reading seriously I have come to realize that there is no read fast technique, if someone tells you that you can read quickly if you practise their technique, they are probably one of those cargo-cult productivity people whose main job is to teach about productivity. I have tried reading techniques and apps to intentionally improve my reading speed and I can definitely tell you that they don't work, partly because they don't allow you to have that mental-emotional connect that you need to get going with the material and partly because these techniques do not scale well beyond the demo environment shown by those productivity charlatans. It is during this period that I observed that my reading speed improved dramatically once I dropped focusing on the techniques and started reading around 1-2 books a week for almost 2 years. Also the added benefit that I have been enjoying is my comprehension ability has gone up by manifolds, or as Tyler cowen says I literally can anticipate the next couple ofsentences in most non-fiction type books and fly through them like I never before could.

Tyler Cowens conveys this better in one of his MR Post: Full Post Here

Related Post by Tyler on Deep Reading

Read original works and read them in their chronological order

I do not know if this needs any futher explanation, but for what it is worth, the benefit is you have a temporal consistency that helps you mature along with the material. I have seen this help me so much with my research and understanding in it allows you to form a mental model without the need for solving assignments, that is, if you read all of leibniz's work in its chronological order, you will realize that there is this wavelength that you strike with him in that you stumble upon calculus just about in the same fashion that he did. Thus allowing you to have a more naturalistic understanding of the ideas and the concepts without going through the unpleasant route of having to solve some made up problems that is forced upon you by the author of a calculus textbook.

Note: As for gaining expertise in a given field, I don't think this method works, at least as of now, as most of what is needed to function in terms of technical knowledge in todays day-n-age in society has a specialization quotient attached to it, which gets leveraged by the existing experts who take advantage of it by continuing this vicious cycle. Unless you are a self-sufficient person with auto-didatic attitude, you are bound to be caught up in this cycle. So, please do not attempt this approach before an examination that requires that you be well-versed at a given tasks such as solving math problems and algorithms to be able to do well in those exams.

Be very selective about interpretations and commentaries

You could call it interpretations, but more often than not they are just disconnected entities that reduce instead of augmenting our collective IQ by floating what they think to be interesting ideas in a siloed fashion. I think this goes in unison with the previous point, that is, to be able to see the cohesive and coherent view of the idea, which I think can only be seen by maintaining the temporal consistency that is required for object permanence.

What we mean here by temporal consistency for object permamence: the natural interlinking of ideas in the fashion they were uncovered as opposed to cataloguing them in a chaptered fashion with a chain of pivot points that has to be remembered in order to make a connection between the first and the tenth chapter.

Also note that when I say be very selective about interpretations, I mean it in a very specific way, for any old text that was written in a language that you don't know but wish to read requires that you rely on the existing translations or some form of interpretation/commentary. So, be cautious while trying to apply this advice.