Books: February 2017

Ryan Holiday has a great monthly-ish reading list. If you don’t already subscribe, stop what you’re doing and click. I’m going to try to get at least one idea from each book down and link them between them in as interesting ways. Maybe helpful for you. Maybe not. Remembrance for future connectivity is the goal.

This month’s theme music: My Favorite Things by John Coltrane

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural by James Randi
First on Scott’s Persuasion Reading list, and a super quick read. People can believe anything. People can convince people of anything. Superstition is built into us at a foundational level which we simply can’t shake. Surely an examination of nearly anything on, say, Facebook would convince you of that, yet you simply don’t realize how much you accept on faith as well. Something things just flow in. It’s your job to police the filter, and toss out what should be in your brain. An easier task said than done.

They Got It Wrong: History: All the Facts that Turned Out to be Myths by Emma Marriot
Second on Scott’s list, and another quick read. As in the first, not hugely substantiated, but consistent with facts and direct experiences that I’ve had actually going to the places mentioned. Touchiest one was related to the Holocaust which broadens ones understanding of where, and at who’s hand, most Jews died. Historical stories are created out of whole cloth to convince people, not unlike superstitions.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
I’ve tried to read this book, and stopped several times. It’s brutal. The audiobook is the way to go. Primary Source account of concentration camps as a Jew from an astute observer. You simply cannot understand what the human organism is able to normalize until you make it through to the end of this book. A much more serious book than They Got It Wrong, which serves as an interesting contrast as events occur completely outside of Viktor Frankl’s sphere. That fact by no means diminishes either the historical facts (as much as history can be factual), nor Viktor Frankl’s experiences and insights. There’s more to this book and I need to work my way through it again.

God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment by Scott Adams
A record of a two conversations which, like links in a chain, drive home a series of thoughts about who we are as humans and where we’re going, even if we’re not paying attention to the fact that we’re moving at all. Fertile idea generator. As an example, here’s the one that’s stuck with me (and the riskiest of the lot): Religion is how we, as a species, program our System 1, while suppressing our System 2 as necessary, for the persistence of our tribe. When we choose a religion, even if it’s no-religion (i.e. atheism), that’s because our System 1 accepts it that programming, and rigs our System 2 to think it’s our own idea – our own “free will.”

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts
A subtle magic trick in the form of a historical expose of Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zen which, along the way, causes the listener to internalize precepts of Zen in ways. There’s persuasion going on here in a major way, but I doubt you’d register it. The only way I spotted it was to notice how my thoughts changed in response to events. Granted this is my third time through the work, and I doubt that the written version would have had any effect at all. Going deeper on the why of the Koan teaching strategy lead to the insight about God’s Debris above.

The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawne Coyne & Steven Pressfield
If you work with stories, this is a book for you. Full stop. As you read, read the other non-fiction books he references, in particular Story by Robert McKee. How to disassemble a story, look at the component pieces, and verify proper functioning. Highly analytical. A way to generate feedback about the quality of your work. Ideas connect with Mastery by Robert Greene. It’s an example of how to rigorously define compliance with, and aberration from, expectations and conventions of written stories. Greene uses John Coltrane’s jazz as an example, this is the analog for writing.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Five Novels and One Story by Douglas Adams
I finally get it. I don’t like this book. I understand why now. You see, it wasn’t written as a single work at a single time, instead it’s been reworked and rewritten at least six times, across many mediums, to the point where it no longer feels like a book to me. It’s meticulously crafted watch. Everything, absolutely everything, has been polished, stripped, and reworked to the point where the whole book ticks along with too much rigidity and perfection for me to find it funny and entertaining. There’s simply no surprise.

Going Rogue (Spells, Swords, & Stealth) (Volume 3) by Drew Hayes
This series hits it’s stride in book three. There’s three ensembles of actors in the story and the first two books in the series suffered, because the balance of focus wasn’t sufficient. Drew Hayes gets it right in this book. This was the first fictional work that I applied concpets from Story Grid to as I was reading. This is an example of where the first two books really do need to be reworked, as it’s a long slog for readers to get to this point and truly enjoy the aggregate work. The only reason why I made it as far as I did was because I used to DM Dungeons & Dragon games, not a large group of people, and a main character is a Dungeon Master.  Yeah, I know I just said what I said about Hitchhiker’s, so I suppose the trick is doing it in a less than perfect way.

Working my way back through Mastery by Robert Greene, and Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kehneman. I really do love re-reading books with complexity, because there’s so much to gain. If you didn’t get the System 1/2 reference from above, read Thinking Fast & Slow. Mandatory. I’m also tracking down Scott Adams’ Persuasion Reading list, so more from that next month.


Copybooks are trouble

Some of my earliest memories are of the pre-printed variety. More than what Rudyard Kipling would recognize as such, but they were Gods none the less. Wisdom and morality. Thoughts and knowledge.

Questions to be asked and answered.

Reading became acquiring knowledge. Of analysis. Without regard to the time or effort required. The creation of an aggregate collection of applied knowledge. Without question. Simply because it was to be done. The concept of pleasure reading doesn’t make any sense to me.

Even popcorn has a taste.

I cannot read Tarzan and not feel aspiration. I cannot read Starship Troopers and and think of my own family. I cannot read The Dresden Files and not seek out impossible odds. If I have an experience, it’s coming on board – one way or another. Only by choice. Consciously and deliberately.

I am my own cruel taskmaster.

My copybook is a multihued thing: private thoughts in a DayOne journal, semi-private Facebook posts, writings on a blog, wholesale replication of other’s thoughts in EverNote, and broken phrases on Twitter. Each has it’s point and value, but they’re for my understanding, not for others, even thought they maybe available to them.

I discovered that I wasn’t not alone in this practice. That I’m not the only one who’s taken the rote act of copying and morphed it into making something my own.

While plowing through Robert Greene’s Mastery, I realized the damn point. The process I followed, without ever questioning, was not how others did things. Instead they had to actually be both taught and convinced of its value. How is that not prima facie obvious?

The human race simply isn’t lucky that way.

Without application, how can you verify veracity? Without, at least, even trying to use use something, how can you know how something works? Or if it even works? This takes a huge effort. System 2 is lazy and our brains are willing to accept what they see is all that there is (WYSIATI.)

My brain hurts.

That’s just the start of it:

  1. You’ll know that you’ve wasted your time. Well before you get to the end of whatever it is you start, you will come to the conclusion that what you are doing has no value. Many whelps – handle it.

  2. It’s actually hard to apply something. Knowledge of both it’s form and function are required. That understanding is not easy.

  3. Correctness is not required. You can learn a hell of a lot from swinging a hammer, even if you don’t drive the nail in straight the first time.

  4. Making choices takes from the same font as willpower. The knock-on damage is significant, and must be paid attention to.


Copybook example follows:

Others carry the same copybook lodestone.

Immediately after every lecture, meeting, or any significant experience, take 30 seconds — no more, no less — to write down the most important points. If you always do just this, said his grandfather, and even if you only do this, with no other revision, you will be okay. – anon

THIRTY SECONDS? I might as well be running around screaming about ONE POINT TWENTY ONE GIGAWATTS! Holy hell. I can’t even write a paragraph in 30 seconds.

I’m agog at the constraint. Clearly.

I wonder if getting faster at writing and drawing would be helpful? Not typing. Writing. How else could something like this be done? There’s just not enough… information density in the written word to be able to communicate even the edges of a (substantial) idea in 30 seconds.

Who the hell am I? Sun Tzu? Marcus Aurelius? A fortune cookie?

Sigh… Following this idea to it’s logical conclusion is going to lead to a whole new toolchain.

Like I have the energy, the willpower, the time, for that.

The queue is already ridiculous.

An echo of Stonehenge compels me forward.

Enough, or no.