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Opinion philosophy psychology

Be Bored with a Book (Week 28 of Wisdom)

The trick is to be bored with a specific book, rather than with the act of reading,”

Nassim Taleb.  

What is a book? It is information, packaged to you in a certain way, by an author. The way the book is packaged can determine whether you grow bored from it or not. The point Taleb makes, is that it is unwise to read books in a linear way, whereby you are subject to information about only one subject, or confined by one literary style, or even one genre.

Imagine packaging everything you will read in your life into a single book. In what order do you want to consume this information, and how do you want to feel while consuming it.

One method is to go against your instincts, which is what many people do, it is something that is inherited from formal schooling. This means that you slog through a book from start to finish, regardless of how bored you may feel during this process. The other way, and the better way, according to Taleb, is to read multiple books or articles at the same time. You read until you are bored, not until you are finished.

This is an intelligent thing to do, because over time, you will find yourself reading more often, while being more engaged. This will help you retain more information. This is also in line with the science of learning. Spacing out your learning is better than cramming. See A Mind for Numbers by Oakley.

“I figured out that whatever I selected myself I could read with more depth and more breadth–there was a match to my curiosity. And I could take advantage of what people later pathologized as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) by using natural stimulation as a main driver to scholarship. The enterprise needed to be totally effortless in order to be worthwhile. The minute I was bored with a book or a subject I moved to another one, instead of giving up on reading altogether –when you are limited to the school material and you get bored, you have a tendency to give up and do nothing or play hooky out of discouragement. The trick is to be bored with a specific book, rather than with the act of reading. So the number of pages absorbed could grow faster than otherwise. And you find gold, so to speak, effortlessly, just as in rational but undirected trial-and-error-based research. It is exactly like options, trial and error, not getting stuck, bifurcating when necessary but keeping a sense of broad freedom and opportunism. Trial and error is freedom.​”  

– Nassim Taleb

But the caveat is that while you are working with and not against your impulsive tendencies while reading in this way, there is the question of whether this may impede your ability to read in a linear way if you are required to.

To solve this problem, you can choose to vary not only what you are reading, but to vary how you read. If the point is to retain optionality, and to never get bored, then it makes sense to sometimes read in a linear way, and at other times, to read a non-linear way, to sometimes absorb information through text, and at other times through audio.

If you have multiple ways of consuming information, and you consume different kinds of information, depending on your level of interest, then you are unlikely to get bored, and you will not need to sacrifice an essential skill which you may require in the future. It is important to know how to deal with boredom with novelty, but it is more important to retain the ability to deal with boredom with patience.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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