Tagged: thinking

STICK TO AN INFORMATION DIET

Consume information that is nutritious–useful and true, ie, close to the source or intelligently processed. Consume it in digestible amounts. And consume it in the right mix. Pay attention–your spending has an opportunity cost. Do not binge. Avoid snacking.

Information consumes attention [Simon]. Attention is finite [Csikszentmihalyi]. What you pay attention to determines your experience [James, Csikszentmihalyi], and ultimately who you are [Carr].

Overconsuming information—watching too much, surfing too much, emailing too much, and even reading too much—is unhealthy. Since information is usually consumed while sitting, its physical side-effects can include obesity, hypertension, sedentary death syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease. Since information–and especially new information consumed in an obsessive-compulsive way–alters the chemical balance in the brain, its psychological side-effects can include a distorted sense of time, shallow social relationships, “reality dysmorphia“, and screen addiction. And since information creates and reinforces beliefs, the social side-effects of consuming low-quality or homogeneous (or insufficient) information may include agnotology, epistemic closure, and “democratic failure” [Johnson].

References and further reading:

Nicholas Carr. 2011. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Norton

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. 1990. Flow. The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper

Winifred Gallagher. 2010. Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. Penguin

William James. 1890. The Principles of Psychology.

Clay A. Johnson. 2012. The Information Diet. O’Reilly

Eli Pariser. 2011. The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think. Penguin

Maggie Jackson. 2008. Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. Prometheus

Matthew Zadrozny. 2011-12-23. The Information Diet

MEMORIZE

It improves your memory. It forces you to consider what information is valuable. And when focused, the result — deep domain knowledge – increases your creativity.

With practice, any healthy person can significantly increase their memory. This was demonstrated in experiments conducted by the psychologists William Chase and Anders Ericsson. After 250 hours of training over two years, their subject was able to able to recall a list of 82 numbers spoken to him at a rate of one per second. They concluded: “There is apparently no limit to improvements in memory skill with practice” [Colvin, p. 38].

Finally, a vast memory bank bears many fruits. Popular belief be damned, you cannot be “too close” to a problem. Rather, breakthroughs are made by people with deep domain knowledge [Colvin, p. 149 – 156]. This means being able to recall key facts, at will, immediately. The chemist Linus Pauling used to deny his students the comfort of a cheat sheet; it was his memory, he explained, that enabled him to discover the alpha helix on train ride from London to Oxford. The discovery won him the Nobel Prize.

 

References and further reading:

Geoff Colvin. 2008. Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. Portfolio

Joshua Foer. 2011. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Penguin

Samuel E. George. 2008-08-13. Letter to the WSJ 

Jim Holt. 2009-04-02. “Got Poetry?” NYT

Gary Wolf. 2008-04-21. Want to Remember Everything You’ll Every Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm. Wired