How do you avoid intellectual FOMO? By remembering that the most important things to learn are also likely the oldest things. I’ve thought of a metaphor of a clock to make this more clear to myself. In this metaphor, the hour hand represents human nature, the laws of the universe, and other aspects of reality that remain constant over extremely long timespans. They are foundational aspects of human experience that have been studied and discussed since the beginning of thought and language.
The minute hand is culture, custom, political and social beliefs. These are still durable, lasting aspects of experience, but they play out on a timeline that is more human. Most humans see change and evolution over the course of their life within these domains. Some come dramatically, some happen slowly.
The second hand is daily experience, the chance events of the world, the latest news and obsessions of mass culture. These things, the least durable and lasting, are also the most “real” in our experience. These “seconds” pile up around us, crowding our minds with sound bites, demanding attention.
With this perspective, I’ve made a greater effort to focus on “slow knowledge”, the things that are represented by the hour hand. If you understand human nature — which I would argue is the most important thing to understand — you understand a lot of other things too.
As part of this focus, I’m trying to put 80% of my reading toward books and 20% toward blog posts, articles, and news. And of those books, 80% should be ones that have had a chance to stand the test of time (i.e. the older, the better).
As an interesting contrast to the slow knowledge of old books, I’ve been fascinated by Are.na over the past few weeks. What happens when you give an open-ended collaborative tool to the internet community? Unexpected things. You get a situation where 1+1=3 through the serendipity of strangers interacting in strange ways.
Why Wikipedia might be the most important invention ever “Just think for a minute of what happened in the aftermath of Gutenberg’s printing press. It suddenly made knowledge available to people beyond monks and literate aristocrats. It gave people an incentive to read and write. Knowledge and ideas spread like wildfire. That radical democratization ignited the scientific revolution, the Renaissance and ultimately gave birth to the modern world. Thanks to that other public good, the worldwide web, Wikipedia is allowing for something similar, but at a much quicker pace and on a vastly more massive scale. It is hard to predict what untold progress and social transformations lie ahead of us as a result of such intensification in the free flow of knowledge.”
When Philosophy Lost Its Way “Philosophers needed to embrace the structure of the modern research university, which consists of various specialties demarcated from one another. That was the only way to secure the survival of their newly demarcated, newly purified discipline. ‘Real’ or ‘serious’ philosophers had to be identified, trained and credentialed. Disciplinary philosophy became the reigning standard for what would count as proper philosophy.”