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Readings: 29 Mar 2016

A discussion on the Beeminder forum got me amped up about speed reading1. I ordered Kump’s Breakthrough Rapid Reading and started following the drills, but then found Scott Young’s debunking of speed reading. Kump’s method can at least improve skimming speed — which itself might improve comprehension (skim for structure, then go back and read closely) — but hitting one thousand words per minute with full comprehension may not be anatomically possible.

Still, Breakthrough Rapid Reading taught me to pace myself by following the text with a finger as I read, which at least feels like it makes concentration easier.

Erik Dietrich picks apart traps that can stall a programmer’s development, using the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition (and somehow bowling).

As such, Advanced Beginners can break one of two ways: they can move to Competent and start to grasp the big picture and their place in it, or they can ‘graduate’ to Expert Beginner by assuming that they’ve graduated to Expert.

For some people, then, there may indeed be considerable power in focusing on the body and the mind.

Researchers are exploring a combination of running and meditation to treat depression.

David Chapman, AI researcher and gadfly of contemporary Buddhism2, is writing Meaningness, a hypertext book analyzing how people relate to problems of meaning and values:

Various religions, philosophies, and systems claim to have answers. Some are complicated, and they all seem quite different. When you strip away the details, though, there are only a half dozen fundamental answers. Each is appealing in its own way, but also problematic. Understanding clearly what is right and wrong about each approach can resolve the underlying problem.

One of the fundamental answers Chapman identifies is eternalism, the belief that everything has an unambiguous meaning: for example, explaining away the problem of evil with “everything happens according to God’s plan”. David Chapman has been rolling out new pages on the varieties of eternalism — religious and otherwise — over the last few weeks. This book has been a huge influence on my own attempts to relate to meaning.

I spent grad school with an odd mix of humanities and science students. Today’s update on “Rationalist ideologies as eternalism” nicely summed up the attractors of many late-night arguments:

You may have little interest in the technical methods of rationality, because you believe you understand their limits and faults and harms. You might even be a bit smug about that — but if you don’t understand in detail how formal rationality works, you are probably partly mistaken. You are probably, without knowing it, under the sway of Romanticism — an anti-rational eternalist ideology that is just as bad. Also, you are missing out on a good thing.

The methods of rationality are powerfully useful, and everyone should learn them, I think. As with all power tools, such as chainsaws, you also need to learn suitable safety procedures. The problem with rationality is not that it is technical. The problem is not anything about the methods themselves. The problem is metaphysical claims about the power of the methods to explain the unexplainable.

Found in some old notes in Dropbox:

autocorrect just produced the phrase “ethical dilemma scissors”

  1. Also: I thought I was a fast reader, but writer Jo Walton clears anywhere from one to six books a day. My to-read queue keeps getting longer, so Walton made me wonder — could I do that? ↩︎

  2. He’s also a practitioner of a particular flavor of Tibetan Buddhism . If you have any interest in Buddhism, mindfulness, or philosophy, it’s well worth engaging with Chapman’s writing. He manages to be both humble and leave nothing but scorched earth where wishy-washy beliefs once stood. ↩︎