“Books are the training weights of the mind” –Seneca
The most useful definition of technology I’ve heard is simply, “the ability to do more with less.”
I think of books and reading as technologies.
We only live one life, but through books, we can gain the wisdom from thousands. When an author writes, re-writes, and edits, they are turning their words into a more perfect version of themselves. When you read, you get to spend time in a meditative state with a wise person’s more perfect self.
Books are the most undervalued and under-appreciated technology in the world.
How do we know they’re so valuable? We need only to examine how the best and the worst people throughout history have viewed books.
The worst seek to downplay, ban, or burn them. The fact that books have haters who are willing to destroy them confirms their power.
The best adore books… and aren’t afraid to celebrate them.
Like every other technology, if we use books without intentions or guides, they don’t lead anywhere.
But when we learn how to appropriately value, select, and acquire them with stakes and incentives (buy them, read them, then discuss with friends or a book club)… books become priceless. Here are seven unusual habits that books help you build.
1. Books and reading are the ultimate nootropic.
I apologize to all the modafinil lovers out there, but books have most nootropics beat. Eventually, nootropics wear off. Meanwhile, reading permanently upgrades your mind, leaving you with a lifetime of benefits. The side effects of books have been tested by time, whereas the latest nootropics? Not so much. When you get into the habit of taking a nootropic such as books (information, wisdom, etc…) through a method like reading, the benefits compound.
“Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” — Warren Buffett
2. Books and reading upgrade your mental operating system.
The best books are written when the author is in a flow state. The author transmits their wisdom, muse, or insights with minimal ego. When a reader seeking wisdom moves through these words and enters their own flow state… magic happens.
I don’t know how it works, but after enough time of reading, my mind always feels upgraded. Programming our minds by moving consciously into the flow state of another wise person is powerful. When we upgrade our mental OS, our main apps (speaking, writing, and communicating) all begin to run faster and more smoothly.
3. Books and reading help you practice the art of sitting quietly in a room alone.
Eric Hoffer was onto something when he said that, “A man by himself is in bad company.” This might be true initially, but we can grow ourselves out of this place. It takes hard work to become good company to ourselves. But if we read, pause for reflection, and continually improve ourselves… we can become good company to ourselves. By reading, we train and program our minds for what is arguably the greatest human challenge of our time:
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” — Blaise Pascal
4. Books and reading inspire you to gain direct experience.
There are tradeoffs for everything in life, but reading a lot (of the best books) isn’t dangerous. The hunger for wisdom seems to be the only desire that we can satiate. There isn’t a risk of overindulgence. After enough reading, we become charged with good ideas and courage to go out and explore the world. Once we get fueled up on enough wisdom, we become inspired to embark on our next hero and heroine’s journey.
Binge watching an entire series on Netflix sometimes leads to a hangover, whereas attempting to, “binge” on books leads to an urge of wanting to venture back out into the world. Mixing the wisdom from books with the direct experience of an adventurous life is always rewarding.
5. Books and reading force a meditative practice where you’re forced to listen to the thoughts of a wise person.
The more we read and spend time with books, the more we practice mindfulness and meditation. Reading helps teach us patience, calmness, and builds our ability to focus deeply on a single thing for an extended period of time.
6. Books and reading allow you to strategically isolate yourself from a sometimes sick culture.
“Sanity in this culture, requires a certain amount of alienation.” –Terence McKenna
Books and reading are one of the last societally acceptable reasons for being alone. If you need respite from society, there is no better strategic isolation than books. Books help keep us safe from crowds.
7. Books and reading are an antifragile vehicle for truth delivery.
“I am of course confident that I will fulfil my tasks as a writer in all circumstances — from my grave even more successfully and more irrefutably than in my lifetime. No one can bar the road to truth, and to advance its cause I am prepared to accept even death. But may it be that repeated lessons will finally teach us not to stop the writer’s pen during his lifetime? At no time has this ennobled our history.” –Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Throughout history, books have given artists, masters, and philosophers an antifragile vehicle to place truth. So what do I mean by this? There are many people who hate to think. When they hear something wise, they’ll react viscerally, or even attack the person that brought them truth. Many in society hate the idea of pursuing truth (becoming less wrong) or developing heuristics and insights about how the world works. As Strauss proposed, the best secrets are often hidden inside stories.
Most creatives know this to be true, and know that the only way to deliver truth in a palatable way that can survive attack is a book. The more entertaining the narrative or parable, the more readers will tolerate new ideas. Because the book is able to be sold, it helps these ideas survive attack, and gives the author a chance to capture a small amount of value from his/her ideas. This is a big leap forward for humans. Throughout our history, those who make others think are usually the first to be scapegoated, ostracized, or demonized. Books give the would-be scapegoat a vehicle to place their ideas so that they can survive attack, and sometimes even spread because of the attack.
The developed world has evolved in how we persecute those who bring forth truth. We went from horrible past methods of scapegoating (stoning, crucifixion) into small time scapegoating (attempting to cut off an individual’s livelihood by suing, slander, online comments, etc).
Books might be one of the more perfect technologies, but they still have limitations. They don’t work until we do the work of reading them. They’re largely useless until we take the plunge, purchase one (acquire the incentives and stakes to read it) or find the books good enough to re-read.
Technology can’t change our lives, only we can. When we take a perfect technology like books and wield them for good, we’ll build habits that can change our lives, lift up those around us, or even gain the secrets necessary to create new types of perfect technology.