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Friday, October 08, 2010

inner space

I was complaining a little while ago that with all this network stuff, blogs, hypertext, RSS, info overload etc. that the challenging thing may be to relearn to read. I certainly noticed that I haven't been reading novels in depth in awhile, but this probably has multiple causes.

Anyway, it seems that in order to be able to really take something in, we need to spend time on it, and not be distracted. And we need to have the space for it. We need to be relaxed and not overloaded. This sounds like conventional wisdom, but it can be easy to forget. We can see the effects of reading more, but sometimes forget the value of reading less, more carefully. Allowing the words, sentences, ideas to sit there for awhile, to connect up to each other, to try to see what bigger picture the author was constructing, and to relate the text to our own experience and ideas. This is an internal process that can't be sped up by skimming, or by reading more background information, researching every last connection. I know some people who analyze texts by doing these word clouds, and finding out which words, or phrases are the most prevalent, and want to try to extract understanding from such an approach. I imagine you can get more sophisticated and start writing programs to understand things for you, and just give you some kind of summary.

It reminds me of tools in math in physics such as calculators or programming languages, compilers, etc. Here we let the machine do the work for us. Is there a benefit to doing the work ourself? I know that I learned calculus by doing many, many integrals, on paper, and learning the ins and outs of various tricks. Doing this builds up intuition and a whole workshop that connects to your other thoughts. You get a lot more out of it, than just the ability to solve a specific problem. I think in addition, you get the possibility to have a sense of which problems might be solvable, and ways in which definitions might be shifted to get useful results.
You become richer, and its more fun.

Anyway, since language and ideas are important to me and the source of lots of enjoyment, its sad to see ways in which some kinds of thought may be bypassed. My general approach is to try to make sure I can do something by myself before I get a tool that can do it better and faster.
I do use Mathematica to test out whether an integral may have an analytical solution, but I feel good that I can (or at least used to be able to!) do it myself. (Here's a page of an accelerator physicist with some quotes on this topic.)

I want to be able to read in depth, think in depth, and calculate in depth, and to take my time with it, even if someone or thing can reach the same conclusions faster or more reliably. The inner world involved, and the benefit to me as a person to this seems incalculably valuable.

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