The Wrong Way to Read and the Meaning of Insight

Your mind, like your body, needs the nutrients and vitamins of good ideas in order to survive and thrive. But as we grow older, our ego turns our head away from good ideas like the child avoiding the choo-choo train of a spoonful of peas.

Good ideas aren’t found out there. They’re found in here, in you. Wisdom means nothing to those who don’t listen. To really read a good book, you first need to actually want to read it. Your own inclination comes from within, not from without.

Therapy is a waste of time (for the client and therapist) to the person forced to go to therapy. “I, according to so-and-so, need help.” That never works. The same is true of reading.

You need to understand your motivations for reading a book. Are you thinking of buying this book because Barnes & Noble says everyone in your town is reading it? Do you want to read because that’s what smart people do? Is the self-improvement regime court ordering you to read a book because if you don’t, then you must be a loser? Or do you want to read because there’s something you need to figure out?

There’s a mistake in assuming all answers come from the outer world. Yes, good books help, but how you approach the bookhow you read the book – matters more than what the book is about. Are you reading so that you can show off to your friends? Are you reading just to confirm your barely stable mental model of the world? Or are you reading because you’ve been wearing a dunce cap your entire life, and you’d like to be less of a dunce?

Ask yourself: are my actions in the outer world strengthening, harmonizing, feeding my mind with the proper nutrients?

The outer world nourishes your inner world only when your inner world is understood, and by understood I mean that it is respected: your inner world — your psychology — is never fully understood.

To have insight is to question your reasons for doing anything other than eating, drinking, defecating, and breathing.


P.S: I turned 26 yesterday. Thanks to all who sent me birthday wishes, and big thanks especially to those who sent me some good books. I super appreciate it.

I have no idea how to answer this question on my psychology midterm (Part 1)

Have you ever played Binky’s Facts and Opinions? It’s a game that teaches players the difference between what’s true and what’s not. Here, let’s play together. Look at at this question from my Positive Psychology™ midterm, and tell me if it’s a fact, or opinion, that one of these things decreases happiness.*

Yeah, I could have read the text. But that wouldn’t have solved the bigger issue here: why are we being asked about matters of subjectivity on an exam about psychology, which is supposed to be scientific?

I picked religion. Not because I believe religion decreases happiness, but because I had absolutely no idea how to answer this question. It seemed like the obvious answer since it’s easy to harp on religion. Everyone and their grandpa can form a half-baked paraphrase of Marx’s, “opiate of the masses.”

So I picked religion, and got the question wrong.

If I had to take this exam again, I’d pick marriage. Because way too many people wear shirts like this…

…,and I’ve heard way too many deadbeat comedians make jokes about how horrible it is to find the 1 person out of 8 billion who give them more than the time of day.

If I had to take this exam a third time, I’d pick education. Because I’m definitely not happy. I’m confused as to what it is exactly that this question is testing me on.

Oh, yeah, and children? What? — Really?

If you want to know what the correct answer is, you’ll need to wait until October 30th.


*On a separate exam, I was asked about the different ways of getting information. One of the ways we get information is from figures of authority. According to “the lecture and text”, either marriage, children, religion, or education decreases happiness. Go figure.

The Penguin Latte Podcast #6: Pranav Mutatkar on His Petri Dish of Inspiration

Today, I’m joined by the wonderful Pranav Mutatkar (@pranavmutatkar). His newsletter, Your Lazy Sunday blends together art, music, comedy, and culture. It’s an intellectual treat for those of us who prefer not to take ourselves so seriously. Highly recommended.

We spent about half this episode geeking out about our favorite directors, psychoanalysts, philosophers, writers, thinkers, newsletters, and comedians. Pranav has much to say on achieving our goals with as little effort as possible. And if that seems completely counterintuitive to the usual approach, that’s because it is. And guess what? It works. Pranav’s life is proof of that.

Please enjoy!

What you really want to do is transition from it being lazy for you, to it being lazy for your audience, for your customers.

Pranav Mutatkar

Talking Points:

  • Living in San diego, beer culture (2:00)
  • The brilliance of Bill Watterson (4:00)
  • “A petri dish from extremely diverse places” (6:00)
  • Can we really be ourselves all the time? (12:00)
  • Pranav’s favorite directors (15:00)
  • The interplay of the movies “Her” and “Lost in Translation” (16:00)
  • Pranav’s philosophy of laziness (17:00)
  • Geeking out about Carl Jung, the Shadow, Jordan Peterson, Nietzsche, and Kanye West (19:00)
  • Pranav’s experience with Building a Second Brain with Tiago Forte (40:00)
  • Pranav’s course on lazy habits (43:00)
  • Getting comfortable on camera, starting small when you’re starting out (43:00)
  • A big riff on perfectionism (54:00)
  • Failing before you’re big (1:01:00)
  • “Translating the untranslatable” (1:04:00)
  • The Theory of Constructed Emotions (1:11:00)
  • The struggle of going deep on ideas in a world of “get to the point” (1:14:00)
  • On why we need comedy (1:19:00)
  • Being inspired by fiction writers (1:22:00)
  • Being interested in many subjects (1:27:00)
  • Pranav’s message for people who want to understand themselves on a deeper level (1:37:00)

Mentions in this episode

Her

Lost in Translation

Carl Jung

Symbols of Transformation

Jordan Peterson

Friedrich Nietzsche

Kanye West (do I really need to link this?)

The Tree of Life

Building A Second Brain

Rise of The Full Stack Freelancer

Carseat Headrest

Captain Sinbad

The Theory of Constructed Emotions

Dave Chapelle

How to write like Hunter S. Thompson

Sam Harris

The meditation continues

after you’ve opened your eyes. Because after you’ve opened your eyes, that’s when the real work begins.

Your most valuable asset isn’t your network. Or your portfolio.

It’s your sight.

We’re blind to what is (and isn’t) happening outside us until we can see what is (and isn’t) happening inside us.

To see what’s stopping you from moving forward, take out a pen and paper. Put your phone on airplane mode. Write down the three most important things that you need to do today. Only three. Putting more items on this list means that these three things aren’t as important as you thought. Then, write down all the ways in which you’re preventing yourself from doing those things.

For example, if your goal is to write 500 words of your next blog post, but you’re worried that it won’t be good, write that down. “I’m worried that it won’t be good.” You said your goal was to write 500 words. You didn’t say your goal was to stop worrying. So, write the 500 words.

Too often, what’s stopping us from doing what’s important is our own self-deception.

H/T to pages 190-191 of Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism. Highly recommended if you’re feeling overwhelmed today. It’s worth putting off your projects to read the book in its entirety.

The idea transforms

The idea transforms as it spreads from one psyche to another.

Some ideas hit brick walls. Ideas that hit brick walls are ideas that die.

All successful people are lucky. You’re either born into success or you’re not. You need to be picked to be rich and famous and I’ll never be picked so I’ll never be rich and famous. These are defense mechanisms built to protect weak presuppositions about the world. And though the presupposition isn’t well thought out, the defenses are ironclad.

The idea isn’t metaphysical. It carries real weight. This is obvious in people who seem to be walking on water despite the chaos around them. Those who soar are those who don’t latch onto self-gratifying ideas with an iron fist.

A good idea means nothing to the individual who doesn’t take good care of their mind.

The sage doesn’t waste their breath on the mind surrounded by an iron curtain. They’d rather travel to that humble village south of here. The villagers there are very welcoming.

Man’s search for meaning (in murdering): what I learned from reading a 500 page book about nazi doctors

 

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There’s a short book about finding meaning through suffering that many of you have read. It’s called Man’s Search for Meaning. It resonates with nearly everyone who reads it because Frankl writes directly into the human condition – the condition of suffering. It takes only 154 pages for Viktor Frankl to teach us how to transcend the unavoidable suffering that comes with being alive. 

There are many books about the survivors of atrocities, but only a few about the perpetrators. ‘The Nazi Doctors’ by Robert Jay Lifton is a book about the perpetrators of medical killing in the name of the nazi ideology. It’s a book about how healers became murderers.

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Biocracy. Cleansing. Sterilization. Hygienic Institute. These were the words that were used as sleight of hand maneuvers not to cover up the killings, but to make sure that everyone involved felt as if they were still healing, not murdering. The word healing began to take on a twisted irony. The killings were done in the name of “healing” the “national body” of the Aryan race. And who’s supposed to be responsible for all this “healing”? Doctors. Many of these doctors could find meaning in their murdering by convincing themselves that their actions were in the name of something greater than themselves – for the führer.

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Even the most useful psychological functions can be used by people with malicious intent.

My Most Ambitious Reading Project: The Collected Works of C.G Jung.

jung

Jung was a juggernaut.

Inspired by Poor Bjorn’s post about his reading the entire “Story of Civilization” by Will Durant, I’d like to share with you what I consider to be my most ambitious reading project: to read through the entire collected works of C.G Jung (The Bollingen Series as translated by RF.C Hull. Can you believe that just about every word that Jung wrote was translated by one person?)

There are 20 volumes in total (the last 2 are an index and bibliography) containing Jung’s commitment to think through millennia of myth and symbolism to explain what every good psychologist is supposed to explain: why we do what we do. 

So far, I’ve only read ‘Two Essays on Analytical Psychology’ which I found to be absolutely fascinating. Highly recommended for anyone even slightly interested in the nuances of human behavior.

This is going to take a long time. Not only because of the length of the books, but because the content in many of his books is difficult to understand (anima and animus, the mana personality, the syzygy –  to name just few esoteric concepts) and he frequently references other authors like Gothe, Freud, Nietzsche, Lao Tzu, and many other ancient scriptures and texts. And finally, because many of Jung’s sentences are so profound that it’s like being punched in the gut when you’re not prepared. You just have to take a minute to let the depth of what you’ve just read sink in. These are books that you can’t speed read.

But this goal has no due date. It’s part of a larger goal of mine, which is to read all the great books in the subjects that interest me the most. To name a few, this includes all the great books by Dostoevsky, Freud, Carl Rogers, Nietzsche, Seneca. On the business/productivity/21st century skill side, this includes all the great books by Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, Ryan Holiday, Ray Dalio, Jocko Willink, and many others.

Is there a subject that you’re so passionate about, so enthralled by, that you want to read everything that was ever written on it? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.