The Penguin Latte Podcast #19 – The Mad Scientist of Reading: Poor Bjorn on Self-Experimenting with Non-Fiction

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Warning: what follows is a conversation for book nerds

Books transform us. When we really dig into a book, nestle beneath the words, peek under the author’s skin, we transcend our current self. We become someone greater. The best books maintain that transformation long after we’ve finished reading the last word.

A book isn’t something to collect. A book is to be experienced. Which is why I wanted to have this conversation with Poor Bjorn (@poorbjorn on Twitter and Instagram). Poor Bjorn loves books. He loves books so much that he doesn’t just read books. He lives books. He’s the creator of an Instagram page where he not only reviews books, he conducts self-experiments based on the lessons from the book.

Bjorn will cover any subject. Stoicism. Wealth. Esoteric Philosophy. Psychology. History. Self-help. Persuasion. Negotiation. It doesn’t matter what the book is about. If it’s physically possible, he’ll run the experiment. He once ordered a square pizza because he read a book about seeking rejection. In an utterly hilarious stroke of fate, he failed the experiment. The pizza place delivered him a square pizza.

So, get comfortable, grab a cup of your favorite hot cocoa, and cozy in for our wide-ranging conversation about all things books! If you’re a fan of my episodes with Andrew Barry, Pranav Mutatkar, Deepu Asok, or Cullin McGrath, I’m sure you’ll have much to appreciate in our conversation. Enjoy!

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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.

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