Ep. 250: In Defense of Thinking

Transcription for the video titled "Ep. 250: In Defense of Thinking".


Note: This transcription is split and grouped by topics and subtopics. You can navigate through the Table of Contents on the left. It's interactive. All paragraphs are timed to the original video. Click on the time (e.g., 01:53) to jump to the specific portion of the video.


Cal's intro (00:00)

And so I thought let's get philosophical today. The deep question I wanna tackle, why is it important to preserve the vanishing art of thinking? So I wanna dive deep onto that question. I'm Cal Newport and this is Deep Questions, the show about working and living deeply in a distracted world. I'm here in my deep work HQ, joined as always by my producer, Jesse. Jesse, you know why I'm in a good mood today. - Why is that? - Going to the ballpark. - Yeah, baby. - You see the Nationals play, the Padres, I think and Jesse, you'll back me up on this. The audience wouldn't mind if we then therefore dedicated today's show to the analytical picture of the 2023 Nationals. I think that's appropriate. - I think it's appropriate. I watched a lot of the game last night there, down three nothing. I'm not sure what happened. - They tied it up for two run, home run by Abrams and one run, home run by Thomas, but then Soto hit a home run and Erasmus gave up two runs and we lost by three. But what I wanna get into, and I think everyone, especially our international listeners, will be very interested in this, is trying to understand if the gap between Josiah Gray's Fip and ERA is something we should worry about or if it's instead actually just capturing the increased weak contact for getting off of his newly developed cutter. So I have three guests we're gonna bring on to get into this in detail, then I'm joking. But I am happy about going to the nats. My first game I've seen of the season, I haven't made it out there yet, Jesse. So good atmosphere down there, not a lot of people go to the games, but. - Yeah, I think weeknight, though Soto might, you know, the Padres are in town, but yeah, weeknight, weeknight nats might be fun, like not that many people. - Yeah. - We'll see, they have 30,000 of this weekend. - For one game? - One game. - Yeah, 30,000. - And what's it called? - God, 40 something. - Yeah. - Yeah, it's over time. - Like a playoff game, it'll get like 42, 43. But I'm not, I will say, I promise, I won't actually, I won't actually talk that much about baseball. In fact, let me, let me change gears and talk about something completely unrelated. It was actually a pretty cool, it got me thinking, Jesse, it was a cool documentary from 1966, it's on YouTube. And a listener sent it to me and I hadn't seen it before. And it's a documentary in which, it's about John von Neumann. If you don't know John von Neumann, he's a sort of first half of the 20th century, got mathematician slash physicist slash electrical engineer. For those in the know, von Neumann is considered essentially one of the smartest human beings to ever live. He just made breakthroughs in field after field at a stunning speed. He was based largely, especially in the war period out of Princeton and the Princeton area, the Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton University. And he was known for being able to walk in and Goodwill, hunting style, solve your equation, reconceptualize your whole physical framework, build, he built one of the very first digital computers. Anyway, it's a very smart guy, not as well known as some of his contemporaries, like Girdle or Turing, but a very smart guy. Anyway, so it says 1966 documentary, it's old muddy black and white footage, it's shown on YouTube, but it included a clip that caught my attention. This was the physicist Edward Teller was being interviewed about von Neumann. I'm gonna bring this up on the screen here. So if you're watching, you should be looking for episode 250 at YouTube.com/Cal Newport Media. You can also find it as episode 250 at thedeeplife.com. So I have up on the screen here a picture of Edward Teller from this 1966 documentary, and here he is talking about von Neumann. He says many people have wondered how Johnny von Neumann could think so fast and so effectively how he could find so many original solutions in areas where most people did not even notice the problems. I think I know a part of the answer, perhaps an important part. "Johnny von Neumann enjoyed thinking. I have come to suspect that the most people thinking is painful. Some of us are addicted to thinking, some of us find it a necessity, Johnny enjoyed it. I even have the suspicion that he enjoyed practically nothing else." This explains a lot because what you like, you do well, and he liked thinking, not just in mathematics, he liked thinking in the clear and complete manner of a mathematician in every field, in mathematics and physics, in the business world, his father was a banker, in many other fields. So this sent me down a cognitive rabbit hole. I began thinking, reflecting about thinking itself, thinking as an activity to which you can develop or have a relationship and the role of thinking, not just in our culture, but in the fully developed human life. And so I thought, let's get philosophical today. The deep question I wanna tackle, why is it important to preserve the vanishing art of thinking?

Deep Work And Media Consumption

Why is it important to preserve the vanishing art of thinking? (05:14)

So I wanna dive deep onto that question. Then we'll have a collection of questions from you, my listeners, that all vaguely relate to this general theme of how you improve your ability to think. And then we'll shift gears at the end of the show and talk about some of the books I read last month. All right, so let's jump into this deep dive. We need to start with definitions. What do we mean when we say thinking? Let's define it like this for now. The uniquely human activity of synthesizing and structuring existing information to create new information that's useful to understanding or acting in the world. So you bring in information, you structure it in your head in such a way that actually produces information that improves the world. You have a better understanding or it can impact the way people act and make more value happen in those actions. So we're being pretty general here, but that's thinking. It's building something new out of existing information. Now I'm gonna claim that thinking is the core driver of human culture, a human invention, and human civilization is what distinguishes us from other species. It also should not be surprising that this type of thinking, the creation of useful information is deeply satisfying for human beings in a way that it's hard for other activities to replicate. We've known this for a while. Aristotle wrote about this. I'm gonna bring up an Aristotle quote here on the screen. This is from the ethics, I believe book 10, section seven. Here is Aristotle. The activity of philosophic wisdom is admittedly the pleasantest of virtuous activities. At all events, the pursuit of thought to offer pleasures that are marvelous for their purity and their enduringness and is to be expected that those who know will pass their time more pleasantly than those who inquire. The activity of reason, which is contemplative, seems both to be superior and serious worth and to aim and to know in beyond itself, to have its pleasure proper to itself. This is Aristotle and the ethics where he, in book 10, comes to this conclusion that the theological necessity of human beings is our ability to think deeply that we get pleasure out of that for no other reason than just thinking because this is what humans can do that nothing else can. It is in thinking, in deep contemplation, what he calls philosophic wisdom that we find our full expression. So from the beginning of us starting to reflect about the human condition, we knew thinking was important. All right, here's the problem. I believe we're in a moment where the value of thinking is decreasing. It's decreasing in part because we think about it less. That's sort of a circular irony there. We think about thinking less. We isolate it less as a standalone activity. We're much less likely to think of it as a particular pursuit that we might focus on or emphasize or cultivate in our own lives. Thinking is getting pushed to the margins of our understanding of our culture. Now, there's a lot of reasons why this is true. I want to point to one particular reason in particular, which I've been thinking about recently and I'm trying to articulate. So I'm going to try out some rough thoughts for you here. And this is the impact that's coming from the knowledge sector, from the work, the world of work, in particular knowledge work, intertwined with the world of technology, which itself is connected to the world of work. I've come to believe that the knowledge sector is uncomfortable with this Aristotelian, John von Neumann style understanding of thinking as this fundamentally creative human activity. The reason is if you're in the business of transforming information into value, this is what happens in the knowledge sector, human thinking in that type of purified, creative form is complicated for you. It is hard to predictably find people who can do it well. It is hard to evaluate thinking. Is someone thinking well, what value are they producing through their thinking? It's hard to manage thinking because it's interior and the results are not always obvious. And you can't tell what's happening in someone's head. Are they thinking or are they instead contemplating Josiah Gray's FIP instead of his ERA? And so it makes us uncomfortable, especially if you imagine an industrial sector that has, I mean, an economic sector that has come out of before this, it was an industry, it was manufacturing. Before that it was agriculture. These were economic productions in which the chain between inputs and outputs is much more clarified. We really understand the different processes and how effective they are. All of this goes away when we're instead thinking about what's happening between someone's ears. This idea that just creativity and contemplation is going to eventually produce something that's real valuable. That's nerve-racking if you own a company, if you manage a team. Thinking the knowledge sector also leads to superstar dynamics. If you have built your industry on the quality, the competitive quality of raw thought stuff produced by your employee, that's gonna lead to superstar dynamics in which having the very best thinker in a particular area is significantly more valuable than having the second best thinker or kind of good thinkers. And that creates problems for business that also creates problems for employees as well. In fields where we do still directly value raw thought stuff thinking like academia, it's an incredibly competitive superstar market where hundreds of people apply for any tenure track position and only one will actually get the position. So thinking also creates economic dynamics, building revenue off of the sheer quality of what comes out of a brain is difficult because maybe only one company has an Aristotle and if you don't, you're gonna struggle while that company is gonna take all the business. All right, so what has the world of business done instead? Well, my argument is they would like to rely more on computation, not cognition. And we'd like to push human cognitive agency towards the margins of these efforts. I believe the world of knowledge work is more comfortable when they think of humans as the custodians of computation as opposed to sinners of original cognition. And I think they're being egged on, this industry sector is being egged on in this by the tech industry that is creating these computational tools. So what do I mean by this? Well, we're thinking about this almost assembly line type model that's developing in knowledge work in which what's important is data and computer programs that can find this data, that can analyze this data, that can generate insights from this data that's important. So the cogitation here is actually being reduced to algorithmic digital computation. And what do humans do in this picture? They help identify what problems are important. They point these programs in the right direction. They massage the interface and the settings of the programs. They look at the resulting conclusions of these programs and then translate that into action. They get together to make decisions about where to actually aim this proverbial computational canon. But the actual human sitting there thinking hard thoughts and creating new value out of nothing is devalued in this framework. It is very similar to what happened in industrial manufacturing with the rise of assembly lines where you went from a world of craft, I have all the expertise needed to build a complicated mechanism like a automobile, a craftsman, I'm bins working in the automobile, bins factory in Germany in 1900. And it went from that to, no, I turned a bolt that puts the steering wheel onto the Model T. All the thoughts, all the intelligences in the process and I'm just a custodian of this complex process. I think that is comfortable, right? That opened up huge profitability in the industrial manufacturing sector. And I think that's something similar to this happening in knowledge work. Human cogitation is scary, we don't know what to do with it. A sales force database that's hooked up to some sort of custom ML analytic tool. And what you do as a human is just have meetings on Zoom, the sort of like pick targets and point the software in the right direction, that's much more comfortable. This obviously also makes a lot of sense for the tech companies because now all the value is in the technological tools. It opens up the possibility for a tech company to have a massive piece of the economic pie in the sector. If you build a software everyone is using, then you're gonna make massive profitability. So now we can consolidate a huge amount of the revenue being generated in the economic sector in a small number of companies. This is what Microsoft did in the 1990s with their office productivity software. This is what OpenAI is hoping to do now in the 2020s with their plugin enhanced large language model interfaces where they're hoping to ingrain themselves into automating more and more of the piece of this knowledge work assembly line and therefore have a small number of people siphon off a huge amount of these profits. This assembly line approach in which humans or custodians of computation is also good for knowledge work firms themselves because it makes work more predictable, workers themselves become more interchangeable. It is a much more ordered world of valued knowledge production. Right, so in this context we devalue good old fashioned hard and original thinking. We don't even identify it as a standalone activity anymore. All of our terminology about what makes someone a valuable or productive employee is going to instead collapse on issues of efficiency. How quick can they get things? How quick can they move information around? How agile are they in actually working with these various information systems that extract information from it? We have just a general sense of this person is available, this person is busy, as a mark that they are a good employee and that we should work with them. And what's gone out of this picture is how smart is this person? How original is their thinking? That's been pushed to the margins. So there's a lot we should do about this, right? This is a complicated issue that exists that many different scopes, and I don't wanna get in the most of those scopes. There's a whole economic argument to make here about the structure of knowledge, work, and agency, and whether the quote, "Bravarman," if the diskilling that so plagued the manufacturing sector is now itself being applied to the knowledge sector, there's theses you could write on this, but I wanna focus as we do often on this show on the individual, what the individual response could be right now to the situation. And I think one of the first things we can do, the pushback, this devaluing of thinking, is as individuals reclaim it. If as individuals, we reclaim thinking as a, think of it as the signal of our humanity, something that we are proud of, that we wanna get better at, that we wanna put the center of our lives, this creates a back pressure against attempts to try to devalue it and push it to the side. We don't even know what we're losing if we don't actually spend time trying to support it or develop it. So of the various responses we need to this current moment, I think a good one is just us as individuals, starting to talk about thinking again, in the same way like we might talk about other abilities, we should reclaim it in our own lives, we should re-teach our brains, how to do it well. This has been considered before, I wanna bring up a quote here on the screen, this is from Arnold Bennett, his 1910 book, How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, one of the very first what we might think of as a modern advice or self-help book, actually have a first edition of this book that a listener sent me, I forgot to bring it, it's on a display in my library at home, and it's an important part of my collection because Bennett is really an early thinker of this form of a smart person who's thought a lot about the world trying to actually put their thoughts into a prescriptive framework as a way of actually trying to improve people's lives. So it's a very important book for those of us who write pragmatic nonfiction, but he tackled this issue in 1910, he was worried about with the rise of the sort of suburban knowledge work commuter that people were going to be increasingly alienated from actual thinking, and he gave real advice, let's look at this here, I wanna read a couple of quotes. He starts by setting the stakes, without the power to concentrate, that is to say without the power to dictate to the brain its task and to ensure obedience, true life is impossible, mind control is the first element of a full existence. So this has been it saying if you can't aim your brain at interesting or meaningful or useful activity and have it actually think deeply about it, you do not have a full existence, Aristotle would agree with this. So he goes on to say, "Hence, it seems to me the first business of the day "should be to put the mind through its paces." Here's his specific piece of advice. "When you leave your house, concentrate your mind "on a subject, no matter what to begin with. "You will not have gone 10 yards "before your mind has skipped away "under your very eyes and is larking around the corner "with another subject, but bring it back "by the scruff of the neck." Have you reached the station? You will have brought it back about 40 times. So he's talking here about essentially the subway station. This was the era, the early 20th centuries was the era of the London suburbs, the growth of what he called the strap hangers, the people who would get on a train and hold on to the strap and drive into the city to actually do their work, that was new back then. Do not despair, continue, keep it up, you will succeed. You cannot by any chance fail if you persevere. It is idle to pretend that your mind is incapable of concentration. Do not remember that morning when you received the disquieting letter which demanded a very carefully worded answer, how you let your mind steadily, kept your mind steadily on the subject of the answer without a second's intermission until you reached your office, whereupon you instantly sat down and wrote the answer. That was a case in which you were aroused by the circumstances to such a degree of vitality that you were able to dominate your mind like a tyrant. You would have no trifling. You insisted that his work should be done and his work was done. So even in 1910, we get this interesting advice from Arnold Bennett saying, essentially what I call productive meditation in my books. This is him a hundred years earlier saying, yeah, teach your mind how to think. Give it something to think about. Bring your attention back to the subject again and again. You have more control over your mind than you think if you do the work. To be a good thinker is to be like someone who can run a fast mile. Humans are capable of running a fast mile, but it takes a lot of training. You have to get your heart and your lungs and your legs used to the distance. Bennett is saying you can do the same with your head. There's a lot of other things we might talk about here in terms of how you might reclaim thinking in your life. You've heard many of these mentioned in isolation before on the show. We're talking about ideas like avoiding cheap digital distraction as your default response to boredom, reading hard books, struggling with harder ambiguous ideas as a regular part of your leisure, simplifying the demands on your life so you have more space for open thought, for toying with things, high quality leisure that pushes your mind to contemplate beauty and heart and art and high quality. All these things can matter. I think all these things are important. They're not trifles, luxuries of the indulgent. They're really at the core of the human condition. And we should care about it. At a time in which I think there's a lot of pressures, as we just talked about a lot of the economic pressures, to try to get us to ignore this most human of activity is the time I think that we should instead care more about it. We are not mere custodians of computation. We are not mere receptacles of digital distraction. We are like Aristotle or Jean von Neumann before us, being capable of wrangling information out of the Easter and through force of concentration, produce new conceptual structures of majestic scope. So thinking matters and we should take it more seriously. Oh no, these are early thoughts, Jesse, but I've been thinking a lot about thinking recently, which is kind of ironic. - I like it. - Yeah. But I like that von Neumann clip is like, von Neumann was so in love with thinking that he became a superhero, basically. He could just, we're just breaking through his everywhere because his mind was so comfortable with it. And it's not the way the world of business thinks right now. It's too scary to think about the mind and just think and produce great thoughts we wanna reward you for. And it's like we'd much rather you be moving information around and visibly on Slack and email and in meetings. And we're just much more comfortable with that. - Did he live a long life? - I think so, yeah. Yeah, growing up near Princeton, everyone would tell von Neumann's story. So he was a smart guy. People think about like Richard Feynman. Richard Feynman was very smart in physics, but von Neumann was smart in physics and mathematics and artificial life and electrical engineering. Really crazy, the polymath he was. Put him up against someone like Turing and he would just blow him out of the water. Like Turing was a very creative guy, very original guy, but von Neumann was a heavy. Like he could come in and make a breakthrough in physics, make a breakthrough in graph theory, make a breakthrough in all these different fields, you know? So he was really an intellectual superstar. He's a cool guy. Interesting guy. All right, so what I wanna do is some questions now that vaguely have to do with this general theme of prioritizing or improving your ability to think. Before we do any first mention a sponsor that helps make this show possible, that is our friends at Rohn, R-H-O-N-E. In particular, I wanna talk about their commuter collection, the most comfortable, breathable, and flexible set of clothing products known to man. I like Rohn clothing in this commuter collection. Only strengthens my appreciation of the products they make. So the commuter collection offers the world's most comfortable pants, dress shirts, forth zips, and polos. It uses comfortable four-way stretch fabric to provide breathability and flexibility that leaves you free to enjoy what life throws your way from your commute to your 18 holes of golf. It has wrinkle release technology. So wrinkle disappears. You stretch and wear the products. It has gold fusion anti-odor technology. It's a 100% machine washable. I love this stuff because it's lightweight. It looks good and it breathes, especially if you're gonna have a hard or long day. So if I'm gonna be at a conference all day or if I'm teaching, I love a Rohn shirt 'cause it's gonna be very lightweight. It's gonna breathe. It is gonna look wrinkle free as you wear it, it gets smoother. You can, don't have to take it to the dry cleaner. It's a great match, I think, for the modern knowledge worker who's sometimes at home and sometimes on the road and is traveling and has long days. And once you go to the golf course from the office, the commuter collection at Rohn, it has what you need. So the commuter collection can get you through any workday and straight into whatever comes next. Head to Rohn.com/Cal and use that promo code Cal to save 20% off your entire order.

Cal talks about Rhone and Henson Shaving (25:13)

That's 20% off your order when you head to R-H-O-N-E.com/Cal and use that code Cal. It's time to find your corner office comfort. And of course, no matter how well you look in terms of your clothing, you're not gonna make the impression you want. If your shave is no good, so this brings us to another sponsor of this show, our friends at Hinson Shaving. This is the razor that I use. So I've talked about it before, Hinson Shaving is a family owned aerospace parts manufacturer. So they focus on making incredibly precise engineered parts for things like the International Space Station or the Mars Rovers. They could then use this precision milling technology to build their Hinson's razor. It's milled out of aluminum to an incredibly precise specification. The blade that you put into a Hinson's razor extends only .0013 inches beyond the edge of the razor. This is what allows it to give you a clean, close shave. If you have the razor extend too far, you get the diving board effect where the razor is moving up and down. That's what's gonna give you next. That's what's gonna give you an uneven shave. So the precision of the manufacturing of this razor gives you an incredibly close shave, reduces clogs as well. But here's what's cool about it. The tradeoff is because this razor is so precisely milled, you can use just a standard 10 cent safety razor blade inside the fancy razor. You don't need 19 blades that are laser guided with vibration technology to get a good shave. You need a quality razor to hold a standard blade. What this means is you will quickly make back the cost of the razor because of all of the savings you have on how cheap the blades become. And it doesn't take long before the cost of using the Hinson razor becomes significantly cheaper than using the disposables from the drugstore or the subscription services. It's also just a really nice piece of engineering. As a tool, it's just a beautiful object. I have this milled aluminum stand they gave me that I put my Hinson razor on. So it's time to say no to subscriptions and yes to a razor that'll last you a lifetime. Visit hinsonshaving.com/cal to pick the razor for you and use code CAL and you'll get two years worth of blades free with your razor. Just make sure to add them to your cart. That's 100 free blades when you head to HEN, S-O-N, S-H-A-V-I-N-G.com/cal and use that code CAL. All right, Jesse, let's do some questions. Who is first up? - All right, first question is from Derek, a 34 year old engineer. Is there room in a deep life for watching movies and shows?

How do I integrate movies and shows into the deep life? (27:59)

And how do you approach spending time on them? So one thing I wanted to point out of my answer here is that if you're watching a good movie and you're giving it your full concentration, it is a similar act to reading a good, let's say novel. Your mind will have a lot of work to do to try to make sense of what's going on and what's it seen and what are the themes and how are those themes interacting with what you're seeing on the screen. And that's fantastic training for thinking because that is thinking. That is you taking these existing schemas of understanding your mind and trying to build off them or apply them to understand this interesting, complicated thing that you are seeing. This is particularly true of certain genres. But just the other day, actually, Jesse, I watched Paul Schrader's film from 2017 first reformed. Paul Schrader, the writer, director, known, you know, namely for his scripts from the '70s like Taxi Driver and The Last Imtasia and Christ. He did a lot of work with Squaresese. First of all, a great movie. I think it's 2017, first in a trilogy. Taxi Driver type vibes, right? There's a sort of Travis Bickle type vibes, this sort of slow degradation of the individual who sort of plastered on the top and seethed underneath. But it's a style that Schrader's really into, a transcendentalist film, which means that the whole film is filmed in such a way that he calls it the delayed cut. The scene starts often before the actors even enter the scene and it ends once they've already left. So there's just space. The actual command, they'll talk to leave it slow. There's space, transcendentalist films are also known as being part of the slow film movement. But the whole point of this is to leave you as the viewer time to make your own cuts, to understand, to try to structure what you're seeing, what's going on here, why might he say that? They're giving you this space to actually do a lot of work yourself in your mind, which is all to say. Yes, watching movies can be incredible training for your ability to think. Not always true. I watched Pacific Rim with my boys the other day. I love Guillermo del Toro and it's a beautifully shot movie, but your mind doesn't have to work as much, I would say. Or if your mind does work, you quickly become sort of angry and confused about the plot because look, and I don't wanna complain, Jesse, about the plot of a movie. But the whole plot here is that there's an interdimensional portal opening in a sub-oceanic rift, which happens. Giant monsters are coming through it, the kaiju, which happens. I do not understand why the only response we could think of is we have to build giant metal robot mechs that are controlled by two operators who minds have to meld to fight the kozyu coming out of this or that. I mean, my boys read this out right away. It's like, couldn't you just have right next to the rift like nuclear tip torpedoes? Like, couldn't we just shoot, like they're big monsters, but couldn't we just like shoot missiles at them? Like, do we have to build metal robots that are 15 stories high to do, like the punch, the monsters? And it can't possibly be the right answer. Can't possibly, look, I'm gonna fire seven, whatever, heart-poon missiles from my age as destroyer that have like, technical nuclear warheads on them. They can just, they'll come in out of the sky at 900 miles per hour and blow up to Godzilla's. No, we're gonna have a sword. - I think I saw some of that movie. - I mean, the point of course is not the actual, my point is, the point is not the plot, is that it's the cinematography and the cool graphics and del Toro having fun. My point is that's a movie where you're not supposed to think. It's supposed to be just experiential. And that's fun, not helping your ability to think, but that's fun. But if you watch, you know, Paul Schrader film, well then you're gonna have to, you're gonna have to think. That's good. So anyways, good movies, good movies, I think are like good novels. They can help you think. Some prestige TV shows have this too, you know? That was compliant. I've been watching succession recently. I think it gets you thinking, but I'm comparing it to, yeah, movies have, because I guess the directors have the space or, I don't know, movies do a better job than the prestige. So the prestige shows, they do get you thinking, but they keep you moving along, you know? Hey, it's very plot focused and reaction to the characters. And I don't know. But my point being is movies, good TV shows, yes, this could be a big part of thinking. That's my main point. My secondary point is robots are not the right answer for battling. I mean, you could just have a submarine right at the rift. And every time a monster comes out, tactical nuclear, you know, we don't even have a submarine. We just like, we just have a bunch of tactical nuclear weapons. We just set it up at the rift. It's underwater, right? As soon as a kaiju comes out, we explode it and then someone comes and set up another one. Now, there are two solutions are giant mechs with swords that like fistfight and then also to build a wall around the Pacific Ocean. To which, which by the way, was not even as tall as the monsters themselves. So like the monster just came and just ripped down the-- - Stepped over it. - Stepped over it, basically. Fire a missile. Doesn't make sense. I mean, they just surround that part of the ocean with planes and ships that just fire, fire missiles. I just don't. I don't know. I don't know. Okay, well anyways, that's that. Let's do another question here. - All right, next question is from a meat, a 21 year old from Toronto. What's the difference between deep work and reading?

Can I read after a long day of deep work? (33:47)

If I've maxed out the four hours of deep week work, I have in a given day, what are the activities left for my brain? Can I only do shallow activities there after? - I mean, well, this is where Arnold Bennett, who I quoted earlier, is where Arnold Bennett makes this very clear argument that I don't believe that your brain can't do interesting thinking. Arnold Bennett says your brain is either sleeping or can do high-in, high-quality thinking. That's his claim. Now, I think that claim might be a little bit strong. I think there's obviously cases in which it's very difficult to do contemplation. If you're sick, it is very difficult to do any sort of interesting thinking. If you're really tired, you're sleep deprived, it can be very difficult to do really interesting thinking. But I do think there's a kernel of truth in this claim that is worth emphasizing. I think he's right about, which is we underestimate what our mind is comfortable with. We make this division where we think, I don't know, watching the Paul Schrader film or reading an interesting novel or just going for a walk and thinking about things that this is demanding activities. This is like athletic training. And because of that, I have to be in the right mood to do that. And I think what Bennett is saying is that through exposure, that can be more of just a default mode. That that's just what your brain is happy doing. That it is bored if you give it the movie about Kaiju. And it's like, okay, I'm happy with this novel. I'm happy with this book that you can in other words, raise the baseline of just standard thinking from very low to being much higher. And so when you're tired, when you're sick, the really high-end stuff is very high-end. And the default stuff you can still do would be to someone else seeming really concentrating or really demanding but to you it's not. So you can raise your baseline. And probably we could make a physical analogy here. If you get a really good cardiovascular shape, you might say, you know, I'm tired so I can't go run a five-minute mile today. But I can jog an eight-minute mile, right? Because you've raised your cardiovascular base. Whereas, you know, for me, running an eight-minute mile would be very, very difficult. So I think Bennett is onto a good general point there, which is as you re-embrace thinking, as you practice thinking, as you push yourself on what types of thinking you are able to tackle and the amount of time you spend thinking, it becomes more second nature. And we begin to see less of this distinction between, oh, I have to either be shut down or in a rarefied moment where I can concentrate. And it says, no, no, thinking about hard things or interesting things is just what I do as a human being with a brain. That's the place that you can get through enough exposure. All right, who do we have next? Next question is from John, a 43-year-old physician from Potomac.

Is a digital “second brain” a good idea to keep up with the latest advancements in your field? (36:38)

What knowledge management systems and technology stacks do you use to keep track of advancements in your field and other interests? For example, building a second brain. Yeah, I wanna talk about the role. I like this question because I'm interested in the notion of a second brain and what role that actually plays in thinking. So second brain, I mean, I think that is Forte. What's his name, Tig Forte? Sure if I have that right. I can look it up. Yeah, definitely the last name Forte. I apologize if I'm mixing up first names in my mind. I think it's Tig Forte. Popularized the notion of the second brain as a piece of vocabulary that refers to in general, having a external fully featured digital system to help track and organize information. So you can get it out of your brain and you can store it and organize it. And typically part of the idea of a second brain is that it can surface new insights or essentially do some cogitation for you. So it's not just that you're storing lots of things. OTAGO Forte, sorry about that. TAGO, TIAGO. I don't know what Tig is, I'm thinking of the comedian. Tig, God, I can't remember. I can get one part of everybody's name. So there's a comedian, Tig something. And then there's TIAGO Forte, it's a second brain. Now I have to look that up. Look up comedian. Okay. Then TIG. See if I, this is going to torture me. Nataro, Nataro. Nataro, that's what I see. I'm getting old. Maybe I do need a second brain. Okay, so not TIGNITARO. TIGNITARO has very few things to say on digital information management. TIAGO Forte does. So I think he popularized the term second brain, but it captures something that a lot of people have been interested in a long time. So we have systems to not only capture and organize information, but actually do some sort of outsourced cogitation. So surface new insights or connections. So no, I don't use a digital second brain in that way. And the reason, what I want to bring up here is a lot of serious thinkers I know, what they focus on instead is taking better advantage of the primary brain. Right, so what they focus on is let me take the time when I'm encountering something that's potentially useful, a new idea or concept or information. Let me take the time to work with it in my mind. To think it through, to associate it with my sort of existing schemas of understanding, to integrate it into these, whatever systems of understanding that I have into my head, there's a slower pace to their intake of information. But by doing so, they make their primary brain smarter. So then when it comes time to think an original thought, they have the structures of thought they're drawing from are more sophisticated and can produce better insights and draw from more examples and see more of these connections. And I think this may be the issue with second brain thinking. And again, I want to be clear, when I say issue, there's a lot that's actually very useful about having good organizational systems. So there's a lot about this technology I like. But this issue that we need to outsource cogitation to a digital system. I think what we're missing here is that most people have not yet saturated their first brain and its capabilities. Let's focus on that first before we care about now we need to cybernetically augment that with another system. And this is what I see the difference between serious thinkers and others is that they take the time to do that. To saturate your primary brain is to actually spend time with information to walk and think and talk it through and to bat it around and to test it out in different types of essays. That the effort to get your primary brain to be as sophisticated as possible can be a lifelong effort. And your primary brain can be the primary source of brilliant insights. Almost every great thinker in the history of thinkers with maybe the one exception of the guy who wrote the Zetelcaste in book who claims to have written 100 academic papers based out of a second brain system. Almost every great thinker in the history of world has produced his or her thoughts by working on making the primary brain better. And I'm using this as an example to get at thinking as an activity that we have to cultivate and work with. That if we want to make better use of information we have to take time with it and get comfortable chewing on it and swirling it, proverbially speaking around our mind and where does it fit. And let me try out these ideas here and there. Now of course digital systems though have a very important role to play in terms of capturing details of information that we might need to reference. Tago system is very good at this for example. I think it's one of the really useful aspects of it. Make it it easy to go in and collect in reference specific citations. Primary brains aren't great at memorizing little details. You know, I know this paper had this important idea that I've integrated into my schema but I need to actually find that paper and quote it. And having a digital system I can bring it up really quickly. That is a huge advantage. And that's where I think we get advantages with these sort of supplementary digital systems. It's making it easier to organize and retrieve specific details. It's the appendix that connects to the primary sources of thought that exist within our primary brain. I think that's the setup that works best when it comes to actual human thinking. So digital tools are great for supporting the human brain but I'm a big believer that we're so far, most of us are so far from getting the most out of our primary brain dude. That it's not really time to think about outsourcing thinking yet. We're not there yet. We haven't reached our capabilities. All right, let's see. What do we got next Jesse? - All right, next question is from Nao Al. What do you think of using technology like Kindle scribe or remarkable as a way of consolidating notebooks?

Would Cal consider consolidating his notebooks? (42:55)

- I'm interested in this. This is interesting to me. As I just mentioned, we're talking about second brains. I'm a big believer that the primary brain should be the main source of new ideas but I just mentioned that what is digital systems good for is capturing information, having information ready so that you can cite the details you need to support your thinking. And I'm wondering, I'm actually working with this thought of our services like remarkable, the remarkable tablet. Maybe it would be interesting. And what I'm trying to figure out is, is there an actual use case here or am I just being caught by the marketing? I'm gonna load up their website here. See, let me load up a browser over here. I wanna try to make this decision now on the air. I feel this intuitive attraction to the remarkable tablet. And I wanna figure out if it's just because I love the marketing or if there's actually an advantage here. We've loaded up our browser. Jesse Chrome doesn't seem to work on here, but let me see if Safari does. All right, so let's look up remarkable, remarkable tablet. All right. Do they have, okay, here we go. So I'm loading up the website here. Let me make this decision. For those who haven't seen the remarkable, it looks like a notebook. It uses something that looks like the electronic ink technology of Kindle, where it's not a backlit screen, but it's actually, it's little discs are flipping with different colors. So you're actually seeing the black and white is physical. It's not being projected with light. The remarkable is like that, except for instead of a Kindle that you're just reading, you can write on it with a stylist, but it feels like you're writing on paper. And it looks like you're writing on paper, but it's digital. So you can save that page and put it into electronic notebooks and sync it up online and have hundreds of thousands of pages that you can all have access to. And I use various notebooks. So I'm very curious. Could remarkable actually replace a lot of my notebooks? All right, so I've just loaded it on the screen here and I'm gonna see if I'm still sold. All right, it says, "Meet remarkable, the paper tablet. "A digital notebook designed for tasks that demand focus." All right. There's a video. If I play this video just that you think it'll show on the screen, let's give it a whirl. Let's go to whirl. All right. All right, here we go. Someone, fashionly, coffee, fashionly dressed woman, got her coffee. She's looking at, she puts down her laptop and her phone. She's disgusted. I'm narrating this here for people who are just listening. Now she pulls out a remarkable tablet. Ooh, it's like the size of eight by eight and a half by 11 looking notebook. The sun's on her, she's contemplating. Yeah, see, okay, if you're watching. So she's writing on this notebook page and it looks a lot like writing with a, a pen. And I think you can save these pages, navigate them. Let's see, she's taking notes. She's typing. Oh, that's interesting. You can hook it up to a keyboard. Yeah, then there's a folder menu. So you can save these things in various folders. So I guess it's internet connection. So here's what it says. "Paper like handwriting. Convert your handwritten notes to type text. If you sync and refine using our apps, all your notes organized and it in one place." So I don't know. Here's my, Jesse, tell me if you think I need a remarkable. Here would be my use case. Like what are the various notebooks that are relevant to me? I have my moleskin or I keep track of your thoughts about the deep life. So that's the one you're keeping in your pocket though, right? Yeah, typically I have that in my bag right now. And then I have a bigger notebook I'll use if I'm working out ideas on, you know, I'm on the road or something like that. So if I'm working through an idea for an article or a business strategy or, you know, I have like bigger notebooks I'll use for that. So in theory, I could consolidate both of those. I'll use notebooks and I'm working on math problems, you know, where I'm just trying to like work through ideas. And so in theory, all of that could happen on the same remarkable tablet. So I would have access to all of those things on to go and could go back and reference, hey, remember we worked on this math problem two years ago. Let's go back and look at those notes so we can reference them today because maybe it's relevant for this problem we're working on today. It could be a, yeah, book ideas, these type of things, article ideas. I mean, it'd be having one interface. - Is the main driver to limit space? - To have it all in one place, I guess could be useful. So I just have this one notebook I always have with me so I can add an idea, a book idea or switch over, work on a math problem or switch over and work on a business strategy and it would all be in one place. It wouldn't-- - Sure, it's all backed up too. - I'm assuming it would be, yeah. It wouldn't replace, once I'm actually actively working on a project. So let's say I'm writing a book or a New Yorker article, the amount of resources I gather for that is way too big for this. So like I use Scrivener and I'll have hundreds of articles and notes and stuff like that, but that's fine. Like Scrivener is very good for once a product is active. If I'm writing an academic paper, that's gonna move over to a Lothak editor like Overleaf where all the math and like that's all gonna start going to a specialized tool once I really get going. But that's okay. So I don't know, I'm thinking about it. - How much are they? - Well, I think the whole point here, Jesse, is that I'm hoping someone from Remarkable is hearing this podcast and says like, we need to send Califree one, right? Isn't that our play? How much are they? It's a good question. I feel like this is, by the way, deductible, right? Because I'd be buying this as an, an experiment for our listeners. They're not telling me the price. - These are the notes. - Yeah, how do I get to the price? Yeah, we could plan the show on it. All right, bye now. Here we go. Duh-duh-duh. $280. No joke. - Yeah. - No joke, it's kind of the, but, yeah, it's interesting. Oh, and there's a subscription. $3 a month. - $3 a month? That's a weird price. - I kind of agree. I guess that's for the backing up and the connecting to the apps or whatever. And then there's this other thing, Kindle, Kindle scribe. I guess Kindle has a remarkable competitor. I assume, yeah, it looks like it. Ooh, it's $400. Interesting. That makes the remarkable seem all the way better. So Kindle scribe, all right, so there's tools. I'm loading this up, but nothing's more interesting on radio than listening to someone surfing the web. Listening to someone just looking at the price of things. My goodness. Kindle scribe is $400. I guess it's the same idea. I've never heard of that. Okay, anyways. - I would help pay for Bezos' new yacht. - Yeah, or to move the bridge for his existing yacht. - Oh, I guess it's ready. It's already driving around. - Yeah, he's driving around with it. So let's get back to the original question. So no, well, good question about these things. I don't know, I think it's interesting. That's what I say. And I love the marketing. All those videos like we just showed of the fashionally dressed woman getting frustrated and moving her laptop to the side and then the sun comes through the window and shines on her sort of angelically as she pulls out her remarkable and draws business strategy notes. That stuff gets to me. So I like that. So anyways, I'm tempted to think about it because then I could run my life off of two things. So to have my time block planner for actually planning my day, right? And it's important to me that I have the grid there and that it's had my capture and it's the metrics and I can see it, I can flip through the pad. That I would want to be physical. But I could imagine a world where I have my time block planner and something like one of these digital notebooks where it can basically have five or six notebooks all accessible in one place backed up online. That's intriguing to me. So anyways, I will report back. If I end up buying one of these things and trying it, I will report back honestly about my experience using it. So we'll see. Sucker for technology like that sometimes, Jesse. I'm not typically a sucker for technology but their branding is getting to me on this. - Well, we've talked about remarkable in the past and we had a lot of fan feedback on it as well. - Yeah, they've been pushing it, right? Like we have a lot of fans who are fans. - It came up probably nine months ago. - Yeah. - We had a lot of test cases and case studies. - Okay, well, I'll report back. Let's do one more question. Next question is from Steven, a 33 year old from Canada.

Is Maria Popva’s note taking method better than Cal’s method? (51:55)

Maria Popova uses a note taking system that involves highlighting passages, writing the page number and concept on the blank pages in the front and back of the book. Your corner marking system is different. Why don't you follow Maria's approach? - Maria's approach is a good one which I have tried before. The friction is higher. So it takes more time because you have to go back and think about what you read and then summarize and then index in the front of the book, all of the different key ideas or quotes. And then the idea is you can just turn to the front of your book and look at these annotations and one or two pages remind yourself of all of the big ideas. My corner marking system only does the first half of that. So I marked the corner of a page that has something relevant and then I'll mark those relevant passages or sentences right there on the page with a pencil or a pen, maybe adding a few extra notes of thoughts or observations there. With the corner marking method, if you wanna replicate or remind yourself of the knowledge capturing a particular book, you actually have to flip through the whole book. You're flipping through looking for marked corners and then you go and look at what was highlighted on the pages that have the marked corners. This takes longer, this review process takes longer than being able to just look at the front of your book where all of this has been summarized. The reason why I go with my method, and again, these are deeply related, is that I think reducing the friction during the reading process is more important for me. I can get through more books if I don't have to go back and do that summary step. And also for what I'm typically doing with these books, the friction that is increased for reviewing is not a big deal. Like so typically what'll happen to me is I'll remember whatever, this Neil Postman book, I vaguely remember reading it, it had a couple examples in there that I think are relevant to what I'm writing now, I just need to find those examples. So I'll just flip through looking at those corner pages and I'll pretty soon find the right marked page and get that example out. It'll take me a minute or two to actually find it. And I think that's a perfectly good system. And it works because of what I talked about before. This idea that to become a better thinker, you need to focus on making your primary brain better. And one of the ways you do this is take time with information to think about it, to ingest it, to pull out the relevant parts, to compare them against what you already know or understand and integrate them into your existing schemas of knowledge. And when you do that, they're accessible. And so even years later, you remember, this book might have something relevant. This philosopher, I remember, got me thinking about X, Y, and Z, so this could be relevant too. And then having the pages marked, we'll hone you in on the specifics there pretty quickly. So there's not a lot gained by being able to look just at the front pages versus flipping through the marked corners. Now what Maria does as a job, it makes more sense to actually take the work upfront to summarize the books because what Maria does with Marginalia, which used to be called brain pickings, is she writes summaries of entire books. So what she needs is access to all of the important books, points of a book and how they fit together. That's what she does with these books. And so doing that work upfront as you read the book makes all the sense in the world for her. It means if I want to then write about this book on Marginalia, I've done the work of consolidating all the ideas and how they fit together. And now I can translate that onto, let's say, my essay. And that's very different than how let's say I would typically use nonfiction book, which is I'm not going to summarize Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death." Here's all the relevant quotes and how they fit together. I just want to get at the example he gave about the audiences for the Lincoln Douglas debates in the 19th century were comfortable with four hour long debates because they lived in a sort of textual linguistic world, typographic world. And I'd have a vague memory of that example and it's what I want, but I need to find their exact words. That's when the corner marking method is great. I'll flip through these corner mark pages. I'm sure that's one of the examples I marked. I'll get there in a couple of minutes. So the method could be dictated by how you hope to actually use the information. And for me, if I'm reading slowly and carefully and deeply like a thinker and I'm integrated into my schemas of understanding the ideas and concepts that are important, I just need the ability to get back to the specifics when I need it. I don't want to waste a time upfront or spend a time upfront. They're like fully summarize everything in the book and how all that fits together. But if you're Maria or you're a book reviewer or you're a professor who wants to teach these books, that might be exactly what you need to do. So I think your note-taking method can be dictated by what you hope to actually do with the books themselves. I like Maria. Maria's cool because she's a, she's an example of sort of old school internet. - Yeah, she's been on Ferris a few times. - Yeah, I get her email every Sunday. - She's been doing that for a long time. She comes out of the original Web 2.0 era of, I'm gonna create a website tied to me. I'm gonna produce content on this website and it's interesting and ask for money for it. And I have nothing to do with social media and I have nothing to do with these other large platforms. I own a server, I own a website. It was the original vision of Web 2.0. So I love people who exemplify that. It's not my TikTok videos have a lot of engagement. I'm trying to monetize my Instagram post. It's no, here's my website. Here's what I do. I do it well. I'm supported for doing this directly by my users. So all of us sort of Web 2.0 pre-social media internet fans, we all like Maria because she's a great example. That was the promise. And she's one of the few people that has survived all of the disruptions of the social age and are still an exemplar of that older model. - She reads a lot of her books on the treadmill. - Oh yeah. I think she goes to the gym every morning and walks. - I heard she reads like eight hours a day. - Yeah. - 'Cause it's her whole job. Yeah, that's a lot of reading. But it goes to her-- - About a walking too. - It goes to her earlier conversation though, right? About someone asked, is if I did a lot of deep work, maybe I can't read. I need to just do something shallow or distracting. Well, here's an example of someone who just through training and experience, that's all they do is read all day long. And Maria is completely comfortable doing that because that's what her mind is used to. And I would guess I don't know her, but I would guess her mind would have a hard time with Pacific Rim. It would be bored. Like there is no, there are no deeper themes here. I'm not, this is not a slow cinema, transcendentalist style film where they're using the compressed aspect ratio to create a sort of spiritual claustrophobia. They're using slow cuts into which I myself, I'm trying to project my own conceptual cuts to make sense of this complicated human experience. No. Robot punch big. Gosh, you go boom. So again, Arnold Bennett would be proud of Maria Popafob, I would assume. All right, well that's enough questions. I wanna move on to talk about some of the books I read in April. Before I do, let me briefly mention another one of the sponsors that makes this show possible. And that is our friends at HUEL, H-U-E-L. When it comes to fitness and nutrition, I don't wanna think about it more than I have to. So as I talk about many times on this show, my approach to nutrition is automate before dinner. Have some automatic options that get you energy and you know are healthy so you don't have to worry about them. They're causing more good than harm and then just don't think about it again. And all of your pleasure to find in food and experimentation with flavors and time among friends, you can just spend that all on dinner. And that's what you can think about food. So just automate breakfast and lunch to be healthy and nutritional.

Cal talks about Huel and My Body Tutor (59:35)

It really goes a long way towards keeping a nutritional baseline strong, keeping it large. And one of the options I throw into my automation of breakfast and lunch is using HUEL Black Edition as a meal replacement. It's fast and I know it has what I need. If I'm running the podcast or to a meeting, knowing that I can make one of their shakes in two minutes and it's gonna give me everything I need to get the lunch, it's gonna be nutritionally good, is a classic example of just automating away the decision fatigue of those meals of the day. So here's what you need to know about HUEL Black Edition. It's high protein, nutritionally complete meal in a convenient shake. It's powder, you put it in the shaker, you add some water, put some ice, you shake it up, very, very easy. With just two scoops, you'll get everything your body needs, including 27 essential vitamins and minerals and 40 grams of protein. It's vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, no artificial sweeteners, naturally flavored, low GI, omega-3 and omega-6 is in there, GMO-free, palm oil-free contains vegan vitamins, D2 and D3, and is available in nine flavors. It's also affordable, it works out to about $2.50 for each 400 calorie meal you replace with the shake. So it's cheap and fast and convenient and you don't have to worry. This will give me energy, give me some vitamins I need next. Let's move on and we can save all of our decision, energy surrounding food for thinking about dinner. I mean, tonight at the ballpark, Jesse, I imagine the food I eat will be the opposite of a nutritionally complete heel, black edition shake. - Pretty much impossible to eat. - I don't know that the chicken tenders at national parks contain vegan vitamins, D2 and D3. I guess I do a lot of-- - Roaring. - A lot of fuel. - Yeah, a lot of rowing. - Wouldn't you? - A lot of fuel. A lot of fuel and rowing to make up for tonight. So here's the thing, you can get this at heel.com/questions. Do that/questions. So heelhule.com, but don't forget the/questions because that will give you a free t-shirt and shaker with your first order. So that's heel.com/questions. Automate one of the meals out of your day. Easy way to get your nutritional baseline higher and heel is a great way to do it. Speaking of nutrition and fitness, we just talked nutrition, let's now talk fitness. What about those muscles? Well, let's get my body tutor involved. I've known Adam Gilbert, my body tutor's founders for many years. He used to be the fitness columnist for my study hacks blog back in the day. Adam's program, My Body Tutor, has company rather, is a 100% online coaching program that solves the biggest problem in health and fitness, which is the lack of consistency. As Adam says, and fitness knowledge isn't the problem. Everyone I talk to already knows what to do, where they struggle as turning information into action. My body tutor fixes that with daily accountability and expert support. The way it works is you get paired with a coach. This coach designs for you a custom workout plan to make sense for your goals, for your life, for the equipment you have access to. They also put together an eating plan. What should you eat or not eat? What's our strategies here, customized to you? And then you check in with this coach online, every day. That is the accountability consistency that Adam is talking about. That's how you get it. You know the coach is gonna see what you eat and how you exercise. And they're gonna give you encouragement. They're gonna help you. Hey, this isn't working, let's adjust it. Just knowing that you'll be talking to this coach gives you the motivation, where you might have otherwise just talked yourself into not doing the workout. You might as well talk to yourself in the saying, let me get that second order of chicken fingers at Nat's Park. So it's a brilliant idea because we know one-on-one coaching of course is incredibly valuable for getting in shape and improving your fitness, but it typically would be expensive. By making this relationship online, my body tutor makes it much more affordable. Here's the good news. If you mention deep questions when you sign up, Adam will give you $50 off your first month. Just mention that podcast deep questions when you sign up. So head over to MyBodyTutor.com. That's T-U-T-O-R, MyBodyTutor.com. And mention deep questions when you sign up, you get $50 off. It is a very smart way to get into better shape. Better shape, Jesse. I bought some heavier dumbbells recently. - What'd you get? - Got some 50s and some 40s and 50s. - So did you get them unique or do you get the things where you can slot them in? - Got them unique. - Yeah. - Yeah. We get them from a gym supply store, not far from here. - Nice. - Yeah, but I think I need 62. - Dumbbells are great because you don't need spotters and you can do like weird stuff. But yeah, moving up the weights. Got to get serious. All right, let's do a final segment here. I want to talk about the books I read in April. All right, Jesse, here's the bad news. I lost my list. I don't know what happened to it. - You were talking about this before the show and I think you should explain how you finished the book so early. - Yeah, so you might be thinking, well, wait a second, can't you just remember all the books you read in April? That was just last month. But here's the thing, I count books by the month, I finished them and I'm on a weird rotation.

Book Recommendations For April 2023

The books Cal read in April 2023 (01:05:01)

I'm sort of out of sync. So I tend to finish the books for a month. I start them before the month begins and tend to finish them about halfway through the month. So I'm already, for example, a book and a half into my June books, even though it's May, whatever. So when I'm trying to remember my April books, a lot of these are books I started reading or maybe started reading what back in March. So this is just the weirdness of how I've sort of shifted off schedule. So I just walked around my library today and looked at books and, okay, that one I remember, that one I remember. So I was able, Jesse, to reconstruct four out of the five books I read in April. I can't remember the fifth. - They had a remarkable notebook. - Right now, I would just be hitting the buttons, right? The sun would come in through the window. I'd be fashionably dressed with a Machiauto. And I would see the books. And then they're always, always in these videos. They always have like a business chart that they're labeling. In fact, here, switch over to the screen for a second. Here's the Kindle scribe ad. Look at what's in the picture. Am I right? Biz, it's a chart that they're labeling. That's what always happens in these ads. They're always like, what? And they put like an exclamation point and they're drawing on a chart. That's what business people do, is they label charts. But anyway, yes, my remarkable scribe would be able to find this. All right, but I did remember four of them. See, it helped because I went on a vacation during that period. So it was easy for me to remember what books I brought on the vacation. So that helped me here. All right, so I read the book, The Real Work by Adam Gopnik. Gopnik is a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker. He's known for art criticism. So this was his first, the book takes a tentative step towards the pragmatic nonfiction world. So this book is about what really goes into mastery. Gopnik's a great writer. You'll see that as you read the book. And basically, he builds reflections about mastery around different, I guess you could think of him as masters. He spends time with or different activities he pursues. I was reading this actually in Las Vegas. And I went to see David Copperfield. And so I appreciated that there's a whole section in this book where he's working with professional magicians. And this is where The Real Work, that term comes from, is the world of professional magicians. So anyway, it's a great writer. This is not a gladwell book. So it's not gonna, let's break down mastery into like, you know, the contrarian understanding that you can then apply to your life. It's more reflective and philosophical than that. But is very well written, I enjoyed it. Also read John McPhee's "Levels of the Game." It's his book about tennis, Arthur Ashe versus Graebner. Brilliant example, it sort of studied in nonfiction courses. Just a brilliant example of what McPhee is known for, which is using sophisticated structure to try to generate insight. And so the structure of levels of the game, this book is from the '60s. This has been replicated a lot now, but I think McPhee was at the cornerstone of this, is it's built around a single US Open Tennis Match between Arthur Ashe and David Graebner. And it'll, it moves seamlessly without even section breaks between they'll be playing this point, and then it's a backstory. And then back to the point, and so it goes back and forth between these two tennis players backstories and the game that's going on. In a sort of complicated structure where they won't even, he won't even break, it'll be a return. And then next paragraph is Arthur Ashe, 15 years earlier. And he goes back and forth, back and forth. And the idea is as you learn more and more about the backstory of these players, the nuances of their play, which are also learning more and more about, as you hear about the match, become more clear that he's drawing this connection between their style of play and all these different things that went into their history and who they are as a person and what's going on in the culture around them. Anyway, it's just a masterwork in narrative nonfiction. And one of the things that caught my attention because I read that and I read Gottman's book at the same time, "To New Yorker Writers", obviously different generations, is that McPhee, I don't know who's doing this right now, but I'm inspired by this. McPhee uses simple language complicated structure to get the truth. And I, you know, I would say that's probably, not a lot of people are doing that now. I would say the tone of the New Yorker right now, including my writing for better or for worse, also relies on lyricism to try to get at truth, more evocative sentences that have some sort of, you know, poetry in the writing, that the writing and the rhythms, there's a lot of rhythm of writing work, I think is going on a lot now at the New Yorker, that it's almost lyrical nonfiction prose that can extract insights and understand it and Gottman's great at that, it's very philosophical, self-reflective writer. McPhee was so different. His sentences are simple. They read like, they read like they come out of one of those, you know, mid-century grammar guides, you know, strunk and whatever. - They might read like you speak, like people speak probably, right? - Well, what I meant by like the grammar guides, and I'm forgetting like the classic strunk and white. - Is it strunk and white? - Yeah, so in the sense of like, sometimes it's a very formal grammar, it's like, oh, this is just perfectly constructed grammar. It's what I mean by it. - Yeah, I don't want that style. - Yeah, it's like this comma, this, semicolon, this, but it's using grammar like you would see in strunk and white, like, oh, this is a well constructed sentence, not like in maybe something I might write or a modern New Yorker piece, you use grammar to help support something that's more poetic or lyrical or whatever. The sentences are just boom, boom, boom, boom. Subordinate clause, boom. Just very straightforward. And yet when combined with complicated structure is incredibly deep. So I don't know, not a lot of people are doing that now. Maybe a lot of, not a lot of people are doing that back then either, but I just as a writing master class exercise, reading 60s era McPhee, it just got me thinking a lot, about how I write, about how he wrote, about his effect, made me think about my own writing a little bit. That was cool. That's how you form my book group. I'm in a book group that just reads sports books. - Yeah. - Yeah. So that was my turn to pick. And so of course I was gonna pick like. - Was there a lot of tennis strategy in there? - Yeah. You should read it. I'll loan you my copy. - I should. - Yeah, because you play a lot of tennis these days. - I play at least three times a week. - Yeah. - Is it complicated game? It's like golf. - Oh my God. The sense I got, yeah, it's like golf. That's the sense I got is you gotta be playing since you were five. - Not necessarily, but you need to play a lot. It makes a lot of me. - Yeah. Like if you wanna be any good, you gotta put a lot of time. - So one of the things, maybe you would understand this is because you're playing tennis now, I didn't understand as much. So one of the big parts of Ash's game is that when he was being trained coming up as a kid, they wanted him, they almost exclusively was training his backhand. They wanted the backhand to feel as comfortable to him as a forehand. So it was just like I'm very, very comfortable with it. - Yeah, 'cause a lot of times people just expose your backhand if it's weak. - Yeah, so he's very comfortable with his backhand. And then he was a very innovative creative player. So he was very much risky, exciting shots, cross court drop shots, the winners, that type of thing. Whereas, Grabner was much more of a mechanical play the odds. There's less statistics in it. It was very interesting. - Actually an air that was a cool little commercial with Ash, remember that? In the beginning of the week. - With the bracket, yep, the wooden racket. Yup, to get into that because Grabner used to move down to metal racket. So I think you would like it. The thing, the tennis players in my book group were saying, they were surprised by how fast Ash was serving. It really is not that far from today's era of monster serves. And he was serving like 130 or something like that. - Wow. - For 125. He was close with a wooden racket. So now it's supposed to be the age of the monster serve. But you read this match. Like they would want to get, if you could get four aces in a row, you're like, that's kind of what I'm looking for. Is like in a lot of these sets, it's gonna be all aces for the serve side. It's all about making use of the few mistakes that happen. - Mm hmm, it's interesting. - All right, other book I read, The Transcendent Brain by Alan Lightman. I like Alan Lightman a lot. Former physicist at MIT that went on to start their science writing master degree program. I like them in part, as I've mentioned on the show, because their family has a cabin on this island up in Maine and they go up there and spend the entire summer. I think it has electricity, maybe. There's no phone, there's no internet. And I always just, I sort of knew, I didn't know him well. My wife had crossed paths with him a few times when we lived in Boston. He was at MIT, I was at MIT. We had friends in common. I always loved that about him. But anyways, he now just writes these short, provocative books for Pantheon, and which is cool, which I appreciate. And this one was trying to give a materialist explanation for spirituality, trying to say you can appreciate and even organize your life around spiritual experiences, while still maintaining a scientific materialist view. So he sort of gives a Darwinian explanation for why maybe we feel these senses of connection or moments of transcendent awe and trying to explain that materialistically. The typical Enlightenment book, it's short and it dives into these interesting angles and different history of religion and brain science over here and doesn't write more than he needs to write. So I always enjoy a good Al-Enlightenment book. The final book I remember reading in April is called Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Samard, who is a, I don't know what the field is, forestry maybe, who studied, she did a lot of the innovative work that discovered trees are connected to each other, underground, through networks of fungus. They can not only communicate with each other with these underlying fungus networks, they can actually move resources on its sugars, for example, from one tree to another. And you even have in forest, you'll find what she called the mother tree, this very old tree that was connected to a lot of younger trees and it helps to redistribute resources to them, et cetera. You know, she did a lot of work on that. And so this book is about that. There's been a couple books in the last 10 years about trees and communicating. This one is interesting because it's memoir. It's memoir/science. So she's actually a very good memoir writer. She had a very interesting upbringing in Canada. She comes from one generation removed from a Canadian lumbering family and worked actually in the timber industry before she moved over to academia. It's actually a pretty astutely drawn self-portrait that's intertwined with her scientific discovery. So you learn about her discoveries as they occur in her life as she tells the story of her life. And I thought it was a surprisingly well-written book. And the science is interesting too. Now, there's a bit of a grain of salt that has to be taken with it. I mean, there's a, I don't know, a sort of like philosophical or political resonance to this idea that clearly has to be involved in the popularity and the push in these ideas. It's like, no, trees don't compete. They share resources together. They help each other in cooperate. They mother each other. I mean, there's very much like embedded in these scientific studies, also reflections of critiques of aspects of capitalist culture. And so it's a complicated field, but she found some really cool things. But the book was really well-written and she has a really, had a really interesting life. So I grabbed it randomly. This was a politics and prose table. Boom, let me just grab it. It's not a new book. Sometimes when you're traveling, you have to just serendipitously grab something. And I'm glad I grabbed that one. All right, so that's four books. There was a fifth. I just can't remember what it is. I should just make one up to see, well, what would be the most impressive thing I could have read? - All right, you guys. - Was reading Gravity's Rainbow or War and Peace. Let's just make up what it is. I don't know. Well, there was a fifth in there. But those are the four, those are the four I can remember. All right, well, I think that's a good enough for a show. We shall go off now and do some thinking on our own. Thank you, everyone, who listened or watched. I'll be back next week with a new episode of the podcast and until then, as always, stay deep.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Wisdom In a Nutshell.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.