Books are for Thinking – 7 Takeaways No. 121

Lots and lots of books.

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1. “Open your mouth and you’re wrong”

Tripping Out with a Legend – Dan Harris – (10 Percent Happier podcast)

Jon Kabat-Zinn is a legend, to be sure. But, to be honest, the podcast episode kinda meandered, from here to woo and back again. It was interesting, but the takeaway above really got my attention. Harris comments on it as well:

Open your mouth, and you’re wrong. I mean, that that is such a nice corrective against the epidemic, the pandemic of certainty that I see in our culture, it’s like, I’m right, you’re wrong. Everybody else is wrong, except for the people in my tribe.

“Pandemic of certainty” is another good turn of phrase.

Do this: Listen.

2. “Being a meditator and developing equanimity do not mean becoming weird.”

It’s Easier Than You Think – Sylvia Boorstein – (ebook)

I mentioned last week that I found Pema Chodron’s books something less than accessible, and difficult to wade through. A friend pointed me at Boorstein’s book, subtitled “The Buddhist Way to Happiness” appears to be a much, much better alternative. So far it’s written in much more plain terminology, and in a much more engaging, story-telling style. I’d even call it … less weird.

Buddha’s teaching, in a nutshell:

… it doesn’t make sense to upset ourselves about what is beyond our control. We don’t get a choice about what hand we are dealt in this life. The only choice we have is our attitude about the cards we hold and the finesse with which we play our hand.

While I’m sure the Buddhist scholars and all-in practitioners will rail against that as a gross over-simplification (and, to be fair, it is), they’ll typically do so using language that gets in the way of mere mortals understanding.

Stoicism is similar, in both philosophy, and terminology. Both Stoicism and Buddhism could use more plain speak.

Do this: Play your hand with finesse.

3. “Stir up the social media panic”

Don’t panic about social media harming your child’s mental health – the evidence is weak – Stuart Ritchie – (i News)

This is interesting for two reasons: calling into question the statements being made about how social media is harming our children, especially young girls, and exactly how he does so.

Having read all the relevant studies in this area, I think a lot of the evidence is shaky and unclear – and it’s okay to still be undecided.

If you’re interested in the mechanics of studies and how easily they can be misinterpreted or even abused, this is an excellent case study.

Note: it does not dispute the premise — the decline in mental health — only the studies claiming social media as the cause. He’s not even saying that it’s not the cause, just that we really don’t have the evidence to actually say it is. From my perspective that’s critical, because it means we could be missing the true cause completely.

Do this: It’s really worth understanding statistics at a very basic level. Perhaps most important: remember that correlation is not causation.

4. “It’s dangerous to build something smarter than you”

AI Doomsday For People Who Don’t (Yet) Wear Fedoras – Dan Shipper – (Chain of Thought newsletter via

A good overview of the concerns with the sudden rise of AI (or AI-like) technologies.

If you build something through trial and error, then the only way you can control it is through trial and error.

Of course the concern is that if the “error” is existential in nature, the trial — and humanity? — might suddenly end.

I won’t minimize the concerns, but my outlook is a tad more positive. The article’s bottom line is a good take:

… we should use this as an opportunity to be aware of and prepare for the harm that could come from these tools—and to accelerate our alignment capabilities to minimize that as much as possible.

Do this: Be aware that all progress included both trial and many, many errors. That doesn’t mean we haven’t progressed and benefitted as a result.

5. “Books are for thinking”

Books are for thinking, not reading – Nick Milo – (Linking Your Thinking)

The goal is not to read the book.

It’s to understand what the author is trying to say.

This is an important distinction I’m trying to internalize better. It applies mostly to non-fiction, of course (though I can see interesting application to some, more aspirational, fiction), and re-frames how best to approach what we consume. I know I restarted a book I’m reading after having stumbled into this, to focus on understanding rather than completing.

Do this: Think.

6. “Viewing yourself as younger is a form of optimism”

The Puzzling Gap Between How Old You Are And How Old You Think You Are – Jennifer Senior – (The Atlantic)

As I write this I’m 65, but feel 35. Oh, sure, there are days where I feel 90, and certainly situations where I act 13, but overall I’m younger on the inside than the outside would seem to show.

This is not at all uncommon. And, in my opinion, a good thing.

If you mentally view yourself as younger—if you believe you have a few pivots left—you still see yourself as useful.

I plan to be useful for a very long time.

Do this: Act your (internal) age.

7. “Knowledge is too precious to be abandoned to the whims of the profit motive.”

The Ruling That Threatens the Future of Libraries – Adam Serwer – (The Atlantic)

The publishing industry doesn’t “get” technology. Oh, sure, they love to use it to create, sell, rent, and license their product, but they don’t “get” how transformative technology has become, and how much greater access it affords. In the name of profit they’ve recently won a ruling that, yes, at face value, threatens all libraries, not just The Internet Archive. (TL;DR: loaning digital copies of physical books has been deemed illegal.)

There needs to be a middle ground. As the takeaway states, knowledge is too precious.

Do this: Support you local library, support The Internet Archive, and read.

More links & thoughts

What I’m Reading

In progress:


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2 thoughts on “Books are for Thinking – 7 Takeaways No. 121”

  1. I thoroughly enjoy reading your weekly “Seven Takeaways”, Leo, and particularly like this week’s 2nd one which recommends clarity in writing. However, I was puzzled with the 7th one which includes “TL;DR:”. Could you perhaps explain this more clearly for readers who, like me, are baffled by these capital letters? Thank you!

    • Via a quick Google search: “abbreviation. too long; didn’t read: used in response to an online post, text message, article, etc., that is thought to be too lengthy, and usually taken as a rude comment, or used by the writer before a summary of lengthy text.”

      Emphasis mine.

      Not trying to be snippy or condescending, but Google is a wonderful resource for unknown terms and acronyms.


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