Go with a smile!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My old reading habit

I’m wondering or not I’ve blogged about my reading habit. Probably not when I while I was still indulging in it.

I was talking to Nat one day and he told me that he felt that grade school taught you the real stuff, the things you really needed to know, whereas university taught stuff that was of dubious value. I don’t know about that, but there’s probably some truth in that, that’s why primary school is primary school, and even though uni is sibeh glam, it’s still called “Tertiary”.

It’s also funny how, when my bond ended a few years ago, that was also probably the end of what I called my “post college / neo-college” years. I think maybe I could have been too impressed with my college. Maybe it was a place that I fitted in too well, relatively speaking.

For me, college was a place of learning. And it did feel like a great experience for me at that time. Yes, my mind was opened to plenty of new and wonderful ideas. Yes, I wanted what I called a “liberal education”. That means you study broadly in many different fields. I didn’t study for knowledge. I studied for “mental infrastructure”. Which means, I didn’t study to learn facts, but more to absorb the main ideas behind different academic disciplines. So that when I wanted to, I could think like a sociologist, or a historian, or a scientist. I may not believe this as strongly now as I did then, but I think that a liberal education was beneficial. (I’m starting to realise that a liberal education teaches you very little about how to be practical and execute plans. It teaches you little about how to get yourself organised.)

Now one of the things I found very useful was that I finally learnt how to write when I was there. Perhaps I was as good a writer as I’ll ever be when I was 23. Sadly my brain is feeling its age, and admittedly I don’t feel like I’m driving a sports car when I try to put an essay together. It was brought home to me that writing was a weak point when my general paper was the only subject where I missed out on an A in the “A” levels. And I’m glad I got that fixed. But now I also know: the really tough subjects that you learn are the engineering and computer science ones. Reading subjects are the easy way out. Should have tried more toughness then, isn't it?

So it was learning how to read and write for me, and it was great for me to master these skills. It did feel much easier for me to write and think about big ideas. Maybe my brain was more suited towards big ideas. I’m a more natural essay writer. Even when I did maths I did pure maths, which is closer to philosophy than number crunching. Perhaps, then I was a good at maths only because I was good a philosophy.
So during my neo college phase, my big big hobby was reading all those books to fill up the gaps in knowledge. In college, I had brought back a lot of bookshelves in my head. Now was the process of filling it up with books. Maybe it was just too much reading during those days that made my brain tired, I don’t know.

I think at that time I foolishly believed that I was going to be a great learned person in any subject I wanted to be good at. I suppose I’m now learning the hard way that there are limits to the cognitive capabilities of the human mind. I met a person from the Singapore MIT Alliance that said that the American college experience was like drinking from a firehose. Well I put myself up towards drinking from 5 different firehoses during those days. It was a profoundly disorientating experience. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do it again. Mastering new disciplines, creating mental architectures from scratch, and then pitting yourself against other people who had been doing all this stuff for years. I think there was a lot of hubris in that. Maybe I could have gotten ahead a little more with a little more focus.

Anyway shortly after finishing college I promised myself that I would go back there again. (Yes, I’m only beginning to fulfil an 8 year old promise). And in the meantime, I would just read a lot of books to fill up my knowledge. I would think now that so much of it is just self-indulgence but the context is important. Going for seconds and thirds is self-indulgence, but the first round at a buffet table is not: if you don’t have that, you got nothing.
So this is what I chose to fill my head up with:

Network theory / chaos theory / fractals / power laws / catastrophe theory.
How to make money (surprisingly I was only interested in the theory and I didn’t use much that was practical about this.)
The workings of the government

I still remember those trips to the expo, where I would come back with boxes and boxes of books, of which I would at the most read 20%, keep another 40% and sell 50%. (Doesn't add up to 100% because I sold off a lot of the books that I read.) I read 500 books, roughly.

Well since 2-3 years ago, real life finds its way in, just like snow finding its way into your shoe when you’ve been walking around long enough. And now reading almost feels like a luxurious indulgence I can’t really afford. Even though I still do it so much. When I was younger, I read so much because I didn’t know better, and I just told myself, that’s the easiest way to go forwards in life and still have a good time doing so. Well now is the time that I reluctantly start the chores that I have been putting off for so long: learning by doing. Real experience. Whatever.


Post a Comment