austinkleon:

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky

Started reading this last year, finished it a few weeks ago. My favorite sentence from the book which maybe summarizes it best: “The internet is an opportunity machine.”

My other favorite passage, which I’ve already posted, but I’ll repost here anyways:

The stupidest creative act is still a creative act… On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.

Oh, by the way: it’s fun to pay attention to subtitles, especially when a book comes in a hardback/paperback edition — the paperback edition usually shows the evolution (or devolution) of the publisher’s marketing of the book. The hardcover subtitle of Cognitive Surplus is “Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age” vs. the paperback subtitle, “How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators.” When Lewis Hyde’s The Gift came out, the subtitle was “Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property”—later, much later, it was “Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.”

That favorite passage reminds me of Peter Thiel talking about horizontal business vs. vertical business. Going from 1 to N, copying things that work, incrementally spreading and improving, is hard, yes. But going from 0 to 1 is really, really hard in a very different way.

Forms, styles, structures–whatever word you prefer–should change like skirt lengths. They have to; otherwise we make a rule, a religion of one form; we say, “This form here, this is what reality is like,” and it pleases us to say that (…) because it means we don’t have to read anymore, or think, or feel.

Zadie Smith, in an essay on George Eliot and the Victorians and the evolution of the novel and such.

Wes Anderson’s Arrested Development. Interesting criticism here. This led to an aha! moment for me:

Nothing more perfectly evokes the feeling of both a child’s literal interpretation of the world and youthful big ambition on a frustratingly small scale like a school play, and Anderson smartly adopts this style.

[…] We don’t lose ourselves in the emotion of the production, and for the same reason we’re not meant to lose ourselves in the story of an Anderson film. Like in a children’s play, we are meant to be aware at all times of creative effort, for this is where its true value lies. Anderson’s ability to blend substance and form and communicate this feeling is his greatest skill. His films look like a stage plays: Sets look like sets, the frame becomes the proscenium arch (with a symmetry in the set that exaggerates and enhances the frame’s boundaries), and the action is kept in the center of the frame, usually directed out toward the audience in mainly medium or wide shots.

And I like this:

Anything that helps to enlarge an understanding is important, as large thinking is contagious and will contaminate all other areas of your life, so that eventually nothing will be allowed to remain simple and small.

What we call a home is merely any place that succeeds in making more consistently available to us the important truths which the wider world ignores, or which our distracted and irresolute selves have trouble holding on to. As we write, so we build: to keep a record of what matters to us.

From The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton. (via carpentrix)

Metaphors We Live By – George Lakoff and Mark Johnson [pdf]

Lots of great examples here. E.g., ideas are food (raw facts; a half-baked theory; let an idea percolate; devouring a book) and theories are buildings (ideas need a foundation and support; construct a theoretical framework; buttress an argument), etc. (via). Makes me think of George Saunders:

When we get better at expressiveness, we get better at understanding, better at sympathy, better at bullshit-detection, better at experiencing pleasure, better at true engagement (with others, with the world, with ourselves).

Update: I think this is one reason I love learning about the history of a word. Like when I learned the word raga is related to the Sanskrit word for dye (the musical form colors your mood!), or when I was reading The Gift of Fear recently and learned that intuition has roots in a word meaning protection, defense, guardianship (you trust it because it has your interests at heart). Learning where a word comes from, like metaphors, has a way of changing your perspective or giving you another lens to see language through. And yeah, I just used two metaphors to explain how etymology is like a metaphor. Boom!

Metaphors We Live By – George Lakoff and Mark Johnson [pdf]

Had the concept of software been available to me, I imagine I would have felt as though I were installing something that exponentially increased what one day would be called bandwidth, though bandwidth of what, exactly, I remain unable to say.

William Gibson on reading Borges’ Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius for the first time. Filed under: Borges; William Gibson.

When we’re shown an image we tend to let our guard down. People learn how to read critically and think critically, but I don’t believe we learn how to see critically.

Writers, it seems to me, should write, not make speeches. But speeches, like quasi-journalistic writing assignments, can come attached to plane tickets, to hotel rooms in cities one might never have thought of visiting otherwise. In writing speeches, curiously, one sometimes finds out what one thinks, at that moment, about something. The world at large, say. Or futurity. Or the impossibility of absolutely grasping either. Generally they make me even more uncomfortable to write than articles, but later, back in the place of writing fiction, I often discover that I have been trying to tell myself something.

William Gibson on creative transference.

Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person. One other person you can trust, one other person to whom you can unfold your soul. One other person you feel safe enough with to allow you to acknowledge things—to acknowledge things to yourself—that you otherwise can’t. Doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you aren’t supposed to ask.

Maria Popova’s Beautiful Mind – Mother Jones

From an interview with the creator of Brain Pickings:

When you intercept the rumination process with something that requires your full attention—that’s stimulating and absorbing, that places a demand on your intellectual focus—you don’t get to ruminate. In a way, it’s a mental health aid to be able to do that so much. My routine, what I do, it just feels like home. It’s my comfort food.

Maria Popova’s Beautiful Mind – Mother Jones

[Transcript] Tyler Cowen on Stories – Less Wrong Discussion

I’ve long thought of Cowen’s talk as a must-listen and listened to it multiple times. And now it’s been transcribed. And thus, a must-read. Filed under: storytelling.

Stories, to work, have to be simple, easily grasped, easily told to others, easily remembered. So stories will serve dual and conflicting purposes, and very often they will lead us astray.

[Transcript] Tyler Cowen on Stories – Less Wrong Discussion

Always make a definition or sketch of what presents itself to your mind, so you can see it stripped bare to its essential nature and identify it clearly, in whole and in all its parts, and can tell yourself its proper name and the name of those elements of which it is compounded and into which it will be dissolved.

Marcus Aurelius. I’m taking the words out of context here so it appears that he likes sketching. I’ve been reading Martin Hammond’s Penguin translation and bookmarking every 3 paragraphs or so.

Hypomnema – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

…a Greek word with several translations into English including a reminder, a note, a public record, a commentary, a draft, a copy, and other variations on those terms.

The context was Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, but it sounds like a good description of Tumblr, Twitter, and a number of wonderful things on the internet. I first came across hypomnemata (sleep + thread…) in The Present Alone is Our Happiness (recommended in Ryan Holiday’s super awesome reading list email archive).

Reading the Wikipedia entry, it made me realize what I often (mostly?) use this Tumblr for: to make notes to myself, shaping and re-shaping my perspective. Many of my favorite posts (tagged, e.g., work, opinions, empathy, arguments, happiness, death, travel, thinking, philosophy, stoicism, psychology) function as a sort of admonishment that I really do re-read every now and then. It’s an attempt to refresh and re-calibrate, internalize. This journaling/commonplacing thing isn’t new, but there’s something satisfying about knowing that one strand of the tradition goes back to an old Greek word. See also commentarii, commonplace, memoranda.

Hypomnema – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The confidence that people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence, it is not a judgment of the quality of the evidence but it is a judgment of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct.

I’m not terribly interested in whether real, brain-chemically-defined Asperger’s is over- or underdiagnosed, or whether it exists at all except as a metaphor. I’m interested in how vital the description feels lately. Is there any chance the Aspergerian retreat from affective risk, in favor of the role of alienated scientist-observer, might be an increasingly “popular” coping stance in a world where corporations, machines, and products flourish within their own ungovernable systems?

We must be indulgent to the mind, and from time to time must grant it the leisure that serves as its food and strength.