Hey—that gives me an idea
Create better information flows—Read old—Ideas are alive
I don’t have many things I enjoy about Amtrak. But one redeeming quality is the opportunity for genuine anthropological study.
There are always those people who place a bag on the open seat next to them to discourage someone from sitting there.
So territorial… even over a few square feet of hard synthetic leather.
And people who judge others for the same digressions they do themselves.
(I guess I’m one of those.)
Have a good rest of the weekend!
Recent editions of Thoughts from a Bench:
This week’s thoughts are about ideas.
#1: Create better information flows
“Almost every idea that you have is downstream from what you consume. […] The person who creates better information flows, gets better thoughts.”
—James Clear (interview with Tim Ferriss)
I wasn’t familiar with the London School of Economics until I read Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis and learned he attended for his master’s degree. Two years later, I decided I wanted to study there, too, but only because I got the idea from Lewis first.
Likewise, I’m sure today I’ll read something interesting that may not seem relevant or important until 6 or 12 months from now when it resurfaces. This applies to the thousands of ideas I’ll eventually have…
Better information flows lead to better thoughts. Choose who belongs in your library and Twitter feed today to choose the thoughts and ideas you will have tomorrow.
How should we choose? Writer William Deresiewicz has one recommendation: start with old books.
#2: Read old
“[A] book has two advantages over a tweet. First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is the result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself. Second, most books are old. This is not a disadvantage: this is precisely what makes them valuable. They stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they’re not from today.”
—William Deresiewicz (“Solitude and Leadership”)
Not many people take the time to sit down and digest a book. Some people even take a perverse pride in not reading, as if they’re still sticking it to their 11th grade English teacher.
I don’t want to preach too much about this, as if I’m a real authority on reading. I just know that all the people I look up to read. Not all day, of course, but enough for it to transform their thinking and set them apart from the rest of the crowd that’s burning out from the fumes of Twitter.
We are always being exposed to new ideas. Why not ensure those ideas have been vetted by history?
#3: Ideas are alive
“Narratives are as real and as alive as you and me. When I say that narratives are alive, I don’t mean this as a metaphor. I truly believe that narratives are an alien lifeform in exactly the same way that viruses are an alien lifeform. […] Both narratives and viruses have a lifecycle of purpose and intention—they are born, they grow, they respond to their environment, they reproduce and they die—all in service to preserving the existence of their kind.”
—Ben Hunt (“Narrative and Metaverse, Pt. 1: The Living Word”)
Ben Hunt uses the term “narrative” here, but let’s stick with the theme of the article and use the term “idea” instead. Ideas are as real and as alive as you and me.
How does this work and why does this matter?
First, the how.
Ideas don’t just stay in your head. You can share them with other people, and other people can share ideas with you. Ideas are alive in a sense that they are a form of virus, intending to replicate across hosts to the greatest possible extent. The idea of “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” has been around at least 2,000 years… and hopefully survives another 2,000.
Ideas, of course, can be good OR bad. PizzaGate, racism, and eugenics are examples of bad viral ideas, though eugenics fortunately has nearly died off. “All men are created equal” and the Golden Rule are examples of good viral ideas. In general, all ideas survive to the extent they keep multiplying across the minds of their hosts. This of course requires people to share them, through conversations, retweets, billboards, etc.
What’s surprising, though, is how unconscious we are of this very process as it happens to us! Can you list down the last five ideas you shared with another person? Or the last five you received? The idea transmission process is almost unconscious by default.
And this is why it’s important to understand that ideas are alive, leaping from mind to mind. Once you become consciously aware of the fact that every good and bad idea you’ve ever had originated from somewhere outside of your mind—another person, TikTok video, book, etc.—you start to become much more selective about what those sources of ideas are. It’s up to you to be the gatekeeper, because a bad idea doesn’t care if it leads you to addiction, prison, or misery. A bad idea—this viral, living thing—just “cares about” spreading to someone else.
Because we live and die by the ideas we have, we live and die by the sources of ideas we choose, the people we spend time with, the books we read, the entertainment we consume.
“Everything changes when you take agency over the narratives you culture and the narratives you inoculate yourself against.”
Thanks for reading! I appreciate when these thoughts lead to conversations with readers. Did you find anything interesting or surprising? Reply to me and let me know.