Advice on reading

I was not much of a reader as a child.

My family always had a lot of books around, so I did clock up some reading time but my heart was never in it. I’m a twin, you see, and my twin sister happens to be a voracious reader. So that was her thing as a child. Mine was rolling in the mud or wetting the bed perhaps.

So I was off to a slow start with reading. But as I grew older, I heard more and more about the benefits of a daily reading habit. Through my early twenties (I’m 25 at time of writing) I tried a number of times to make the habit stick but it never quite worked…

Until, that is, I heard some fantastic advice on the subject from Naval Ravikant in his brilliant podcast episode with Shane Parish.

The advice was simply:

Read what you enjoy reading.

Simple. If you’re not enjoying a book, stop reading it. If a book doesn’t excite you, don’t start it. Read whatever you feel like rather than what you feel you have to. The important thing is to enjoy it. Over time, the more you read, you’ll naturally progress on to those books you feel you “should read”.

Narrative Value

Narrative Value- without a doubt my favourite new phrase from last year, learnt whilst at an “Intro to Buddhism” retreat in Northern India.

In this particular instance it was used to explain why the Buddhist’s teach that the Buddha was born out of his Mother’s armpit, and it means more or less: Adding to the story to help the concepts stick.

Such an eye opener.

I’d never thought particularly deeply about religion, or why there were different religions, or why it existed even, but this put it in to a new perspective for me:

Religions are guides to living a good life, and it’s the Narrative Value of the religious stories that helps them stick.

It was these very stories that embed religion so deeply in human society.

And for the most part? It worked. Good lives were lived. There were of course some bugs in the system, but that’s for another time.

Depollution & Covid-19

Every cloud has a silver lining ey?

At time of writing, the world is in the midst of its worst pandemic for more than a century, BUT it’s not all bad… There are some fantastic images coming out about the effect that the global quarantine is having on the planet:

There is of course still a huge unsolved problem when it comes to the environment and climate change, but I for one am encouraged by these signs. With upcoming revolutions such as the electric car, perhaps we’re not out of the game quite yet. All eyes on Elon…

Why our brains grew*

*one theory

TLDR: We learnt to cook…

Back in 2018 I read Sapiens, the global bestseller by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s such a fantastic book, and truly changed how I see the world. Yuval speaks of the rise and rapid ascent of Homo Sapiens after the cognitive revolution some 70,000 years ago. All of which was triggered by the amazing growth of the human brain.

One question that he did not answer, however, was “Why did our brains grow?”.

This unsolved mystery lay dormant in my mind for the next 18 months UNTIL earlier this year… I was reading the also fantastic Why We Eat (Too Much) by Andrew Jenkinson, in which he explores the fundamental issues in our diet today, and out of nowhere he had the answer to the question I’d spent so long pondering. He’s what he proposed:

  • If you take a 65kg human, a 65kg gorilla and a 65kg chimpanzee, then each of these will have roughly the same daily energy consumption, about 2,000kcal.
  • For each, this 2,000kcal will be split between the various organs.
  • The difference we see is that humans send 4 times as much energy to the brain. So the question is, how can they afford to do this given they have the same daily energy consumption?
  • The key, it turns out, is in the energy being sent to the gut. The gorilla and chimp have much larger guts due to the constant of processing of raw food, where as we… can cook.

A million years ago our ancestor, Homo Erectus, left the forest for the plains. With their improved line of sight, this change of lifestyle lead to an increasing development of tool usage that eventually led to the discovery of fire, and crucially, cooking. Cooking works as a sort of predigestion, as it makes the food easier for our bodies to break down. This reduced workload on their gut, freed up the energy and also time, as they didn’t need to spend all day grazing. That time was spent… Using their brains! And with the excess energy, the stage was set.

And so our brains grew. And here we are today, 7.5bn of us hurrying along with our business whilst clinging to this amazing planet, hurtling through space at 67,000 miles per hour. What a time to be alive.

You never regret a run

Alright, perhaps you get attacked by a wild animal or some other inconvenience befalls you… But we’re talking about the other 99.9% of runs here.

I’m a semi-regular runner, probably clocking up two or three light runs a week, and almost every time I spin myself the narrative that it’s a bad idea. This seems to be especially prevalent for runs first thing in the morning… I stand contemplating my next move and my brain throws a hundred reasons not to run at me:

“My left leg feels a bit tight”
“Breakfast will be too late if I run”
“What if there’s an important email to deal with?”

Etc etc..

Some days I give in to the objections, but on others I manage to drag myself out of the door and a few kilometres around the local area, with my legs often grumpily objecting all the way round.

And yet, post run.. I never regret having done the run. All those objections turn out to be hollow.

I now find it a helpful weapon, in my morning struggles with willpower, to tell myself “You never regret a run”, and just maybe, that’s starting to tip the scales for the good guys.

Why start a blog?

Why indeed…

2020 is the year of the podcast so starting a blog is not quite the fashion. BUT here I am… Why?

Well there are a couple of interesting benefits:

  1. Writing practice- I’m a lifetime dyslexic, and a really quite weak writer. Whilst I had hoped that I could get by without writing in my life, that alas no longer looks likely. So why not work on it? Writing alone is probably not enough, but seeking feedback and opening the work up to scrutiny should do the trick.
  2. Develops thinking – My early intention with this blog is to share my thoughts and anything interesting I might have learnt. The process of publishing ones thoughts, even in a random blog in a corner of the internet, requires those thoughts to be articulated and developed, which must hold some benefit!

And that, it turns out, is enough to motivate me through the two hours spent grappling with WordPress’s setup this morning. So here we go…