Marcus Geduld, superhero of the mind

Screenshot anime Minami-ke

It is natural for young people to feel constrained and uncomfortable when people think extremely highly of them (at least people of their own gender…) but hopefully at our age we have outgrown this.

I ran into this fellow on the Quora website, in itself one of the most promising initiatives of the new century. A site for intelligent answers to intelligent questions, it attracts ever more people who either are highly intelligent, think they are highly intelligent, or both of the above. It is not a place where you ask about the height of Mont Blanc, but a place where you ask why Hinduism doesn’t send missionaries the way Christianity does, or what old people wish they knew when they were young. Stuff like that.

Ah, but I have praised Quora here before. Now to praise this Marcus Geduld fellow. First, I thought his name was a pen name, because Geduld means “patience” in German. For someone writing a disproportionate number of the thoughtful answers on Quora, that would be an ideal pen name. Let us just say, a fool really can ask more than the wise can answer. And even if the wise eventually manage to answer the question, the fool will either disbelieve them or already have wandered off. Patience is not just a virtue, in such a place it is a necessity! ^_^

I first noticed this person a while ago when someone asked the perennial question about how to deal with the tragic fact that most people aren’t as smart as $Asker-of-Question. There are various instances of this question, with slightly different wording, on Quora.  I cannot remember which particular version this was, but I remember the gist of the answer. It was, basically: Challenge yourself! You may think you are smart, and that may be true as long as you stick to the things you know and the things that come easy to you. But what if, instead of coasting along, you spent some time each day doing something just barely possible for someone with your talents? Learn a completely unfamiliar skill, or several of them. Read books that are above your level, that you need to reread to “get it”. In short, make yourself struggle. Then you will personally know how it feels to be the stupid person. Because we are all stupid people when we get outside our comfort zone.

This attitude seems to run through much of what Geduld writes. Don’t coast along, stretch yourself. It is the only way to grow. And he brings out numerous examples from his own experience, so evidently he actually does this habitually. He also kept a log of his mistakes for a long stretch of time – perhaps he still does somewhere. I have elsewhere referred to this as “automisanthropology”: The study of why I, of all people, am up to no good. Mistakes, dubious motives, fallacies, pulling the wool over one’s own I etc. It is a very useful study, and Mr Geduld has advanced much farther and faster toward the truth than I have. If you are anything less than a demigod, you should go and admire him already.

It would seem that Quora requires you to register before you get to see all the good stuff. I am not sure, I already had both Facebook and Twitter. But taking the time to get a Twitter account is well worth it to see this amazing person in action.

It is not just the disarming honesty and the daily mental calisthenics, but the guy is basically a Voice of Reason. Despite his claims to atheism, the voice in my heart agrees with him on numerous important issues. Also, it is a joy to read his posts. He does not let them go until they are shining brightly with luminous prose.

Maybe he’ll find out that I am stalking him, at some point. But I trust that he has progressed beyond the self-consciousness where being praised or criticizes by humans makes a difference to one’s sleep or appetite, or indeed makes the compass needle of the heart swing wildly back and forth. So it should be safe for my few readers to go off and stalk him as well – on Quora, at least. Not in the flesh, please. He is happily married already, to his best friend of course. Well, one needs to be two for the two to be one, so that at least is not something he can take credit for!

Because it is so different

Two translations from Japanese

A tale of two translations.

If I say that I am trying to learn Japanese because it is so difficult to translate, your first thought will likely be that I am trying to challenge myself, or perhaps to impress others with my linguistic genius. Those who have read some of my recent entries will know that there is no such genius: Despite my decent IQ, I have a super hard time with this language. Nor am I primarily doing bodybuilding for the mind. The real reason is Google Translate.

If I want to read something written in Spanish, there is little additional value for me in learning Spanish. The languages are similar enough, and the overlapping body of literature large enough, that Google Translate can give a decent representation of the text.

For the purpose of illustration, I will now take my first paragraph, let Google translate it into Spanish and then translate it back.

If I say I’m trying to learn Japanese because it is very difficult to translate, your first thought will likely be that I’m trying to challenge myself, or perhaps to impress others with my linguistic genius. Those who have read some of my recent posts will know that there is such a genius: Despite my decent IQ, I have a hard time with this great language. Nor am I doing first bodybuilding to mind. The real reason is Google Translate.

Again, this time translating to Japanese and back:

I say because it is very difficult to translate it, and I have been trying to learn the Japanese language, the first thought you, I might to impress others with the genius of linguistics probably I will have been or are trying to challenge yourself that may. Know that the genius there is no such person who have read some of the recent entries of I: in spite of IQ decent, I struggled more than use this language are. I have been bodybuilding for Lord of the mind. The real reason is using Google Translate.

Invoking the Lord of the mind may indeed be a reasonable impulse in this situation. And yet, the translation into Japanese preserves some of the European way of the thinking – I am not actually thinking in Japanese. Text written by native Japanese is even more alien, because your language influences your thoughts. I know this not just from theory; I have grown to become truly bilingual, to the point of thinking to myself in English without noticing until later. Knowing two languages deeply helps me think better in both of them, but the language still subtly influences what and how I think within each.

In my next example, someone who respects the Japanese medieval monk Nichiren has some choice words about how Happy Science represents his teachings:

Although this is the case It’s a religious organization does “science of clothing – can” to preside over the so-and-so Okawa, the methodology of ass in a lion’s skin as seen in is also a provenance that saying “the spirit of Nichiren” Hayate the pretense of what Nichiren says, as if its real, and Nichiren is the thoughtless words have no Maki flyer also Shoen edge.
  It is a fallacy on parade, alongside the names of delusion and nonsense “Ryoma Sakamoto” “Socrates” “Amaterasu” “Christ” “Kukai” after that.

Google is one of the most resourceful organizations in the world, especially in matters related to computing and the Internet. Yet a meaningful translation of a Japanese text for adults is far beyond them. If I want to read anything written in Japanese, I will have to do so in Japanese. Whether this is worth spending years of my life on, I am not sure. That depends on what I will find there, right? But since I have already many interests related to Japan, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Another thousand words and I should be able to read texts written for first-graders, with some effort.

That some mental heavy lifting may also be good for my brain is welcome, but not sufficient to motivate me. Your motivation may vary.

From a lower world to a higher

Screenshot Sakurasou, featuring Shiina Mashiro

That is pretty much how I feel when reading books like MOTT or Schuon – like I am being pulled into a life where I grow to become more like myself, or the real me. But while fascinating, it is not necessarily fun, and it does not always feel entirely safe.

My previous entry was about the computer game The Sims 3. So it makes perfect sense that this is about the book Meditations on the Tarot, a Journey into Christian Hermeticism. I have written about it before, but then I haven’t opened it in a long time, at least not often. This time I have begun on chapter 3. I have also downloaded a .pdf file to my home server and copied to my tablet and phablet so I can read it anywhere.

(The book itself is once again out of print, which may boost the interest in the .pdf file. I don’t usually condone stealing; but I think reading this book, no matter in what form, will increase the chance that you will pay for it and other books as well at a later time.)

As I have said before, “lower worlds are the worlds we create, higher worlds are the worlds that create us”. Among these may be considered the worlds of mathematics, for instance, since the unyielding rules of mathematics must exist for the universe to exist in its present form, whereas the opposite is not necessarily true. Of special interest is the worlds of religion, as they deal with the emergence and growth of the human as such, which is the soul. With all due respect for the human body, it is mainly a vessel for the soul. I here mean soul in its widest sense, the psyche in psychology, rather than just the immortal spirit-soul which cannot be proven to those who don’t already know it. It is obvious that all humans have a psyche, and religion is the original psychology, the Teachings of the Mind.

So this book about Christian Hermeticism is thoroughly psychological, but itself it is on a higher level than the everyday psyche. It deals with the archetypes above all, and their relationship to each other and to our actual life. It is not religious in the sense that it pretends to be a message from God. It is well aware that it is merely a link in a long chain, and it goes to great length to show this chain, this tradition, evoking a number of the great souls that make up this timeless community scattered throughout time.

For those who want to stay firmly within the first four dimensions, this book is unwelcome for sure. For it sees our life in space and time as merely a vessel for a much greater being which is not so constrained. Ordinary life is just a starting point. (I originally typed “starting pint”. I guess that works too…) Things escalate from there, or descalate from Heaven perhaps. Anyway, Heaven and the soul meet somewhere, and sweet music arises.

This book is not for everyone, I know. Religious folks will likely find it at least heterodox, if not heretical in places. Irreligious folks will find it babbling about imaginary things which make no sense to them. But for some of us, it speaks about things we know from experience but not as well as Unknown Friend, the author of the posthumous book. A student of non-Christian esoteric traditions, he came to find his home in the Catholic Church later in life, and brought with him what he considered to be in accord with the Truth of that religion, even if it came from elsewhere. But he also eagerly embraced the mystic traditions of the Church, and in this found his anchor. Meditations on the Tarot was his final work, a “lifetome” as a better man than me has said, and it was his wish that it be published anonymously and posthumously.

It is not at all necessary to understand the internal combustion engine to drive a car, nor to understand semiconductors to operate a computer. But to some people it can be very satisfying to have this kind of knowledge, and once in a blue moon it can come in useful. MOTT is a book for religious geeks who want to understand how and why the archetypes of religion work, not just that they work. I don’t think this necessarily makes us better people than others, but it probably makes us better people than we otherwise would have been. For to us, the attraction of metaphysical knowledge combats the attractions of the superficial life and the roaming ego. The two of them are opposed one to another, so we cannot do what we want.

(What I want, incidentally, is to play The Sims 3 all day and still become wise. While the game is conductive to wisdom, it is so only when used in conjunction with a much higher view, from which our life on Earth looks suspiciously similar to that of the Sims:  Short, flat and comical. MOTT is quite conductive to that perspective.)

Sims 3: Me, family man

Screenshot Sims 3: a simple home wedding

Wedding day! For the first simulated time in my sims3ulated life!

I have played The Sims 3 off and on since shortly after it came out, although I continued to play The Sims 2 at least as much for the first year or so. Yet earlier this month when I decided that my self-sim would marry, I realized that this was something I had never done in the game before. Not just for my self-sim’s various lives in the various neighborhoods of The Sims 3, but at all for any of my computer-controlled character.

My self-sim has sometimes been a “townie”, a computer-controlled character. It amuses me to see how the computer would play someone with my personality, or the best approximation of it that I could make in the game. There have been some amusing moments where I would think “That is so me!” but also some facepalm moments, as the young people would say. One bizarre thing is that my self-sim always seem to end up married to unlikely prospects, probably simply because they were both single at the time. Needless to say that does not happen when I play him.

This time however I made an exception to the celibacy of my avatar. He is now happily married to Jenni, formerly Mrs Goode, born Jones-Brown of Twinbrook, and they have two children together. And one ragdoll. We’ll get to that. ^_^

Jenni is a family sim whose lifetime want was to raise five children. She was pregnant bearing Goodwin’s child when the game started, although I did not know that at the time. Their marriage also passed me by. I only noticed her when she asked my self-sim on a series of dates. At the time I was unaware that she was married – I mean, why would married people date someone else? That is a recipe for disaster, of various kinds. So when I found out, the dating came to an end. Self-sim dedicated himself to gardening, fishing and cooking, as well as writing a little now and then.

Jenni and Goodwin raised three children, grew old and died. Sim-Magnus, on the other hand, did not grow old. He had maximized his gardening skill first, and gathered special seeds. One of them was a Lifefruit seed, and by his late adult years he had enough of them to eat one lifefruit every day. Each fruit makes the sim one year younger (except for elderly sim, who grow rapidly older if they eat lifefruit. I assume it is vaguely based on the Tree-of-life eaten by the Pak protectors in Larry Niven’s “Known Universe” series, except for being a fruit and not a root. Well, they are probably both based on the book of Genesis, but the thing about the herb being poisonous to the elderly is a Niven thing.)

By the time Mr and Mrs Goode had passed away, Sim-Magnus had maximized his fishing skills as well and caught Deathfish, a dubious creature usually found in ponds in or near cemeteries. Combine lifefruit and deathfish, maximized cooking skill and a recipe as expensive as a small house, and you can make Ambrosia. Normally this celestial meal will reset a sim to the start of his current age (mature adult in the case of my self-sim), but if given to a ghost, the ghost will embody again. You can see where this is leading.

So the re-embodied but still elderly Jenni moved in with Sim-Magnus and they married. Next up was chemistry. Experimenting with the chemistry set will improve the logic skill but also from time to time lead to the discovery of new elixirs, some nasty and some nice. One of the last, which I believe requires maximum skill as well, is the Elixir of Youth. It is rather costly at §5000, but it will rejuvenate a sim from old age to young adult. (You can also buy it for lifetime happiness points, it costs 70 000 of those. Come to think of it, I probably had that many by then. Oh well.)

So there you have it. The ragdoll belonged to Marit, their firstborn daughter. She played with it constantly, and when she grew up from toddler to school child, the ragdoll grew up to a fantasy friend. The parents could see her playing and arguing with it, but she could see it as a child her own age. Another chemical elixir eventually allowed the imaginary friend to become real, and Trulte is now part of the family, although not a relative. This is a feature of the Generations expansion pack, and lets you double the child population of a house if you go that route. It seems a few children do not receive ragdolls in the mail, I am not sure whether this is random, but both of mine have. They don’t count toward the raising babies lifetime wish, though. Adopted babies do, but not adopted toddlers and children.

Oh, and both Sim-Magnus and Jenni went through a midlife crisis and replaced one of their incompatible traits with a trait from the other. Jenni changed from flirty to bookworm, and Sim-Magnus changed from unflirty to family-oriented. Thus the rash of children. They are now both stay-at-home authors, letting them keep an eye on the kids while earning a decent living.

The real Magnus is not immortal, alas, so don’t expect this to play out anywhere outside the game. Still, it amused me.


The future of LED lighting?

Two circular LED lights with 19 diodes each

This is not how you normally see the new LED lights. They are used for indirect lighting, usually mounted under or over shelves. It is not recommended to look straight at them, I doubt it is dangerous but it certainly is uncomfortable.

Electricity has been quite well understood for more than a century, and I remember LED – light emitting diodes – used as on/off indicators on radios etc in my youth, more than 30 years ago. Not much later did I buy a nightlight using the same technology. It was faint, but used almost no power. It was the only light source that converted electricity to light so efficiently, losing almost nothing as heat in the process.

It was only the last decade or less that I started to get LED-based torchlights and head-mounted lights. By now the high-energy blue LEDs had been invented. While these had more energy loss in the conversion, they were still more efficient than the competition. Coating high-energy LEDs with a phosphorescent material allowed white light instead of blue, but some energy was lost in the process.

Only the last couple years have LED-based light bulbs been affordable and widely available enough that I could replace the incandescent bulbs in my apartment with white LED bulbs. These fit in the same sockets, but have a converter in their base which also draws power and produces a fair amount of heat. Depending on the type and brightness, LED bulbs use from 20% down toward 10% of the electricity used by a corresponding old-fashioned incandescent bulb. They also are expected to last 15-30 years, so it should be a good investment even at today’s prices. On the other hand, prices are still sliding, so it will likely become even cheaper in the future.

The practice of retrofitting, simply replacing incandescent bulbs with LED, is not optimal. To get that much brightness in the shape and size of the old bulb, you have to pack the LEDs densely together and close to the heat-producing converter. Since we mostly are lazy and hate change, this cannot be avoided, and there will probably be further progress in this area. But it is already possible to get more light (and less heat) out of the same electricity, simply by changing the size and shape of the light source.

The usually circular plates with many small diodes are sold for uplight and downlight, to be mounted under or on top of shelves, cupboards etc so as to cast their light up toward the ceiling or down toward the floor, providing indirect lighting to nearby parts of the room. Because they don’t need to be packed tightly, they don’t have a heating problem and are more effective and less likely to fade or break over time. They add very little heat and use little electricity.

I recently bought a pack with three such light circles, although it can be expanded to five. I am impressed with how much light they give, and they stay cool. I hope eventually, when the incandescent bulb is a thing of the past, flat-panel LED lighting will become the standard.

One can imagine bars or rectangles with rows of diodes, covered with a semi-opaque cover that diffuses the light enough to hide the individual diodes and not make the lamp painful to look at. These could be mounted in full view and provide a stylish illumination in new or renovated homes, either fixed to wall or ceiling, or vertically as movable lamps, perhaps shaped like a “staff”, with the power transformer in the dark lower part and a brightly shining upper section to illuminate the surrounding room. Or if that is too bright, another possible form is a “platter” pointing up toward the ceiling, causing a bright spot there to make the room bright. I have not seen these shapes yet, but I would not be surprised if they are already out there. The shape of the bulb has survived so far, but I don’t expect it to last forever.

More on contemplative practice

Picture from anime The Laws of Eternity

If we actually experienced this, emotionally if not visually, every time we took time to pray or meditate, it would probably be a lot more popular! Angels carrying repentant souls upward toward the Light, in the movie “The Laws of Eternity”.

A vocation does not replace spiritual or contemplative practice, even though the vocation may occupy far more of the time.

I am a little worried that my previous entry may have come across as equating studying Japanese vocabulary to spiritual practice such as prayer, meditation or holy reading. The voice in my heart seems to want me to make clear that this is not the case. I just subjectively, emotionally, felt less inclined to such practice. That does not mean it is a good thing to skip it.

Study, when done with a pure heart, is a vocation. The intellectual life is a life in service to Truth, and therefore to The Truth. Even if one does not have a clear goal of making life better for a certain group of people – as one usually has in a vocation – the service to Truth is in itself holy. This I believe.

But vocation is not a replacement for spiritual practice. The two should ideally be the two legs on which one walks forward on the spiritual path: “Ora et labora”, work and pray, as the late medieval monks put it. (This is certainly not a unique Christian concept: Buddhist and Hindu monasticism also have this focus. Monastic life would probably not be possible at all without at least some “labora”.)

There is a Christian saying that “prayer is the breath / respiration of a Christian”. This is sometimes cited followed by some statement  that in that case many Christians must be dead or zombies. But my experience is that a certain background amount of prayer is going on through the day, in my case perhaps a reaching out to assure myself that the Divine Presence is still there, as the Hebrew Scripture says: “Cast me not away from thy Presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me!” Although I am not entirely sure whether it is not the Presence that is reaching out to me instead. It is a bit confusing when your Significant Other is an invisible being overlapping your mental space (or perhaps the other way around). If you know what I mean.

So this background respiration and re-inspiration happens naturally during vocation, at least. (Some hobbies can be more suffocating.) What I refer to as spiritual practice is the setting aside of time to leave the material world behind, to go into one’s chambers (including and especially the chamber of the heart) and close the door to the outward life, and place the focus of one’s mind in the spirit. This withdrawal from the world does not come easily always, even to an introvert. To pray or meditate is to die a bit, I would say. One leaves the world behind, probably temporarily, to step onto the Jacob’s Ladder which lets the mind ascend and descend with the angels. Or something like that.

There is also non-religious meditation, which is seeing a renaissance because of the mental and physical health benefits of meditation. I have done a bit of that over the years, but I have concluded that this is kind of pointless for someone who has been sought out and accompanied by a heavenly being for decades on end.


I realize that most people who spend enough time on the Internet to find a place like this will not be religious in the old-fashioned way. Still, I hope you will find time for some kind of contemplative practice, if nothing else then because the time you spend on it seems to be actually added to your lifetime, in addition to making you happier and improving your clarity of mind.

Since my last entry I have providentially come across another YouTube video which lays out the benefits of contemplative practice to the individual and society in a strictly scientific perspective, agnostic as to whether there is an actual spiritual reality to which we connect. It should be 100% safe for even goddamning atheists. Please, think of the National Debt and reduce your health care costs by taking up a contemplative practice. And good luck with finding time for it. In fact, good luck with finding time to watch the video, for it is so long that I fell asleep less than halfway through the first time I tried. But even though there is only a chance in a thousand that someone may watch it, I still have to give you the chance. Here you go:

Transform Your Mind, Change Your Brain (Google Tech Talks)

Study as spiritual practice?

Studying student from anime Ore no Kanojo

Being studious is surely a virtue and an admirable trait. But I may be exaggerating a bit if I compare it to spiritual practice.

I have noticed this repeatedly for a while now. After I took up studying Japanese vocabulary rather intensely, I feel less urge to pray or meditate. To be more exact, it is a feeling as if I already did that. That is surely an exaggeration.

Now, it is not as if I spent a substantial part of my time praying and meditating as it was. But I felt enough need for it that I can clearly notice the difference.

Perhaps it is simply that both study and spiritual practice require concentration and setting aside time that could have been used for fun and entertainment. In that case, I may simply be feeling that I already spent my “serious time”.

But I wonder if there really is a certain sense of “spiritual practice” in studying, either as such or in a certain context. Obviously if one is studying religious Truth, such as by immersing oneself in Holy Scripture, that would be a spiritual practice. And an important one to many religious people. In Judaism it is so prominent that Jesus Christ claimed the scribes of his era expected to have eternal life in the Scriptures. From the introductions to Judaism that I have read, it does not seem the interest in the Scriptures has waned much in the last 2000 years. (Of course, Jesus himself was clearly well versed in the Scriptures, so that is not the problem.)

But what if one studies something secular? I think it may depend somewhat on one’s motivation or purpose. There are surely frivolous reasons for learning a language as well, although I wonder how much effort one would put into it then. Well, I suppose people can get pretty obsessed with their hobbies; for instance an otaku may want to learn Japanese to watch anime or read manga. Although these days there is little need for that, as translations are up either immediately or shortly after the Japanese release, legally or otherwise (or even both).

To be honest, I am not even sure why I am trying to learn Japanese. Part of it is that I want to find out the truth about Ryuho Okawa, the man who has written 900 books. I get the distinct impression that the literature available in English paints a different picture of him than what people back home in Japan has. Still, if I can find out how to write one book each week, it will be time well spent.

Then there is the fact that learning a new language is adding a huge tool box to one’s mind. English is after all my third language, and it opened up my world in a way I could not have imagined. Of course, in the case of English, much of that was because there is a wealth of literature available in English that does not exist at all in my two Norwegian languages. That is only partly true with Japanese. On the other hand, English is almost a Scandinavian language: There is so much of its grammar that is similar to ours, and even parts of the vocabulary. Dabbling in Finnish has shown me that language can be very different from this. But Japanese is even more alien again. (And, with no offense intended to my Finnish readers, I cannot imagine anything I’d want to read or hear or watch in Finnish. Sorry about that.)

Anyway, I wonder if more generally studying is not a spiritual practice of sorts, if it is for the love of knowledge rather than for money or fame or some such. I have read that people who return after a near-death experience tend to bring with them the idea that only a couple things are truly important: Loving and learning, specifically. Despite experiencing a realm where knowledge is everywhere and can be absorbed directly, they return with the idea that learning is a major reason for our stay on Earth. Although I think that pertains more to learning from experience, perhaps?

In one of my novels in progress, working title “Blue Light”, the main character travels in the World of the Mind (in his astral body) and has an encounter with a being of immense luminosity – not the primordial uncreated Light, but a being perhaps comparable to an archangel in religious terms – which instructs him: “Love by understanding.” To quote Ryuho Okawa, to understand someone is almost the same as forgiving them. I agree with that. Forgiveness is great, but I find much less use for it now than I did when I was young. Many things that I would have attributed to malice, I now attribute to ignorance. They know not what they do. (This is in part because I have discovered so very often that I myself know not what I do.)

Studying is a bit different from that again; but understanding the laws of the mind and the laws of the natural world is still important, I think. It allows us to achieve wisdom, to know what the best course of action is in various circumstances.

So I think a student with a pure heart may be able to devote himself to his studies with the same attitude of vocation or calling as a worker, doing it as if serving God rather than an earthly employer, as recommended in both Christianity (by St Paul) and Hindusim (by Krishna).

But I am not sure how well any of the above applies to my Japanese studies. It is entirely possible that I am just lazy. But the way it feels is this, as if I have already spent time in spiritual practice. Perhaps I will get more light on this in the future, if any.

Is dating down possible?

Screenshot anime Ore no Kanojo

“Why do I have to reduce myself to the level of [dating] such rubbish?”  It is a good question. Various people have given this some thought.

Another Quora question!

What is it like to date up or date down? Or in general, date someone who is not on your social/intellectual level?

Many of the answers took some degree of offense to the very notion of dating up and down, and reasonably so. If you really thought the other person below you, you probably would not date them in the first place, unless it was some sort of entertainment or something. Usually people have different strengths, so you may be “above” in one category and “below” in another.

For instance, imagine I had the opportunity to date an otherwise sane woman who was debt-free, had a million-dollar house, a great car, lived in a good neighborhood. But suppose she had an average mind, an IQ of 100 and normal human interests. Perhaps she had inherited the money, or won a lottery, or just been lucky with some decision earlier in her life. Who of us would be dating up and who would be dating down? I am barely middle-class by Norwegian standards, but a tried and tested genius with boundless curiosity and some creativity as well. Chances are we would both think we were dating down, so it is unlikely there would be a second date.

The same applies if I were to date a strikingly beautiful woman, someone who made a living off her looks and was looked up to for that. Like money, looks is something I don’t have and sincerely prefer to live without, as they attract the wrong (stupid) kind of attention. So that would probably be a very short relationship, to say the least.

It gets a little different if I met a woman who was an accomplished musician or singer. It is a talent I don’t have much of (or, in the case of singing, worse than nothing). But it is something I can respect and admire. A professional musician has spent thousands of hours practicing, so it is certainly something I can look up to.

The ideal dates, and marriages, are where both think the other is “up”. That is evidently not uncommon, although it sometimes fades after a while. But it is rare that there is a standard which both agree on and yet one of them condescends to dating the loser repeatedly. It does not really make much sense.

Of course, I may be wrong, since dating is a bit outside my circle of interests. Anyway, you can read a number of personal testimonies on the matter on Quora. See you there someday, perhaps?

Does speed reading work?

Screenshot Sims 3 - sim reading a book

If you want to get through a lot of books in a short time, speed-reading may seem like the obvious answer. But it depends on the reason why you want to read them in the first place…

I am a member of Quora, the questions-and-answers community. I haven’t written any answers there yet, but it is a quite interesting place. There are some very thought-provoking questions (and some others as well.) Unfortunately am told you need to have a Facebook or Twitter account to even read it. Since I already had such accounts, it never was an issue for me.

Anyway, instead of just skipping days, what if I elaborate on one of the questions I found interesting? Writing my own take on it, or incorporating parts of the answers I read, or both. Actually I often nuance or modify my view of things after reading several intelligent and well-presented views from others, so it is almost impossible to avoid incorporating at least some of those, even if I don’t quote them and don’t remember who said what five minutes later.

Today: Does speed reading really work? If so, how?

Confession: I am not an accomplished speed reader, just a dabbler. There are several school of “speed reading”. I have seen 2 basic approaches.

One is to simply train the ability to read faster and faster, by showing scrolling text at steadily higher speed. Once it exceeds the speed at which you can read comfortably, you will start stretching your abilities. If the speed increases slowly, you will gradually adapt to it and read faster and faster. This is a good way to increase your reading speed by, say, 20%, but it won’t increase it by an order of magnitude (ten times).

The other, “real” speed reading is also called “photo reading”, “page reading” etc. Here you take in the picture of the text and process it in your mind rather than with your eyes and mouth. During ordinary reading, we move our eyes across the page, taking in a few words at a time, and subvocalizing them (saying them under our breath). Until fairly recently in history, being able to read silently was considered the mark of a great sage. That is no longer the case, but everyone still uses the muscles in the throat and back of the mouth to shape the words as we read. Well, there may be exceptions, but they are so rare as to be unknown. It is possible that some hyperlexiacs – people who learn to read on their own while toddlers – may skip the speaking stage and interact directly with the visual image. Page reading is an attempt to do something like that. It is extremely difficult though.

Independent studies show that above a certain level, reading comprehension starts to go way down. This level is quite a bit faster than most high school graduates usually read, but not a whole lot faster than college graduates read. The extensive reading needed for a higher degree tends to drive people to read faster without undergoing separate training. Part of this is the larger immediate vocabulary of the highly educated.

When reading long and unfamiliar words, we are no longer able to continue the smooth flow of our eyes along the lines of the page. We have to pause to unpack the offending word. This breaks our rhythm and slows down reading. But when those long words have become familiar to us, so we recognize them by their shape, they no longer slow us down. Higher education will give a large such vocabulary in your chosen field, and at the end of the education you can read this sort of text much faster.

(Incidentally, Chinese and Japanese scholars can read much faster than western scholars, since the texts in their native languages use pictographs rather than phonetic scripts. Well, technically logograms, not pictographs, but close enough for pop-sci.)

Most college students also explicitly learn to read in at least two different ways: Skimming and deep reading. Skimming is used to get an overview of the text, and also to locate valuable information, which may then be read more deeply. Gradual speed reading is like ordinary skimming that most college students learn, only more systematic. Photo reading is vastly different, but should be ideal for skimming.

Some ads for speed reading claim that speed reading actually improves comprehension and the ability to retain knowledge. Independent studies show the opposite. Above comfort level, you retain less the faster you read.

You certainly feel like you are taking in a torrent of information when you speed read, but the information does not make it into long-term memory. After a brief time – seconds rather than minutes – you may indeed retain more information than the slow reader; but then it just drains away, and you are left with less.

So, does speed reading work?

YES – to say that you have read the text.

YES – to get an overview, to locate information, especially when well organized.

NO – to read for pleasure. It is a strain and you cannot appreciate literary qualities. It is like being tourist by train.

NO – to read deeply, take in a lot of new facts or connections and remember them later.

Learning on YouTube

Memory: Slideshow from a YouTube Video from Stanford University.

Actually, I barely have any visual sketchpad at all. At my best times I can visualize small single-color filled rectangles and colored circles or triangles. That’s about it. I seem to be able to think consciously even so, thanks to the Inner Voice?

I have been looking around on YouTube for videos about studying, learning and memory.

(This is for selfish reasons mostly, as I am still trying to establish a Japanese vocabulary that will get me started on reading that language.)

One video was half an hour long, and it had a few minutes of interesting content. There was a woman in America who could remember every day after the age of twelve, a couple decades in all. But it was not just that she could remember: She could not forget. Her husband died four and a half year ago, and she still remembered it as if it were yesterday. At all times a stream of random memories was running through her head. She realized of course that this was not normal, and sought professional help. So far, it seems she has helped them more than they have helped her. She still remembered everything, while they learned new fascinating things about human memory.

At first they thought she was the only one, but they found a few more over time. Brain scans showed that certain parts of the brain was larger than normal in these individuals. They did not comment further on that, but I feel compelled to add that this does not say what is cause and what is effect. We know that there are visible changes in the brain of people who have meditated regularly for many years, and the changes are greater in those who have meditated longer, which implies that the practice leads to the biological changes, not the other way around. Who knows what would happen to your brain if you somehow created a psychological mechanism that runs memories through your head continuously. So it could be that it started out as just a habit and grew into a massive change in the brain. Stranger things have happened. Or perhaps not – it is pretty strange. Also, she was Jewish.

I remember (but only vaguely) a couple decades ago, reading a book at a friend’s place. It was about memory too, and was probably the first time I learned that people with amazing memory exist, and that they all remember visually. There was also a man with a natural unlimited memory. He automatically assigned visual qualities to words and numbers, which may have been the reason for his amazing skill. He could learn anything and recall it at any time, and his memories of his own life stretched back to the crib. Also, he was Jewish.

Aimed at more normal people is a series of short lectures on study technique and memory by Dr Chew at Samford (not Stanford) University. He discourages multitasking and swears to deep interaction with what one is trying to learn. Interestingly, the desire to learn (or not) has no effect on learning; the depth of the interaction decides. The time spent has no effect if processing is shallow; the depth of interaction is what matters. By deep processing we talk of the meaning of what you learn. So sorting words alphabetically or by the length of the word, for instance, has very little effect, even if you play around with the words in many ways for a long time. But thinking about the meaning of them, trying to find examples, comparing and contrasting, connecting them to something you already know, relating to them emotionally … these are deep forms of interaction and lead to forming memories more effectively.

On the other hand, there is the Spaced Repetition Software which I have praised from time to time. This is a tool for cramming random facts which are not easily related to a field of experience. I use it for learning Japanese vocabulary. It shows a fact frequently in the beginning, then more and more rarely. The ideal is to show it just before it is forgotten. By doing this, it trains the brain to wait longer before forgetting it, until eventually the time frame is likely to outlast your remaining lifetime. This approach requires a bit of energy at the start, but the total time spent is pretty short compared to the effect. It is tailored to isolated facts, though, and higher education in our age is not about cramming as much as understanding. Of course, you cannot cook without ingredients, and you cannot study something without facts.

I’ve been watching a few more and set aside others for watching later, but I have to update at some point if there is to be any point in writing. So this is it for now. Why not add your own favorites?