I Want To Grow Faster

Thoughts on how to grow faster, after finish reading Harry Potter And The Method of Rationality. This is the how the dialog goes inside my head.

  • Why do you want to grow faster?

There’re so many things to do, in a limited timeframe. There’re countless lessons I would learn from various experiences later on in life. There’d be perspectives, so many of them such as I would never have obtained otherwise, that could make me choose with deeper emotional maturity. I have always wanted to be able to see more clearly. Identify the root of problems and pinpoint solutions to complicated matters with cleaner thoughts.

Which is why I’ve kept my habit of slowly, slowly reading philosophy classics, by copying them down. Somehow I believe that this is the fastest way to achieve my goal of clearer understanding.

  • Somehow? It might not be the most efficient way. Could you be a bit more specific than that? How did this all start?

Right. I think it all started with books.

It couldn’t have struck me harder when I saw Emerson’s line, about a year ago, that I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me. This is exactly how I feel, now that I’m looking back, being able to look down upon and connect the dots laid out in my past.

I started reading classic novels during middle school. Back then they were what I resorted to when I didn’t feel like doing homework. Because I had to stay in my room, at least pretending to be studying, they were my least boring choice. I don’t feel like those have influenced me much. At least no apparent influence I can see on a conscious level.

It was not until my sophomore year, that I gradually started reading a lot of biographies and self-help books. In retrospect, I can’t say they’re the healthiest kind of information to absorb for young adults. But if they taught me anything, apart from my then arrogant attitude towards adversities, the superiority I felt over others and the insecure nag that I was never really good enough, it was that:

  1. I could do things if I set my mind to.
  2. I should read as many books as possible.
  3. I should try and get up early.

The root of the first one was obvious. The biographies were those of the already successful. I was reading adventure stories about only the 1% who survived, and didn’t spared a rational thought for the 99% unseen failures, writing them off for simply not trying hard enough. Later I learnt and understood that I could raise the probability of an event, even substantially, if I set my mind to. But things won’t simply happen just because I’m determined enough.

The latter two weren’t something that I picked up consciously either. One is not guaranteed success in deeds if they follow certain rituals, but all the successful survivors do indeed have some habits in common. These two traits stand out as apparent patterns. The last one is probably more of a correlation rather than the cause for anything, but these two were just there, burnt into my brain’s cortex, and I have seen no reason to make extra effort clearing them out. Back when I was still working 9-6, I used to get up early enough to have an hour of reading time before work started. Now that I have all the time I could have wanted for reading, I still think it’s optimal to get up early, and to consume as many books as possible.

  • So for you, it was all the books you’ve read. But I recall a friend who doesn’t nearly read as much, and still see things crystal clear, if that’s what you want to achieve.

Yes indeed. He is roughly 5 years older than me, but still, his thoughts are much clearer than his own peers. He knows where he wants to go, what he has to do to get there, and what it would cost him to do it. I have indeed asked him how he came to be the person he was now, and from what he told me:

  • His parents are highly educated, much more open-minded than the others’, from whom he might have gotten exposure to more materials from early on
  • He tends to think deeper on limited information

And for what it’s worth, I asked him why some people seemed to be magically spotting the roots of problems the moment they encountered them. He said, if someone seemed to be seeing what you couldn’t see, they must have already thought about the same problem before, “Let me ask you something. If I were to ask you to solve a bomb malfunction, would you know the answer? No, because you haven’t encountered similar problems, and therefore would never have thought about them before. The only reason some could see things clearly is that they have seen similar patterns in the past.” So, what you’re seeing is essentially the result of their long-term accumulation. The more accumulation you’ve had on more topics, the more you would be able to see more things clearly at first glance.

And there are different types of knowledge to accumulate upon.

One is the basic layer of pragmatic knowledge, like how to solve the problems that arises when defusing a bomb, or how to rid a JavaScript program of bugs. Another is the methods, more abstract layer of knowledge. For instance, general algorithms to solve any problem with similar patterns, or the simple awareness to question one’s default standpoint and think outside of the box. Why would anyone possess the latter kind of knowledge? They were ingrained in their brain, from daily input. It could be a book, a conversation, or an experience, that sparked its existence. But the only way they could ever come into being is via prior exposure and accumulation, just like the basic, concrete ones.

Accumulation on all the above formed one’s reaction to events, attitude towards life, way of thoughts, and in the long term, their consciousness.

So no, reading is not the only way to achieve accumulation. But it is a most reliable way.

  • Since you’ve already brought it up: I’m more interested in the second type of knowledge. As far as I can see, having accumulated more in this would enable me to do the basic ones with more efficiency. Like sharpening an axe before going at a forest. So what do you think consists of this type of knowledge? And what are the fastest way to accumulate them?

Let me think.


Update Nov 21, 2015: The Results Of My Thoughts.