“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”Søren Kierkegaard
Sorry to disappoint, but this is not going to be some highfalutin — and still at this temporal distance, a mostly speculative — review of the various trends that begun, continued or reached their ultimate crescendo in the historic year that was 2020. You will find no cultural, economic, technological or geopolitical commentary here. Quite possibly, though, you will consider that a positive.
This piece, instead, is going to be a reflection upon my own (broadly defined) intellectual endeavours from the previous twelve-months. I will be doing this because ThereforeThink is the single location — other than on my own personal slate of consciousness — where my thought processes are most clearly and completely presented.
I am doing this review so that, in the future, I can look back and analyse what the general habits of the year were for me personally and how they influenced my thinking. I will also be outlining the general, but also vague and unimpressive stats of the site so far — both to establish some benchmarks for myself, as well as sheer transparency for you.
Both, either or neither of these components of the review may be of interest to you. Only you can know that.
Forewarning: All of this is prefaced on that I know very little about validity or importance of these analytics (in isolation). I absolutely, one-hundred percent, am merely regurgitating the numbers that I see and can provide no further interpretation of them. I hope this is something that I can remedy for the 2021 edition of ThereforeReflect. I also hope you will again be joining me for that.
As a quick aside, because that’s who I am as a person — my Big Six personality actually shows that I am high in Openness and Conscientiousness; low in Extraversion and Agreeableness; moderate in Neuroticism and off the damn clinical charts in Tangentiality — it is an all too common flaw in our thinking as humans when we assume we know something because we know some numbers. Or, worse even, a single number.
Now, just to be clear, I am NOT suggesting this is true when it comes to things like Planck’s or the gravitational constant. In fact, we can almost be certain that we actually know something precisely because we can express it via an equation. This is because we then use these equations to make predictions and models about important physical forces, allowing us to do things in the real world and not crash, blow-up or otherwise make a fool or corpse of ourselves.
Instead, the kind of knowledge assumptions — based on numbers — that I am talking about is the interpretation of some kinds of limited data, such as “Sales went up by 13% last year” or “All of our departments have made more money than the year prior, for five years running — THAT does not NOT happen unless you know what you’re doing in business!”.
Now, of course, these kinds of metrics can be used effectively — all I’m saying is that often they aren’t. Often we get so charmed, or become excessively frantic, due to the numbers that we see, that we forget the purpose of them in the first place. Numbers, in applied circumstances, are little morsels of food for our brain to chew on so that it can spit insight back out. They are means to an end, not ends within themselves.
Before I derail us any further, I will round out with this: Math is about quantities and how they relate to one another. Again, in the applied sense that we use numbers, numbers don’t exist in isolation. So make sure you’re not just looking at metrics and patting yourself on the back for all the “growth” that is being achieved while the ship is ultimately sinking. As a mind-warping example of this, I would suggest looking into Simpson’s Paradox where the trends observed in some, or even all, groups can be nullified, even reversed, when the data is amalgamated. Or phrased in the reverse, something could be static, or even decaying, yet you could slice the whole entity up in such a way that you showed every component of it was undergoing growth and positive trends.
So keep that in mind for the following — as well as life in general.
Articles written: 20
Billie Asprey – The Self
Jess Pendlebury – Teaching, Learning and Education
Jake Remmert – Open-mindeness
Shannon Beer – Introspection
(Thank you immensely to all, you contributed time and effort to a project that is very dear to me.)
The Best Month:
January – 4 posts, 702 views and 205 visitors.
This was when ThereforeThink was shiny, new, and had just been announced. Because of this it might be best to ignore January, as there was an immediate drop afterwards (for example, February was the third worst month). If we ignore January, it took until August to produce anything comparable where there were 4 posts, 668 views and 192 visitors.
The Worst Month:
July – One post, 243 views and 60 visitors.
Something to note here is that views and visitors are closely linked to frequency and consistency of posting — that might be apparent to you already, given the above. Personally, I didn’t know this originally, but as it turns out, in the blogging world, you are rewarded for having a steady stream of new content.
Whilst I do, to some extent, care about how many people are reading what I write — because I try to write about, what I consider to be, important things — I am not going to try and hijack this measure, attempting to grow my audience by ensuring I post something new and novel each week. I don’t like that game and I refuse to play it. My goal has been to produce higher-quality content that possibly generates some new perspectives for you. I don’t want to be lured away from this modus operandi for the sake of chasing readers — I must be cognisant of Goodhart’s Law which warns: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a useful measure.
Now, of course, I could be more consistent with my writing/editing/uploading schedule — that much is obvious. All I am trying to say is that I’m not going to try and say something, just because I haven’t said anything for a week or so. Instead, I’ll wait till I think I have something approximating something valuable to say.
If I continue in this manner, I see the only logical conclusion as me producing greater amounts of value over time — especially as I continue to gain experiences, meet new people and further educate myself. I believe, as this process unfolds, ThereforeThink‘s audience will grow and will reflect my efforts. However, if I were to simply try to expand my audience by specifically targeting audience-growth — by increasing my frequency of posting or through marketing efforts, for example — then it becomes difficult to disentangle how much the growth of ThereforeThink‘s audience is attributable to the greater value provided, or the other attempts at hacking reach.
Admittedly, many people suggest I overthink matters like this and that is probably true. However, I tend to live by the philosophy of trying to keep your image “small” — be more than what you appear to be, rather than trying to appear more than what you actually are. Don’t “fake it till you make it”; instead, strive to be better each day, and you’ll be ready when the time is right. In my opinion, these issues summarise a lot of what is wrong with social media — it’s very easy to get stuck focusing on increasing your impact, without actually putting in the effort of ensuring that you are, in fact, having a positive one.
But I’ll get off that hobby horse before it breaks into a gallop.
When it comes to activities that have influenced my thinking this past year, writing has most likely been the most significant change since prior times. Whilst I wrote in various ways before 2020, it was not as consistently, with as much freedom or on a platform where I was the solitary voice. This mixture of factors, I believe, was good for me.
In a general sense, writing ensured that I produced, explored and elaborated upon my own thoughts, helping them to flourish more than would they could have without it. I have found that, through writing, I am forced to check my understanding of things, generate new levels of clarity and explore more perspectives than what I would have had I been able to keep my thoughts purely to myself. In addition to this, by representing myself and only myself — not a company or by being part of team — I live and die by my own keystroke. Again, I think this is a nontrivial factor and has helped me ascend to a slightly better version of myself. I have plenty more work to do, though, of course.
On the topic of writing, however, I also began writing of a slightly different manner as well…
For a number of years I have been interested in learning how to code. The logic, the abstractness as well as the reputation for difficulty and complexity it carries appealed to me. However, on the many occasions that I considered attempting it, I subsequently talked myself out of it.
Not this time, though.
I approached this project from a number of angles, but the backbone of my studies has been CS50 by HarvardX — which I am currently about three-quarters of the way through. If you are at all considering exploring the area of computer science/programming, I cannot recommend this course enough. The care that has been taken to construct the course so that the difficulty builds at the appropriate rate, so that it is aesthetically pleasing and so that students become impassioned — rather than apathetic — through the learning process is commendable and deserves noting.
In addition to this course — which is a mixture of lectures and problem sets — I have also made use of books such as The Self-Taught Programmer, Think Python and The C Programming Language. The illustrious Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs is also due to be cracked open soon and I cannot wait — the book is considered almost mythological in nature and I cannot wait to try and grapple with its material.
I have begun to enjoy programming and the struggle of wrapping my mind around the abstract nature of computer science so much — if you couldn’t tell already — that I am exploring the option of further study in this area. Regardless of whether that comes to fruition, I am confident that developing myself as a programmer is something that I am serious about and will be more than a passing fad. It has given me a new lens to view the world through and I like that.
Additionally, I am also considering writing about much of what I learn, as a method of not only knowledge dissemination, but to also help me better grasp the material itself. Few methods help you learn like trying to put what you think you know into your own words and explain it to someone else. So, keep an eye out for that.
Reading is a habit that I build my life around. While I don’t want to become evangelical about it at this point, I still think reading on a consistent basis is tremendously underrated — few things compare.
In the words of Cal Newport: “Reading is the cognitive equivalent of eating really well. The more time you spend reading — and it can be fiction, it can be non-fiction — the better it is for your cognitive health; especially when it comes to wanting to do elite level concentration. It really forces a lot of different areas of your mind to come to together, to sustain concentration, to do interconnected processing — the image centre is talking to the verbal centre, which is talking to the memory bank, which is talking to the sensory memory; they’re all working together. It’s exercising these different connections, it’s building comfort with sustaining the locus of your focus on one target.”
With that out of the way, what follows are the books I read this year, loosely grouped into categories and with an explanation of why I read x-amount of books in that category. If you have any questions or you would like some specific recommendations, then feel free to email me at: email@example.com — I’m always happy to talk books and help where I can.
Rationality, Cognition & The Mind
Why: The vast and multidisciplinary area that this topic encompasses is a massive personal interest of mine. I believe strongly that our brains are our most valuable assets and looking after them, developing them and learning how to use them most effectively is the best gift we can give to ourselves, others and the world. Beyond my interest in cognition for its instrumental use, I am simply in awe of the brain due its sheer complexity. In my mind — no pun intended — no other phenomenon comes close to comparing to the brain as a source of pure bewilderment.
“Classics” or Other Commonly Referenced Books
Why: These books, among MANY others, tend to pop up again and again. While it is tempting to consider that you’ve absorbed all the knowledge from a particular book when you read a different book that references or analyses it — especially at length — but I think this is an error. Often you will find that your interpretation of the work is different from that of someone else’s, so don’t take second-hand information as gospel. No doubt, this is unsurprising to you. Regardless, on many occasions I think you want to go straight to the source — especially if it is a commonly referenced book in an area you care about. Quite often you will find the book is subpar in many way, and it’s reputation has expanded beyond what it actually offers. Other times, however — and these are the truly rewarding reads — the original source is orders of magnitude above what you could have reasonably expected.
Business & Entrepreneurship
Why: I have a lot of respect for creators, founders, innovators and entrepreneurs. I don’t have immediate or even grand plans to apply the lessons from these books and try to create my own multi-million dollar company; though, I still picked up many relevant points, even without these intentions. However, if I do ever wish to grow, develop and possibly expand what ThereforeThink is, and does, then it’s good to have some of this information bouncing around my mind now. For now I will just continue to mull it over and learning lessons from those who came before me.
Why: While each of these books fit into my own thoughts and goals for reading them, I didn’t feel like they fit well-enough into any of the previous or following categories. But, as I said, they served their purpose for me and they might for you, too. In my view, being “well read” is a balance between acquiring peaks of specific knowledge as well as broadening the territory you are aware of. Breadth and depth are both equally important. You don’t want to be the person whose knowledge is as wide as an ocean but only as deep as a puddle — or in the words of Thomas Sowell: What is called an educated person is often someone who has had a dangerously superficial exposure to a wide spectrum of subjects. Therefore, some degree of depth is important. On the other hand, though, you don’t want your hard-earned know-how to lack transfer and generalisability to an exorbitant degree. Being the master of one or few thing is great, but life will likely throw you into a bunch more situations than just a few. It is for these reasons that I believe a balance must be struck.
A Different Perspective
Why: While I begun reading on a diet of purely fiction, like many others, I made the mistake of devaluing fiction when I decided I wanted to read for the purposes of knowing more and thinking more clearly. However, I am in the process of rectifying that mistake and reading more fiction — which I am, undoubtedly, being rewarded for. Fiction is what allows us to embody someone else and experience in a small, but non-trivial way, what their life may have been like. I believe — and there is some research that indicates that this is true — that well-written fiction allows us to develop models that transition us from carelessness, to sympathy, to empathy. This can allow us to act in more humanitarian ways to fellow members of our species — especially those that we previously struggled to identify with. Another benefit that fiction has is the way that it can provide an (almost entirely) unrestricted platform to demonstrate certain concepts, comparing and contrasting them to the ones that stand before us in “real life.” In this way, fiction is akin to philosophical thought-experiments and is likely extremely important for how we navigate everything beyond this point in time. I think reading fiction of a historical sense is very useful for seeing what we are more clearly, but futuristic fiction can help us determine where we want to go and what we want to be with greater clarity. As Richard W. Hamming wrote in The Art of Doing Science and Engineering, “Often it is not physical limitations which control but rather it is human-made laws, habits, and organizational rules, regulations, personal egos, and inertia, which dominate the evolution to the future.”
Math & Computer Science Preparation
Why: As I mentioned above, I have enjoyed my exploration of computer science and have begun to crave knowledge in this area. My readings have been scattered so far, but generally I am trying to become more comfortable with the common technical terms, familiarise myself with the history of the relevant fields, and begin developing the ability to think in the way that computer science demands. I have started with some more digestible non-fiction books and will be transitioning to more difficult ones, as well as textbooks in time. I think this is the way to do it when you are really trying to learn something new, to a significant depth, and are willing to dedicate the time to it. By starting with non-fiction that is written for a lay-audience, you get a good overview of the major concepts and buff some of the foreignness out of the words — while the content isn’t too heavy going. Then, once your ability to interpret each word, sentence and paragraph is bolstered, you can move to more academic books and really evolve your technical understanding of the subject.
Why: Because there’s only one you, so look after yourself. But you also only get one shot at life, so why not try to be best version you can possibly be?
310 sessions equating to nearly 47 hours of total mediation time. This might seem like an odd thing to include on this list, but to me it makes perfect sense. Meditation is something that I have gained tremendous benefit from and I can see that it alters how I think — both the clarity of my thoughts as well as the content of them. Both of these seem extremely relevant to ThereforeThink and, as such, I am including these figures in my review.
To address the figures quickly, if I’m honest, nearly 47 hours of meditation time seems rather staggering to me. When I think about the structural and functional effects that so many hours of meditation would have had on my brain, relationships and perspective on life, I can’t help but be pleased.
On that point, I think you need to, at times, look at long-term habits like this — in their totality. You can’t turn yourself into a millionaire overnight because of your financial habits, just like you can’t exercise for a few weeks and hope to have the body of dreams; some things are best measured over months, years and decades. This is what allows you to accumulate substantial area under the “habit curve,” it is this measure that matters most, not the intensity at which you initially attack something.
While it has become somewhat of a stereotype for anyone of a slightly intellectual nature to look down upon the superficiality of yearly review or “new year, new me” — because the day, month, year are all arbitrary etc. — I can’t help but think it really is, or can be, a time for celebration. Some recognition of how far you’ve come is never going to hurt, provided you get back on the horse and realise there’s always more to be done. Life is too full of suffering and potential pain to not take the opportunities for optimism, hope and feelings of accomplishment.
I say this, because, really, on a weekly basis I did less than hour of meditation a week — far from an impressive figure. But, no matter how strong the homeostatic forces are that live within us, I doubt my efforts for that long could have resulted in anything less than significant improvements. That I am proud of. I hope you experienced a similar phenomenon in one or many aspects of your own life.
Whilst it no doubt came with its challenges, the year 2020 was one of abnormal levels of personal growth for me. When I say “abnormal,” though, I hope to establish this as the new norm and this abnormality simply becomes what I expect of myself on an ongoing basis. I have learned a lot about myself this year, but the number one lesson has been: I am capable of more. I hope, with some strategic effort, 2021 can bring that to fruition.
Thanks for reading; I wish you nothing but the best for this year and beyond.