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📚 Cognitive Catalysts: Lists, Learning, & Leverage
Micro reviews of nonfiction I read recently. On ancient memes, Ghana's legacy, ambitious goals, better search engines & improved smartphone habits.
The little 📚 emoji is meant to signal that this article is a selection of interesting nonfiction I read since the last Reading Roundup edition, which mostly focused on Intellectual Endurance.
This article about how to build a deep practice book is ostensibly about how to teach teenagers to ace the math portion of the SAT, but it's really about the value of building your own spaced repetition practice based on questions that give you trouble and recording and repeating your own problem-solving processes.
In a similar vein, here's a neat Lifehacker article (they still write those?) about how differentiating items in a list helps them stick in your brain — sort of like arson, murder, and jaywalking... but as a study tip.
This article is mostly about nature and attention, but there's an interesting discussion of modern search engines as well. Honestly, I'm at the point where my Google search results are finally too garbage to bear. I've held out for longer than most of the programmers I know — my husband very firmly navigates to duckduck whenever he does anything on my computer, lol — but I'm intrigued by Kagi, which lets you upvote and downvote sources, i.e. downrank Pinterest in favor of Reddit in search results.
A lot of nonfiction is padded with filler (“should have been a blog post”), but others — particularly history books — offer a deeper understanding of a topic that cannot be found in shorter formats. Along those lines, here's a nifty defense of reading whole books.
This is officially an article about parenting, but think the ideas for how to keep your smartphone from ruining your evening are generalizable to everyone, and broadly a good idea. I've been making more of an effort to write on paper before bed now that my daughter's sleeping through the night a little better and I'm not quite as pressed for time — it's been going very well :)
In a similar vein, here's an article about why, when we want an outcome, we don't always work toward it... and what sorts of things lead people to have “high degrees of motivation to work on ambitious goals.”
Speaking of goals, here's an exploration of the cost of delaying as it relates to methods for prioritization, mostly surrounding urgency vs. expected value.
Here are some high-value ways to leverage technology, mostly directed at software developers but with some gems in there for the rest of us, for example: the value of using task management & chat apps to brain dump ideas into. I personally use my email inbox, but it's the same idea.
Discoveries are not always made in order of easiest to hardest. Here's an article highlighting the importance of questioning our own understanding of things, which can lead to important advancements in knowledge.
Here's a comprehensive perspective on visiting Ghana, touching on a variety of topics from cocoa production and communal households to a historical perspective on Ghana's political and economic challenges. My main takeaway was that Ghanian President Jerry Rawlings was a remarkable man who had the courage of his convictions and didn't flinch from doing what was necessary to make his country a better place for its people.
Incidentally, Rawlings is modern, but I really enjoyed this article about why people from the distant past become memes, from the same guy that made it possible to simulate living in Ancient Ur as a sort of choose your own adventure game powered by ChatGPT.
If you have any interesting hidden gems you’d like to share, please do. I’m always looking for more stuff to read, particularly if it’s insightful, funny, or weirdly obsessive.