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My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Sunday, September 4

How I Read a Book and "The Fabric of Reality"

I was trying to describe how I read to a friend yesterday. This isn't what I recommend. It's just what I do.

I have a dozen (ok hundreds or maybe even thousands) of questions I want to answer... or subjects that I'm curious about. It seems the more I discover, the more questions I have. I've long forgotten the answers to most of them. It doesn't seem to deter me from asking more. It does sometimes make me wonder what difference it will make. At the least, right now, I think I'll simply enjoy looking for and/or finding the answers.

I see books or articles that look like they might address them. I read the parts that seem most relevant to me (and the questions I want to answer) and move on. If a chapter in a book looks juicy and the beginning looks boring, I read the chapter. There are probably advantages and disadvantages to this. It doesn't matter too much because I can't seem to make myself read the boring parts usually. I did lots of reading boring parts when I was a kid in school and because I happened to pick "Stephen King" as my first adult oriented author.

The boring chapters might become interesting later, when I've satisfied myself with other chapters. Sometimes it happens years later. Sometimes I run across something I know I've read before and am totally amazed at the new understanding I gain from it.

I think it's because I learn all the time and my knowledge is different from one reading to the next. There is no such thing as reading the same book twice. It's a different book every time.

I think movies are like that too. I've watched some of my favorites 100's of times. I mght not pay attention to the whole movie, but I'll enjoy particular parts or notice new nuances that I hadn't before.

Sometimes I explore just to see what's out there. That's when I'll tolerate a boring part. Just to be clear, boring doesn't mean the book's no good or the author is a bad writer. It could just be a bit of knowledge I'm not ready for. It's just a mismatch, that's all.

There's also the occasional book I'll try to read for other reasons. I've been working on The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch for years. Originally, I had been throwing a lot of questions at my friend, Elliot.

He said I should read it. I tried. Really. Then I tried asking David. He answered very patiently for a while, and then finally said I should read his book (because it addressed what I was asking).

His book is very hard reading for me. It's very dense with a lot of abstract ideas that are unfamiliar or just barely familiar to me. Some parts are easier than others. I started off trying to read the chapters in order. They had some very interesting ideas, but I had to work very hard to understand them in what feels like a very superficial way.

They were worth the effort, but I was getting more and more frustrated. After chapter 4, I finally gave up on the "in order" method and skipped to Chapter 7, "A Conversation about Justification" and ahhhh, relief. That's more what I was looking for. I've slowly read other chapters as I find time and interest. I felt bad about not being able to get through it, at first, but now I think it's just a matter of it just not matching my knowledge level very well. It may just take me longer to get through it is all. I've long forgotten the questions I wanted to have answered. I've long forgotten what I've read so far. Luckily, he has nice summaries and glossaries for each chapter!

One strategy I've used in the past for studying a difficult text was to come up with questions. Perhaps I could do that for this. It's just so outside my usual experiences that I'm not even sure what to ask. It's NOT a textbook. It's not predictable - at least not to a non-Physicist.

Normally my difficulty is with people writing "too much" to say too little. I think he's done a very good job of writing conscisely and meaningfully while having a friendly story-telling tone.

So, what sort of questions would one ask of "The Fabric of Reality"?

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