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April 2023

Post image for Knowing is Doing, Not Remembering

I appreciate Tim Ferriss’s advice on reading non-fiction: only read how-to type books if you intend to implement their instructions right away. Otherwise it’s just entertainment.

His reasoning is that information is only useful if you use it, and you won’t remember to use it later if you don’t use it now. If any new neural connections are to be made, they’ll be made in the doing.

My dad taught math. His most helpful lesson was that math skill is all about practicing the operations — no different than shooting a basketball. Comprehending long division, for example, isn’t so much a matter of memorizing the method, as it’s about a physical familiarity with making the right markings with a pencil on the paper: drawing the division symbol, plugging in your numbers, getting a new number and writing it below, digit beneath digit. By the time you’re exam-ready, the know-how resides in your bones and reflexes, not in your thoughts. Knowing is doing, not remembering.

Learning to drive is the same. Initially, a driving instructor gives you some checklists and mantras to remember: signal, mirror, shoulder-check; brake going into the turn, gas going out. These are only placeholders though. They give way, once you’ve put them into practice, to a kind of embodied, wordless knowing that guides your hands, feet, and eyes together in the operation of the vehicle. If all you have is remembered instructions, you can’t drive a car except in the most lurching and unpleasant way.

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Post image for The Best Deal in the World Right Now

Come with me on this thought experiment.

It’s the year 2089 and the world is enjoying an incredible new medicine. Scientists working in the jungles of Papua New Guinea have discovered a natural compound that induces a host of tremendous health and quality-of-life improvements in virtually everyone who takes it. Because of its incredible properties, it has been named miraculos.

At first miraculos was only used to aid immune system function, and at this it was profoundly effective. People who take this medicine on a consistent basis get sick much less often, both with minor ailments like cold and flu, and major ones like cancer, heart disease, even dementia. As such, they live longer.

Researchers subsequently discovered that the same treatment confers dozens of additional health benefits. Subjects report things like clearer skin, improved sleep, greater bone density, and better joint health. They enjoy increased physical strength, flexibility, and co-ordination.

Amazingly, these physical benefits come with powerful cognitive and emotional benefits: increased focus and mental clarity, improved mood and outlook, and a lower incidence of depression and anxiety.

Miraculos is known to be socially transformative as well. Those who take it are consistently rated as better looking by focus groups. They invariably become more confident in their interactions, and receive more compliments and romantic interest. They do better at work. Their social status improves. They like themselves more.

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