Gennady Stolyarov II Bill Andrews Bobby Ridge Mihoko Sekido
The Third Enlightenment Salon, hosted by Gennady Stolyarov II on May 27, 2018, featured excellent conversations on the rise in public awareness of transhumanism and life extension and what can be done to further increase support for life-extending medical research. Dr. Bill Andrews, Bobby Ridge (a.k.a. Robert Ridge), and Mihoko Sekido shared insights on medical science, promotion of health, and methods of communicating the forthcoming convergence of advances in a wide array of technological fields. Importantly, we addressed how anyone can get involved in the transhumanist movement and improve public acceptance of the emerging technological future.
The following were some interesting areas of discussion:
– The new Telomere Coin, which will help fund Dr. Andrews’s research efforts – http://defytime.group/
– Bobby Ridge’s forthcoming new video channel – Science-Based Species
– Aspects of online videos that help increase their reach
– Factors that contribute to longer lifespans among Okinawans
– Motivators for leading a healthier lifestyle and its relation to the recognition of the possibility of indefinite life extension in our lifetimes
– Some potential health effects of metformin and the importance of the ongoing TAME clinical trials
– What anyone can do to promote life extension and other emerging technological fields – including joining the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free on this page.
This video also contains some excerpts from the remaining conversations at the Third Enlightenment Salon, including discussions of science-based medicine, promotion of transhumanism, autonomous vehicles, and responses to the prospect of longevity escape velocity.
Along with the recorded segment, there was much discussion about future directions of transhumanist initiatives, reasonably healthy food in a refined atmosphere, and previews of excellent video compilations that will become publicly available later this year. Mr. Stolyarov looks forward to hosting more Enlightenment Salons to bring together individuals in various fields of expertise and enable them to synthesize their insights into ways of comprehensively improving the human condition.
U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion on Prosthetics, Neuroscience, and the Future of Human Potential
Daryl Davis can be a model for how to change people’s minds.
“How can people hate me, when they don’t even know me?”
This is the question that drives the subject of a fantastic new documentary on Netflix called “Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America,” directed by Matt Ornstein.
For the past 30 years, soul musician Daryl Davis has been traveling the country in search of an answer in the most dangerous way possible for a black man in America: by directly engaging with members the Ku Klux Klan.
He’s invited KKK members into his home, he’s had countless conversations, and as unlikely as it seems, now considers a number of them to be his friends.
Daryl might say that he’s not really even doing anything special besides treating his enemies with respect and kindness in the hopes of actually dissuading them from their hateful views.
Yet, that’s something almost no one else has the courage to do, even when the risks are considerably lower.
Disagreements are stressful and difficult, and the more horrifying someone else’s viewpoint is, the easier it is to dismiss the people who hold those beliefs as inhuman garbage who simply can’t be reasoned with. Social media has also made dehumanizing people considerably easier, as we all get to interact with people from around the world without ever seeing their faces or considering their feelings.
As a result, we live in an increasingly polarized time when a lot of people are saying that the only answer to hate and awful ideas is to meet them with even more hate, more anger, outrage, and even violence.
And it’s not just a problem when dealing with the worst ideas in human history like racial supremacy and fascism. Some people now take this approach for even trivial and academic disagreements.
Don’t like a speaker coming to campus? Silence them and prevent them from getting into the auditorium.
Don’t like what a Facebook friend has to say? Block them.
And of course, if you think someone you meet is a white supremacist or a neo-Nazi, the only thing left to do is punch them in the face.
Punching Doesn’t Work
But consider that most of human history is filled with people allowing their disagreements to turn into bloody, horrific warfare; it’s only our commitment to dealing with our adversaries peacefully through speech and conversation that has allowed us to become more civilized. So escalating conflicts into violence should be seen as the worst kind of social failure.
And besides, punching people who disagree with you doesn’t actually change their minds or anyone else’s, so we’re still left with the same deceptively difficult question before and after:
When people believe in wrongheaded or terrible things, how do we actually persuade them to stop believing the bad ideas, and get them to start believing in good ones instead?
Judging by social media, most people seem to believe that it’s possible to yell at people or insult and ridicule them until they change their minds. Unfortunately, as cathartic as it feels to let out your anger against awful people, this just isn’t an effective strategy to reduce the amount of people who hold awful ideas.
In fact, if you do this, your opponents (and even more people who are somewhat sympathetic to their views, or just see themselves as part of the same social group) might actually walk away even more strongly committed to their bad ideas than they were before.
The evidence from psychology is pretty clear on this.
We know from studies conducted by neuroscientists like Joseph LeDoux that people’s amygdalas — the part of the brain that processes raw emotions — can actually bypass their rational minds and create a fight-or-flight response when they feel threatened or attacked. Psychologist Daniel Goleman called this an “Amygdala Hijack,” and it doesn’t just apply to physical threats.
People’s entire personal identity is often wrapped up in their political or philosophical beliefs, and a strong verbal attack against those beliefs actually creates a response in the brain of the target similar to a menacing lunge.
Even presenting facts or arguments that directly conflict with people’s core beliefs or identities can actually cause people to cling to those beliefs more tightly after they’ve been presented with contrary evidence. Political scientists like Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have been studying this phenomenon for over 10 years and call it the “Backfire Effect“.
And when the people whose minds we desperately need to change are racists and fascists (or socialists and communists, for that matter), a strategy that actually backfires and pushes more people towards those beliefs is the last thing we need.
Principles of Persuasion
The good news is that in addition to knowing what doesn’t work, we also know a lot about how to talk to people in ways that are actually persuasive — and the existing research strongly supports Daryl Davis’s approach.
One of these principles is called “reciprocity”, and it’s based on the idea that people feel obliged to treat you the way you treat them. So, if you treat them with kindness and humility, most people will offer you the same courtesy. On the other hand, if you treat them with contempt, well…
Another principle Cialdini describes is the idea of “liking”.
It’s almost too obvious, but it turns out that if someone likes you personally and believes that you like them, it’s easier to convince them that your way of thinking is worth considering. One easy step towards being liked is to listen to others and find common ground through shared interests. This can be a bridge – or a shortcut – to getting other people to see you as a friend or part of their tribe.
You might think somebody like Daryl Davis would have nothing in common with a KKK member, but according to Daryl, if you “spend 5 minutes talking to someone and you’ll find something in common,” and if you “spend 10 minutes, and you’ll find something else in common.”
In the film, he connects with several people about music, and you can see these connections paying off — breaking down barriers and providing many Klan members with a rare (and in some cases only) opportunity to interact with a black man as a human being worth respecting instead of an enemy.
Even better, over time, forming these relationships has had an interesting side-effect.
In the last couple decades alone, over 200 of America’s most ardent white supremacists have left the Ku Klux Klan and hung up their robes and hoods for good.
Many of those robes now hang in Daryl’s closet.
And in a lot of cases, these individual conversions have much bigger consequences and end multi-generational cycles of bigotry. When a mother or a father leaves the darkness of the Klan, they’re also bringing their kids into the light with them. A few of these cases are profiled in “Accidental Courtesy”, and they’re indescribably moving.
Daryl Davis can be a model for how to change people’s minds and with everything that’s going on in the world today, we need successful models now more than ever.
Making Friends From Enemies
There’s another point to all of this that I think often goes unsaid.
Unlike Daryl, most of us aren’t actually interacting with KKK members or trying to change people’s minds away from truly evil ideologies, and yet we all fall to the temptation of yelling and name-calling, and using all those techniques of influence that have the opposite of our intended or desired effect.
It’s easy to allow outrage and emotion carry us off into treating other people as inhuman enemies to be crushed rather than human beings to be persuaded.
But if Daryl’s techniques can work to convince die-hard white supremacists that a black man — and perhaps eventually all black people — are worthy of respect, imagine how effective they can be when disagreements crop up with your friends, neighbors, and co-workers who don’t actually hate you or the things you stand for.
Who knows, if you have more genuine conversations with people outside your bubble, you might even find yourself changing a little bit for the better as well.
“Accidental Courtesy” teaches us that the way to deal with wrong or evil ideas isn’t shouting them down or starting a fight; it’s having the courage to do what Daryl did and making a friend out of an enemy.
Sean Malone is the Director of Media at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). His films have been featured in the mainstream media and throughout the free-market educational community.
Emma Morano, age 116, is the last person alive born in the nineteenth century. New cutting-edge technologies could mean that more than a few people born at the end of the twentieth century will be in the prime of life when they reach that age. But this future will require a culture of reason that is currently dying out in our world.
Is the secret to a long life raw eggs or genetics?
Signorina Morano was born in Italy on Nov 29, 1899. On the recent passing of Susannah Mushatt Jones, who was born a few months before her, Morano inherited the title of world’s oldest person. She still has a ways to go to best the longevity record of the confirmed oldest person who ever lived, Jeanne Calment (1875-1997) who made it to 122.Every oldster offers their secret to long life. Morano attributes her feat to remaining single, adding that she likes to eat raw eggs. But the reason living things die, no matter what their diet, is genetic. Cellular senescence, the fancy word for aging, means the cells of almost every organism are programmed to break down at some point. Almost, because at least one organism, the hydra, a tiny fresh-water animal, seems not to age.
Researches are trying to discover what makes the hydra tick so that they find ways to reprogram human cells so we will stop aging. As fantastic as this sounds, it is just one part of a techno-revolution that could allow us to live decades or even centuries longer while retaining our health and mental faculties. Indeed, the week the Morano story ran, both the Washington Post and New York Times featured stories about scientists who approach aging not as an unavoidable part of our nature but as a disease that can be cured.
Since 2001, the cost of sequencing a human genome has dropped from $100 million to just over $1,000. This is spurring an explosion in bio-hacking to figure out how to eliminate ailments like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. We also see nanotechnology dealing with failing kidneys. New high-tech devices deal with blindness and other such disabilities.
An achievement culture and longevity
But this bright future could be fading. Here’s why.
The source of all human achievement is the human mind, our power to understand our world and thus to control it for our own benefit; Ayn Rand called machines “the frozen form of a living intelligence.”
But America, the country that put humans on the Moon, is becoming the stupid country. Despite increased government education spending, test results in science and most other subjects have remained flat for decades. On international ratings, American students are behind students in most other developed countries. It’s a good thing America still has a relatively open immigration policy! Many of the tech people here come from overseas, especially India, because America still offers enough opportunity to make up for its failing schools.
The deeper problem is found in the prevailing values in our culture. In the 1950s and ‘60s many young people, inspired by the quest for the Moon, aspired to be scientists and engineers, to train their minds. Many went into the research labs of private firms that became the production leaders of the world. It was a culture that celebrated achievement.
Today, many young people, perverted by leftist dogma, hunger to be political enforcers, to train themselves in power and manipulation. Many go into campaigns and government to wrest wealth from producers to pay for “entitlements,” and to make the country more “equal” by tearing producers down. A growing portion of the culture demonizes achievement and envious of success.
Were they to live for 120 healthy years, individuals with the older, pro-achievement values would find their souls even more enriched by their extended careers of achievement. But individuals in the newer, anti-achievement culture would find their souls embittered as they focused enviously on degrading their productive fellows.
All who want long lives worth living need to not only promote science but also the values of reason and achievement. That’s the way to create a pro-longevity culture.
Remember that weird kid in school? I don’t mean the really scary one. I mean the borderline oddball. The one you had to talk to a bit to spot the weirdness. The boy who never knew what TV show everyone was talking about. The girl who, when you asked her what her favorite music group was, answered some long name that ended in “quartet.” The kid who thought you meant soccer when you said football.
How did you treat that kid? (Or were you that kid?)
In “Homeschooling, Socialization, and the New Groupthink,” I suggested that the most useful definition of socialization is “ensuring that a child becomes sociable, that he or she develops the intelligence and social reflexes that promote peaceful and pleasurable interactions.” I also suggested that some of homeschooling’s critics might mean something more sinister: indoctrination into a particular vision of society.
But after reading my article, third-grade schoolteacher Heather Lakemacher, commenting on Facebook, pointed out yet a different meaning of socialization: not seeming weird.
This is the real reason, she said, “why this stereotype of the poorly socialized homeschooler exists.” Whereas I had only addressed adult perceptions of homeschooled children, the true culprit, she said, is other kids:
Many of us who were educated in a traditional school have vivid memories of meeting other kids our age who were homeschooled and thinking, “Oh my god! This kid is so WEIRD!” It’s entirely possible that the child in question grew up to be a happy, well-adjusted, productive member of society. …
However, I think the stereotype exists because of the power of those childhood interactions with a peer who just didn’t behave in the way we were expecting them to behave. That’s not an argument against homeschooling, but data will always have a hard time dispelling emotionally charged memories.
She’s right. Odd kids can make a lasting impression.
Grownups regularly note how polite my homeschooled son is, or how he’ll talk to them at all when so many other kids clam up and fail to make eye contact. Adults find his lack of awkwardness with them charming. But what do schooled kids see?
Diane Flynn Keith, a veteran homeschooling mom and author of the book Carschooling, writes that homeschooled kids are, in fact, “not well-socialized in the traditional school sense.”
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but there’s nothing “normal” about our kids. Your homeschooled child is odd compared to the schooled population because they have not experienced ongoing school-based socialization and standardization. …
And most of the time, homeschooling parents love that about our kids — and about homeschooling in general. We don’t want them to be standard. Whether we admit it or not, we tend to think they’re better than the standard. But it’s true that our socially flexible and resilient children can be puzzling to their traditionally schooled peers, and vice versa.
So why does the assessment of weirdness flow only in one direction? Why don’t homeschooled kids think the mainstream schoolchildren are weird?
One answer is that our kids know the mainstream experience through television, movies, and books. They may not always track the finer distinctions between Degrassi High and Hogwarts, but they certainly know a lot more about schools and schooling than mainstream kids know about education outside a classroom.
But I think that even without the pop-cultural lens on the schooling experience, homeschooled kids are just less likely to see anyone as weird. It’s just not a part of their semantic reflexes. Instead they think, “I don’t get him,” or “I’m not into the same stuff she is.”
As a result, homeschooled kids aren’t just more tolerant of diversity; they’re probably also more diverse. And that’s a lot of what gets labeled weird by those who are better assimilated into the mainstream culture.
What’s probably obvious to anyone familiar with homeschooling is that it’s good for the emotional health of kids who don’t easily fit in. What is less obvious is the damage that a culture of conformity does not just to the oddballs in that culture but also to the kids who conform with ease — and to the liberty of the larger society.
For over half a century, studies have shown that the need for social acceptance not only changes our behavior but can even make us perceive the world differently — and incorrectly.
In the early 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments on the dangers of group influence. When presented with simple problems that 95 percent of individuals could answer correctly when free of group influence, 75 percent of Asch’s test subjects would get the answer wrong when it meant concurring with the group.
In 2005, neuroscientist Gregory Berns conducted an updated version of Asch’s experiments, complete with brain scans to determine if the wrong answers were a conscious acquiescence to social pressure or if, instead, test subjects believed that their group-influenced wrong answers were in fact correct. Not only did the subjects report that they thought their wrong answers were right; the brain scans seemed to confirm it: they showed greater activity in the problem-solving regions of the brain than in those areas associated with conscious decision-making. And the nonconformists who went against the group and gave correct answers showed heightened activity in the part of the brain associated with fear and anxiety.
Commenting on the implications of these experiments, author Susan Cain writes,
Many of our most important civic institutions, from elections to jury trials to the very idea of majority rule, depend on dissenting voices. But when the group is literally capable of changing our perceptions, and when to stand alone is to activate primitive, powerful, and unconscious feelings of rejection, then the health of these institutions seems far more vulnerable than we think. (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking)
Groupthink, in other words, is dangerous to a free society. And we don’t always realize when we’re not thinking for ourselves.
This kind of cognitive conformity, however, isn’t fixed or universal. Not only does it vary, for example, between East and West; it has also declined in the West since the 1950s, according to a 1996 review of 133 Asch-type studies from 17 countries. That review assessed the cultures in which the studies took place to see if their results “related cross-culturally to individualism [versus] collectivism.” Unsurprisingly, test subjects were least susceptible to the reality-distorting effects of the group in the more individualistic national cultures.
We should expect the same to be true of more and less individualistic subcultures. I bet homeschoolers, for example, are less likely to show the Asch effect. I suspect the same thing of the oddballs at school.
That doesn’t mean everyone should homeschool, or that only weirdoes can be independent thinkers, but it does suggest that the more a culture values independence and diversity, the less vulnerable it will be to the distortions of conformity. And if socialization means helping kids fit in more easily with the culture of their peers, then parents of homeschoolers and schooled kids alike may want to reconsider the value of socializing our children.
Altho’ it’s true that we in the early 21st century all live in a notably illiberal Dark Age culture of considerable sadness, sickness, ignorance, irrationality, malevolence, and tyranny, nevertheless: it’s still quite possible for those of us in the West to gain great knowledge about, and then practice, a highly liberal philosophy and lifestyle. And this intellectual system of reason and science in epistemology, individualism and self-interest in ethics, and dynamism and heroism in aesthetics and spirituality, can still easily foster a mostly good, great, magnificent, and happy life.
Today’s philosophical liberalism – massively influenced by the pure genius of Ayn Rand – can create a way of life which is deeply meaningful, purposeful, satisfying, enjoyable, and even ecstatic. Yes, some people around us are hugely irrational, illiberal, corrupt, hypocritical, foolish, and depraved. And yes, the political system around us is remarkably powerful, malicious, and authoritarian. But in the West you can still minimize contact with such people, and such a system. Life today is still potentially beautiful, wonderful, and almost unbelievably pleasurable.
Liberals who are relatively mature experienced, educated, smart, clever, and slick can mostly keep the forces of evil at bay. The illiberals haven’t ruined everything on this planet — or even come close. Aristotle, Epicurus, Cicero, Horace, Bacon, Locke, Smith, Voltaire, and Jefferson still have a lot of power and influence. Even Hayek and Rand.
There’s still plenty of good stuff in the world to enjoy: movies, t’v’ shows, music, dance, paintings, video games, comics, classic novels, sports, conversation, family, friends, and other sources of enjoyment. Properly understood and practiced, liberalism doesn’t just show the way to an outstanding, wondrous, and exalted lifestyle. It also provides a great shield against the Bad Guys. Soon enough, it’ll provide a great sword.
We live in an era of very rapid change driven by technological progress. Today’s world is enormously different from that of three or four decades past: consider the pervasive effects of the revolution in communications and computing technologies that has taken place over that time. Yet, human nature being what it is, most of the people who lived through this profound shift in capabilities and culture are nonetheless very skeptical of claims that the future will look radically different from today in any important aspect. It is strange.
In particular the concept ofactuarial escape velocityleading tothousand-year life spansis a very hard sell. People look at the large number that is very different from today’s maximum life span and immediately reject it out of hand, no matter the reasonable argument behind it. Any medical technology that produces some rejuvenation in old patients buys extra time to develop better means of rejuvenation. At some point the first pass at rejuvenation treatments will improve such that remaining healthy life expectancy grows at more than a year with each passing year. At that point life spans will become indefinite, limited only by accident or rare medical conditions not yet solved.
It doesn’t help that most of the public has very little knowledge of the present state of medical research in any field, never mind thespecific detailsof howaging might be treatedand brought under medical control. The only solution to that issue is to keep on talking: educate, advocate, and spread the word.
“The first thing I want to do is get rid of the use of this word immortality, because it’s enormously damaging, it is not just wrong, it is damaging. It means zero risk of death from any cause – whereas I just work on one particular cause of death, namely ageing.” de Grey said his research aims toundo the damage done by the wear and tear of life, as opposed to stopping the ageing process altogether. “If we ask the question: ‘Has the person been born who will be able to escape the ill health of old age indefinitely?’ Then I would say the chances of that are very high. Probably about 80 per cent.”
“The therapies that we are working on at the moment are not going to be perfect. These therapies are going to be good enough to take middle age people, say people aged 60, and rejuvenate them thoroughly enough so they won’t be biologically 60 again until they are chronologically 90. That means we have essentially bought 30 years of time to figure out how to re-rejuvenate them when they are chronologically 90 so they won’t be biologically 60 for a third time until they are 120 or 150. I believe that 30 years is going to be very easily enough time to do that.”
Reason is the founder of The Longevity Meme (now Fight Aging!). He saw the need for The Longevity Meme in late 2000, after spending a number of years searching for the most useful contribution he could make to the future of healthy life extension. When not advancing the Longevity Meme or Fight Aging!, Reason works as a technologist in a variety of industries.
This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license. It was originally published on FightAging.org.
Beautifying the Universe – Article by Kyrel Zantonavitch
Human beings naturally, healthily, nobly, and heroically seek to live and thrive, with the maximum possible quantity and quality of life.
Humans are god-like creatures, at least potentially, who concoct their own purpose, and find their own meaning. Family, friends, humankind, and the gods can’t supply these.
The Holy Individual naturally and nobly strives for greatness and happiness – and even for sublime transcendence. He attains all of this – if he can – via success and triumph in his battles, and accomplishment and achievement in his work.
The potentially magnificent human individual observes the universe, his fellow man, himself, and all of life. He uses his insight and wisdom to conquer knowledge and draw powerful conclusions. Upon these he develops his sacred hopes and dreams – and then tries to realize them. He works and fights and struggles to move them from the realm of fantasy to the realm of reality.
Human beings need to make the world a better place, both socially and materially, i.e. both improving society and the physical environment. After all, the individual intimately lives in both. They exist for him to use and manipulate – so he should exploit them to the max.
But as a kind of partner to society and the environment – who naturally seeks integration and harmony with them – a proper individual strives to enhance and uplift them as well. He needs to leave the world a better place than he found it.
The ultimate purpose of life seems to be to make the cosmos more beautiful. To render it more organized and harmonious. To leave it more ordered and useful.
It’s the sacred moral duty of every man to make his world less random and chaotic – less metaphysically empty and dead. To render it resonantly more alive, exciting, and intense – if he can. The naturally disintegrating universe needs to be made more well-groomed and exuberant.
The cosmos needs to become more aware of itself. To be ever more all-seeing, and yet successfully introspective too. Ever more cohesive, coherent, self-driven, and self-controlled. Ever more wonderful and lovely to behold.
Art is the most important part of life in many respects. Especially visual and audio art, such as paintings and music. Man is the artistic animal.
A vivacious, dynamic, heroic life is itself a kind of work of art. And it seems to potentially live on forever via memory and records – and eventually via time/space warps and time/space travel.
The universe may be fundamentally cold and indifferent – but it’s always watching. And if a given human being is sufficiently good and great – the cosmos will enjoy and remember him forever.
Still falling for the written word, despite America’s killjoys
The Little Free Library movement began in 2009 when Todd Bol built a miniature model schoolhouse, put it on a post in his front yard, filled it with books, and put up a sign stating, “Free Books.” It was a way to honor his mom — a former school teacher — and to share his love of reading with his neighborhood. The idea took off, and now there are thousands of Little Free Libraries.
The idea is simple. You put a small book box up on a post in your front yard, stock it with books, and people who are passing by on the way to the park, or the mailbox, or the ice cream store, or the coffee shop grab a book, read it, and return it later. Or maybe they keep it and replace it with one of their own. It’s a quiet way of building community and of sharing the pleasure of books with your neighbors. It’s simple. It’s something one person can do to make a difference.
So, naturally, people want to shut it down.
Shreveport, Louisiana, recently declared Little Free Libraries to be “commercial enterprises,” which cannot operate in residential zones. Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, told citizens that Little Free Libraries could only be put in backyards — which completely destroys the whole idea of offering books to casual passers-by. Leawood, Kansas, made a nine-year-old take down his Little Free Library until the town council managed to pass an emergency moratorium that allowed him to return it to his yard. As soon as the Little Free Libraries go up, it seems, some killjoy finds them annoying and wants them taken down.
I know a lot of words. I’m not sure I have any that are harsh enough for people who want to stop others from making it easy and pleasant and fun and free to bring a book into your life.
Maybe that’s because I remember almost nothing that happened before the day I learned to read. But I do remember the day I learned. I was 3 1/2. My brother had just started kindergarten and was learning how to read. In the grand tradition of annoying little sisters everywhere, I immediately insisted on doing the same. So my earliest clear memories are of sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor while Mom loaded the dishwasher and listened to me sound out Arnold Lobel’s Small Pig one slow and painstaking phoneme at a time.
The words were difficult. But I was stubborn, and Mom was patient.
Over the course of two weeks or so, I read the whole book. By myself.
Having figured out the general principle, I assumed I could read anything and everything. And so I did. I stayed up past midnight to finish the Wizard of Oz because I had to make sure that Dorothy got home okay. I sat on the sidelines at recess, reading. I walked into more than a few walls, reading. And the local library should probably have named a wing after me because I racked up so many late fees on books I just couldn’t bear to give back.
Miserable and lonely middle school years were leavened by friends in books and by fantasy novels about escapes to other worlds. Heartbreaks in high school were softened by Jane Austen’s wit and by the greater tragedies in Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth and Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie. Well-thumbed, borrowed paperbacks of Interview with the Vampire and Forever Amber provided another kind of education. And college? And graduate school? Orgies of the written word.
I loved all of it. I still love all of it. From the most erudite and complex poetry to comic books and genre fiction to (when I’m really stuck) the text on the back of the cereal box, my first and best and longest-lasting romance has been with the written word.
It started with Small Pig. It started on the kitchen floor. I fell in love, and I have never stopped falling.
And because I am so smitten, I want everyone else to be. I write this column and post on Facebook and annoy my friends by evangelizing about my latest book obsessions because I want a world of people whose minds and lives and hearts are changed by reading. I want a world of people who have the chance to have the experience that Quilliam founder Maajid Nawaz had when he read Orwell. Reading, he realized that if the jihadis with whom he was allied ever achieved their goals, “they would be the Islamist equivalent of Animal Farm.” I want a world of people who find books that overturn everything they think is true and that challenge them to become better.
I want a world of people who do what Yeon-mi Park did. After escaping North Korea, she “read and read and read, even when I didn’t know what I was reading.” She read Orwell, too, and found that “it made complete sense to me. I was still so angry and hateful at this time because of the way I’d been treated.” Reading Gandhi and Mandela, she says, taught her compassion to balance that anger.
And because I want that world — a world where we exchange books and ideas peacefully and productively — the people who began and spread the Little Free Library movement are some of my heroes.
So I thought I’d write them a love letter.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Sarah Skwire is a fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis.
When a book has a lot to offer—meaty ideas, well-crafted language, a plot that sings, characters that move me—I want to take my time with it. I want to savour it and make it last. On the other hand, there are some books that I want to have read, but that I’m not really looking forward to reading. Also, there are just a lot of books out there, and only so many hours to devote to reading in a given day, year, or lifetime. What if I could savour the best and speed through the rest?
Thanks to a Boston-based start-up named Spritz, I should soon be able to do just that. The company has developed a text-streaming technology that apparently allows readers to increase their reading speeds dramatically without loss of comprehension or retention, and with no special training required. Normal reading is like walking, in that you do it at your own pace. In contrast, “spritzing” is like being on a treadmill, with words coming at you one at a time at a pre-determined (but adjustable) rate. It also takes advantage of what the company calls the “Optimal Recognition Point” in each word. That may sound a bit hokey, but a quick trip around the Spritz website, where you can test out the tech for yourself, should dispel your doubts.
One possible use is quickly finishing a book that started out promising but is proving somewhat disappointing. I hate to abandon a book, and I’ll only do so if it feels like a complete waste of time. But I would have been happy, for instance, to step on the gas about halfway through The Luminaries, which won both the Governor General’s Award and the Man Booker Prize last year. What began as an intriguing tale of murder and mystery set during the 1860s New Zealand gold rush, packed with lots of well-defined characters, was not ultimately very fulfilling, in my opinion. Satisfying endings are not terribly common, but in this case, I found myself caring less and less about the characters as the story dragged on. With a really good novel, the opposite happens.
If this technology pans out, I’ll have more time to spend with higher quality books, which is reason enough to be excited. But as the cost of reading (in terms of time) falls, simple economics suggests that most people will probably read more, which frankly would be great. Just think: A wiser, more knowledgeable, more empathetic world may be right around the corner.