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Reading is Problem Solving

The story of the beginning of my life as a skeptical empiricist.

My earliest memory of reading is with my mother. It may have even been a classic "Dick and Jane" book.  I'm sure she had read many before that, but that's the first one I remember reading with her, or at all.

I remember trying to sound out the words and the excitement I felt when I got it right, and understood what it meant.  Not only that, but I was comforted by my mom; a bonding experience that unfortunately doesn't happen for millions of children in America.

In Steven Levitt's book, 'Freakonimics' he touches on this when he says that the best predictor of future success of any child is not what their parents do, but who their parents are. Their socio-economic status. For example, children who grow up in poverty hear 30 million less words spoken than their upper-middle class peers by the time they enter Kindergarten. - This leads to a literal difference in structure and learning ability of the adolescent brain.

By the time I was in middle and high school, I was an avid reader of fiction and some non-fiction, but definitely quasi-non-fiction, like 'Chariots of the Gods' by Erich von Däniken. After all, it was intriguing to think that all we knew was dictated and influenced by aliens.

Then came the computer and reading largely subsided. Not to mention, it was time to try some new things.

By the time I started really reading again, I was married and had kids. (See what happens when you don't read!) I started mainly on historical non-fiction, but mostly, I began to see the value of education, and educated mind, and crtitical thinking skills.  Not just for the sake of it, but for pure survival in this information-based economy.

At the time, I wasn't a Republican, nor was I a Democrat, but I was always for the outsider underdog; regretfully voting for Nader in 2000.  (I was 22 years old.)

When Bush took office, my gay co-worker was visably upset. I said, "What's the big deal? If he does a bad job, we'll just vote him out."  What I didn't understand at the time was the long-term effects of poor government policy and especially Supreme Court appointments.  Then came 9/11 and eventually the Great Recession of 2007, where $2 Trillion in fiat money disappeared from American's pockets overnight.

Most importantly, I learned about the "Ignorance as a Value" crowd I wrote about in my last post.

Reading As Problem Solving 

So, what does this have to do with reading being a form of problem solving?

The way that I read, I read to better understand the nature of humanity and how things work. I read for education. I read to understand my biases. I read to be a better father, husband, and citizen.

However, often what happens is you stumble across something that becomes a problem solver. I imagine this is the same kind of experience a religous person has when they open their religious text of choice and read a random verse and it magically applies to their life.

The difference is, if you are having a problem, reading a book to solve that problem isn't the way that it works, at least not with me.

When I say 'Reading is Problem Solving,' what I mean is the epiphany often experienceced when stumbling upon a thought or idea that solves a problem that you either didn't know you had or weren't actively trying to solve.

The problems range from every day experiences in parenting, to business, to civic leadership, to therapy; however, the problem solving is different for everyone.

Some Problems Solved

For me, there are countless examples, but I will provide four short ones.  (Some of the everyday problems solved are too nuanced for this forum.)

The first was from Chris Hedges, 'Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.' I loved this book, but one simple line solved a lot of problems for me and my efforts. "You can change someone's reality, but you can add to it." Simple, yet profound.

The last three were from the same book.  I often call it my 'Bible' and is the only book I have taken the time to read multiple times.  The author was Nassim Taleb and the book was 'The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.'  For me this book was life-changing.

The book is far too complex to describe in a blog post, but first was that uncertainty and randomness rule the day. Many history changing events look obvious with hindsight, but beforehand, the event was only a statistical probability, not a reality, and many times, not preventable.  He uses a puddle from a melted ice-cube as an example.  While you can infer that it was an ice-cube, you could never reconstruct that specific cube from the puddle it leaves.

The information needed would be far too complex, as is true of almost everything, including what happened to America on 9/11.  We can see and still live with the mess, but the conditions that led to that moment in time are far too complex and random to have any amount of certainty in it's prevention.  We are talking culutural structures and events that have happened over thousands of years.

Second, is simply that demarcation between science and pseudo-science is not only that the conjecture or hypothesis is testable, but if it is conceivably falsifiable.  For example, unicorns are not falsifiable.  You can make logical arguments for their non-existance, but you can't scientifically prove they do not exist.  All you can say is that there is no evidence for the existence of unicorns.

Third, and last, is how he starts the book, and that is with Umberto Eco's library of 30,000 books.  Or, as Taleb calls it, his "unlibrary."  Taleb says the following:

(The library)...separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others - a very small minority - who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight read-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly.

Umberto Eco's library solved a huge problem for me. It was a problem related to trying to know it all. Now when I walk in to a library like the Cliff Cave branch on Telegraph Road, my first thought is, "Wow, look at how much there is I don't know."

Hence, the beginning of my life as a skeptical empiricist, but more importantly, an avid reader who reads for the sake of reading, and the occasional euphoric epiphany of everyday problem solving, like when I read "What Makes a Rainbow?" with my 4 year-old daughter Adelaide.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

iroegbu chioma April 03, 2013 at 10:32 AM
in university of nigeria nsukka,they can be of help in solving the reading problem.http://www.unn.edu.ng/
iroegbu chioma April 03, 2013 at 10:38 AM
in the department of library and information,we are thought on how to solve severe reading problem using brainrallie,for more check this http://www.unn.edu.ng/department/library-and-information-science

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