Letters To Seneca – Letter 3

Dear Seneca,

I’m currently 16 letters into “The Tao of Seneca” and letter 2 has by far been the most impactful for my thinking.

Letter 2 is titled “On Discursiveness in Reading“. If I’m understanding you correctly, the main point of this letter is to ensure that we all slow down when reading books. Avoiding the urge to bounce from one author to the next without allowing our brain to fully digest the topics.

I live in an era where media manifests in different ways and feels practically infinite, which makes “slowing down” very difficult, at least for me. And yes, I know this is an excuse.

In the last couple of days, I’ve attempted to apply this approach to my information consumption, slowing down a little and there’s a meditative feeling I get from this pace. It’s nice. Going forward I’ll continue experimenting with tapering down my rate of consumption.

A hard tradeoff sits at the center of your argument that you rightly point out, which is the fear of missing out (FOMO). Simply put, if we’re reducing the amount of content we consume, then we’re going to consume fewer ideas throughout our lifetime.

This fear of “missing” an idea or topic is an interesting one, it’s as if we’re hunting for the perfect idea that will set us free. The idea unlocks our perspective to the next level. As if life’s a big game that needs to be accomplished, instead of being explored… This is a large topic that we’ll leave for another day.

In my view, the cons (FOMO) are more obvious than the pros for this approach to information consumption. The pros seem subtle but are outsized in their impact. Here are a few that come to mind.

  • True Understanding: A counterintuitive benefit is our understanding of the world deepens. By slowly digesting each idea we’re able to assimilate this information into our perspective of the world making it our own. This for me is a superpower, something that I’m lacking at the moment.
  • Ideas: Through the digestion and reflection process, we’re more likely to come up with net new, contrarian, or unique perspectives. As society continues to ramp up its rate of consumption, this skill becomes less common or more valued over time.

I have any open-ended questions for you, that I’ll need to figure out on my own, such as…

  1. Standard Authors: You mention focusing on “standard authors”, which to me means the classics. I would like to expand this out to foundational authors, topics, papers, etc. How far can I expand this out before I hit the diminishing returns curve?
  2. Discovery: How do I go about finding content that’s worth digesting properly? Using sights such as this, this, or this, for recommendations from those that I admire could be a good starting point.
  3. Filter: Once I’ve discovered content, how do I go about filtering out the content that’s less worthy of slow digestion? I’ve found that “How to Read a Book” is a useful structure.
  4. Approach: The above discovery and filtering process seems intense. Can I take a lax approach to this and just slow down in my consumption, gradually finding my way to worthy content?

This letter is getting long, so we’ll stop here for today my friend.